Boiling Stalks

모슬포 (Moseulpo), South Korea. 1997.

Mr. Kim led me down to the edge of the property to a well used firepit. There was a large pile of wood and he set to lighting a fire. Once the blaze was going strong I helped him lift a big vat up onto metal legs that suspended the vat over the fire for boiling. The vat was about the size of a 50-gallon drum cut in half from top to bottom. He added water and rice stalks to the pot and stirred it slowly with a long stick. As the mixture heated up, he added more water and more stalks turning the batch into a big goopy stew.

We were both mostly silent as we watched the brew boil. He smoked the frequent cigarette and answered my occasional question. I learned that the batch we were cooking would be used to make traditional Korean paper, and some sort of traditional style Korean mask. To make the masks, the well-boiled rice stalk mash would be pressed into molds. Once dry, the mold would be removed and the mask would be painted. He told me there were several different kinds of masks they made and there were lots of them in the house. I hadn't even had a chance to look around the place yet, but when I did, here is what I found gathering dust in one of the rooms: Piles and piles of unfinished masks. At least four different varieties. In addition to the piles on the shelves, there were many gunny sacks full of miniature masks. I helped myself to a representative few. I still have them of course:
Lonely Planet said nothing about stopping off somewhere in rural Cheju Island to stir the batch that makes these little guys.

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