While we waited for a bus, a friendly middle-aged woman, responsible for a modest kiosk at this historical site in the mountains – near a lake formed by the damning of a river and the flooding of a valley – gathered the local information officers and cultural heritage guides together at lunchtime.
Instead of offering them the standard fayre of her plastic-potted Ramen (available to visitors) she quickly whipped up a delicious-looking lunch of barley rice mixed with the soft purple pink Chim Dil Ea flowers, that are just beginning to bloom all across Korea’s mountains.
Though our bus was just pulling-in to take us away, she motioned us to quickly eat some too, and soon the fragrance of the flowers erupted at the back of my nose as I hurriedly spooned the floral rice into my mouth.
A day later and we were sitting in a quiet corner of a beautiful temple in the mountains of Andong, eating another modest lunch of flavoured rice wrapped in seaweed (Gim Bab). We noticed that little, sparrow-like or perhaps finch-like birds were sitting and flitting almost within touching distance.
One was apparently feeding the other, then flying in and out of what must have been a nest in the robust curved ceramic tiles of the temple’s eaves. It seemed as though one bird was feeding tiny white pink petals to the other, but it wasn’t quite clear exactly what was happening.
On our way down, through, and out of the temple we were accompanied by the background drone of thousands of tiny bees busily harvesting whatever it is that they might harvest on warm spring days like this when the fruit trees have spectacularly opened out their blossom.
The sound of the bees was now increasingly accompanied by chanting monks and the regular hitting of a drum coming from inside the temple.
( Later, in my notebook, I wrote the contorted Haiku:
While Bees Pray
Monks Make Honey )
We then met a guide who – always keen to share their knowledge – asked us if we had any questions about the temple. As we were not in the mood for a history talk, even by such a local expert , I cheekily described the scene with the birds we had witnessed and asked instead if she knew which of the birds might have been the mother. The guide answered without hesitation ‘the first one to move’.
Later, still in Andong, I added the following notes to my notebook:
Where mirror-like water is set in temporary turmoil by rocks and stones that interrupt its otherwise smooth progress, foam forms shapes that sometimes look like letters, or their fragments, as they swirl into momentary meaning then melt back into the motion of the river, which is also the motion of time.
Meanwhile, this landscape, viewed from midstream as we sat on a very low bridge (which was little more than a walkway perforated by small arches to let the river through) was doubled and reflected in symmetry.
This picture was also punctured, at what seemed its center, by one large, dark stone, half-submerged but whole when reflected, looking like the hole at the heart of a vinyl record.
This analogy turned my attention to the sounds all around.
Another few days into our trip and we found ourselves on a riverside walk line by miles-long avenues of blossom-laden cherry trees, which rained down their pale pink petal snow on to the crowds of passers-by whenever wind shook the trees, simultaneously dappling the bright sunlight and soft shade cast over the smiling Spring promenaders.
and Piccadilly Blues:
Following a month in Korea, mainly on family business, but also seeing the Biennale and doing some exciting research and writing, it was quite a shock to complete a dehumanising 26-hour door-to-door journey back to London, and to see how relatively Edwardian, Victorian, Dickensian etc. everything here seems.
The relatively ancient, slow, tiny and grubby Piccadilly line train was immediately the scene of an obnoxious racist encounter between a young Indian family and a tweed-wearing middle-aged Brit, forcing people to leave the carriage.
Then (or then again) the overcrowded bus we caught right under Big Ben’s nose as the bells rang 10 pm, was an amazing scene of compressed multicultural tolerance.
Although it also struck me how much central London has been reduced to cafe chains, hotels, and touristic photo-opportunities, with little real heart, authentic local history, or culture remaining.
Luckily, I woke up to hear a great Radio 6 Music interview with Mike D, and this has temporarily restored my faith in what the UK still has to offer in the way of art and culture.