In Korea, it’s become traditional (and quite possibly confectionery-industry created) for women to give chocolate-related gifts to men on February 14th (Valentine’s Day) and for the men to reciprocate with a non-chocolate confectionery gift on the 14th of the following month (White Day). The 14th of each month has an unofficial love-related theme, including Black Day (April 14th, where single people eat noodles with black bean sauce and mourn their singledom), Movie Day (November 14th, quite possibly film industry-created), Hug Day (December 14th) and, my personal favourite, Green Day (August 14th). Amy and I, having a healthy amount of distrust for large for-profit companies, opted to do fun things rather than pander to contrived conventions and so my gift was a trip to a pottery-making class in nearby Icheon (이천).
I had managed to keep our destination a secret since first coming up with the idea, but Amy figured it out almost as soon as the bus set off (we’d managed to board without her seeing the destination, but unfortunately there’s nothing much west of Yongin other than Icheon and it was a reasonable guess once we were underway). We found the pottery studio without too much difficulty (that is, we called the place up and gave the phone to the taxi driver) and, despite a few misgivings about the generally run-down appearance of the place, walked in to an enthusiastic greeting from the resident artisan. He gave us a rapid tutorial on the types of small brick you can make and then had us put together small pots to get a feel for how the clay behaves when you work with it. This was pleasantly repetitive (especially as I didn’t put any particularly artsy modifications into my creation), and we quickly built small fortified towers out of whatever components our fingers gave us.
With our pots off to one side for air-drying, it was time to pull on some old trousers and get to work on the wheel. Our potter, by now thoroughly chuffed that he could communicate with us reasonably well in Korean, slammed down a column of clay and had Amy sit down to have a go at throwing a vase. Under his guidance (mostly to stop the clay flying off or deforming, we think), they made the column taller, then hollowed the middle out, expanded it to a bowl-like shape, turned it back into a now-hollow column and then gently made the centre bulge out. After only a few minutes, Amy was holding a perfectly-formed vase ready for drying and it was my turn to have a go. We went through the same procedure as before – the clay was a lot harder and more friction-inducing than I’d anticipated, and I often had to reach over to wet the surface. Finding the exact right amount and rate of pressure to apply in order to change the shape without breaking the surface or making an irregular dent also proved a challenge, but we ended up with a slightly different but just-as-serviceable vase.
The wheel was then given over to Amy and me for us to put our nascent skills to the test and make another vase. As you may have guessed, we managed to get the clay into an approximation of what it should have been like but ended our session with a rather warped and asymmetrical creation destined to be reconstituted into the stock column and made into something more befitting the discerning kilns of Icheon. We arranged to have our pots and vases fired and posted to us (putting no little faith in the postal service), that we might put them to use as a reminder of a novel and interesting date.