Day 2 – Cheongju

Day 2 of my South Korean adventure was the day I had come for, and it involved another early morning, this time rising at 5:30am in order to get from Suwon to Cheongju by 8:40am, for the rehearsal of the awards ceremony.

As we drove into the city (after about an hour and a half on the freeway) there were crocheted and knitted squares attached to all of the street trees in the centre traffic island.

Trees in Cheongju – from Mrs Parks' car
White was the colour easiest to photograph…

They came along in bands of colours – there was a yellow section, a red section, a maroon section… They might have been following the typical ‘rainbow’ spectrum, but I can’t say for sure. It must have run for several kilometers. It was a positive introduction.

When we arrived Mrs Park dropped off Sally and me at the entry, so we could go find where the awards ceremony was. In keeping with the ‘need to know’ delivery of all of the information about the exhibition so far, we had no idea where we were supposed to go. We eventually were pointed in the right direction – past the huge outdoor stage setup which was to be the venue for the opening ceremony – into a smaller hall and then into a small theatre.

Inside the theatre I was shown to my seat, and lucky that I was. Sally then pointed out, in my defense, that we had not come across a sign in English thus far.

I have had assurances that it's my full name written on my chair. Marja Houtman rehearses receiving her award on stage

On the low stage were set up a few instruments, some of them unfamiliar to me (but soon to become demystified.) The rehearsal finally began with an organiser taking the place of the art director who was to host the actual ceremony. We went by groups, with two representative finalists (there being over 100 actual finalists), bronze winners, silver winners, gold winners and the grand prize winner, Jeon Sangwoo. We then had some time to kill, so I chatted with Sally and her mum, and with Maja Houtman, a gold and silversmith and silver prize winner, who had come from The Netherlands with her husband for the event.

Then the press and the mayor arrived. We were treated to a musical performance, and then we were all given our awards (those of us who attended, at least) by different dignitaries associated with the event. Us gold prize winners had the honour of having the mayor present us with our awards, and finally the grand prize winner received his, and, once they carried across a large timber lectern across the stage for him to hide behind, made a speech.

Photographing photographers – Image by Sally Park

I had been asked in the days prior if I wanted to make a speech. I didn’t really, but I ended up saying yes and sending them the text to translate. On the day, upon arrival, I was given a copy of my speech with the translation. After our rehearsal I was told that we were running over time, and so my speech was being cut, which relieved me no end.

Unfortunately for me, the art director either wasn’t told this, or decided that we had some extra time to kill, and I was summoned, in Korean, to make my speech. Someone sitting close by confirmed what I had already figured was the request (by whispering ‘that’s you’) so I scrambled through my handbag for the folded up text (with translation) to tell all the seated dignitaries how much I appreciated being recognised at their competition.

Image by Sally Park

In the end I didn’t have to leave space for them to translate, as someone had obviously decided not to bother. I found that out by looking at the art director, still standing at the other lectern to the side of the stage, who when I paused and looked at him, made a face which I translated to mean: ‘go on, continue!’

All the while there were many photographers on the stage, crowding each dignitary and the award recipients, so it was no surprise when eventually a crouching camera man tripped up a photographer who was walking backwards towards him.

At the end there was still more photos, after which we were all ushered outside for the actual opening ceremony. The general gist? It was long, we sat in full sun, and the South Korean President even sent a message. (More on my twitter feed, look for September 21.)

If I thought that was the end of the photos, I was quite mistaken. Once inside the exhibition hall (after we had migrated to the main hall and experienced one more outdoor performance before the entrance to the main building, as a lead in to the ribbon-cutting ceremony) myself, Maja and her husband as well as a couple of others became more photo fodder, as we slowly ambled past a display of ceramics. We were then called back to repeat the process, another two times… Being obliging foreigners, we did, while keeping the smiles very natural, of course.

I then was approached by a cameraman from a local TV station. I kid you not. It ended with me doing a dreadful spot about how pleased I was to be there (the requested lines fed via Sally direct from the camera-guy lost something in the translation, so I summarised what little I could remember of my earlier speech) which then poor Sally was requested by the cameraman to translate! She stood by the camera which rested on a plinth (fragile ceramics nearby), as the guy played and rewound what I had just said, and then wrote furiously as Sally turned my garbled English into Korean.

We were finally freed and left to wander around the exhibition, and then the rumours of a luncheon being put on for all of the dignitaries, artists, and the guest artisans of the Finnish exhibition began to grow louder. (Each year a different country has a showcase of their craft/design talent in one hall of the festival.) We eventually found an official who marched us to the lunch venue, and we all sat down for a meal. We being me and my support crew, and three of the Finnish team, including one fashion designer/artist and two professors who were manning a stall for their university in the adjoining craft fair.

The afternoon involved us finding out that we were not allowed to re-enter the exhibition without tickets, then finding out that I was entitled to two free tickets, then a march around the fairground to find out where I could collect these from. We finally got back in, I got to see my works, and we spent the next few hours looking at all of the exhibitions, with a brief respite for tea. We then headed to the furniture exhibition, all of the craft stalls and demonstrations on the floor below.

My pieces, on their oversized plinth.
A spartan display aesthetic – my plinth at a distance
Sally tries her hand at a craft stall

Sally has recently started trading with two other Korean artists as SAM, (standing for Seoul, Adelaide, Melbourne; so I’ll let you mull over who the other two Australian-based Korean artists are…) so we tracked down the stall that had her works displayed to check out her new line of laser-cut pieces, as well as the works of her associates.

Sally with her work: Photo – Mrs Park

At the end of a very long day, and after an scrumptious local meal, and with detailed instructions of how to get back to Suwon, I was left by Sally and Mrs Park at my hotel in Cheongju.

Sunset at the Cheongju Old Tobacco Factory
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