Today my family and I traveled to Icheon, the center of Korea’s pottery industry. If you recall, last April I went to Icheon with a colleague during inclement weather. Today the weather could not have been better. I could see the Seoul skyline more clearly than I’ve been able to all summer long. The 63 Building in Yeoido, the tallest in Korea, dominated the western sky. The Seoul Tower could be seen from 10 miles away. The Seoul skyline remained obscured by hazy for most of the summer. The rainstorm I mentioned in my previous blog entry marked the end of the monsoon season and the start of the Korean fall, a time when Korea is at its most beautiful. The weather should hopefully be beautiful for about a month and a half before the cold season arrives. You can already tell that the hot weather is less intense than it was, and in the morning the weather is actually a bit chilly. The weather reminds me more and more of the Pacific Northwest; balmy and not too hot or cold. The cicada noise also seemed a bit more subdued than usual.
After having been away for two days, I wanted to treat my wife to a nice day of shopping. I was not very interested in returning to Icheon, but she wanted to go. I also felt I owed it to her for all she did the past couple of days taking care of our son while I was in absentia. I’d been to Icheon before, and I’m not really a big fan of shopping. I think ceramics are beautiful, but it does not matter so much to me whether we buy a kimchi pot or a porcelain vase. As long as the piece is tastefully decorative and enhances our home, that’s pretty much enough for me (I am by no means an art expert). For me, the best part of the day was playing with my son. He was a great kid today. He got up pretty early, around 6:30 this morning, and was a bit cranky, but once we hit the road, he was great. While mommy went into ceramics stores to shop, we stayed outside and played. We found some stairs to climb, a water hose to play with, and some sand piles to dishevel. He really loves playing with sand. At home he has a sandbox, and he often plays in it with his toy trucks. Today he used his feet to plow the sand, occasionally sliding and falling on his keister. Daddy was there to assist and make sure he didn’t hurt himself.
In the meantime, my wife went through sticker shock while perusing some of the ceramic pieces. She had read that the Icheon Pottery Village has some of the most affordable ceramics in Korea, but she was shocked to learn that most still cost at least $90 per piece. She showed me an especially delicate and elegant vase. At first I thought I heard her say that it cost 3,600 won (about $3.60), but she quickly explained that it cost $3,600. That’s right, 3,600 U.S. dollars. That was the cash price! You’ve got to be kidding. At that price, who could enjoy a piece like that? I would probably insure it and put it in a safe deposit box for safe keeping, but that would defeat the purpose of possessing such a gorgeous piece. We didn’t buy any ceramics today, making it the second time I have been to Icheon and left empty handed. The only thing we bought in Icheon today was an automatic car wash, which my son thoroughly enjoyed, and some delicious samgyeopsa (삼겹사, or fried pork slabs) and bul nak (불낙, or bulgogi and octopus) at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The waitress there wore a shirt that said, "No Surf No Life." I asked her in Korean if she enjoyed surfing, but she did not understand what I meant. I explained and pointed out what her shirt said. She laughed. I don’t think too many foreigners visit their restaurant. They really enjoyed playing with my son and giving him sweets. Koreans love to give candy to children. Although they usually give children hard candies, the restaurant owner gave him a small Snickers bar. He ate the chocolate and deposited chewed peanut remnants into daddy’s hand. Gee, thanks. The things parents do for their children!
We also headed to nearby Yongin to look for Korean furniture, but we couldn’t find any furniture stores. My wife had heard that Yongin is known for its furniture, but the furniture stores are apparently well hidden. The town is a bit more run down than either Icheon or Seoul. I thought it had a lot of character, though. The main street was chaotic and lined with small "mom and pop" stores. This is Korea off the beaten path, I thought. I much prefer when a place has not been sanitized for tourists. For example, just a block off Insadong, a clean, orderly, and touristy place in Seoul, you can find the "real" Seoul tucked away in a nondescript section of town. I actually enjoyed driving through Yongin, even if we didn’t find any furniture stores. It’s a part of Korea we might never have visited otherwise. It’s another aspect of Korea that paints a more complete picture of this country.