Chamber Pots, Hats and Vases
You may wonder what on earth chamber pots, hats and vases could possibly
have in common. In most places, nothing, it is true. But in Korea, they are
(let's make it were) all made of paper, yes paper. In Korea, paper was not
only essential, it was involved in every aspect of life... and still is.
Traditionally in summer, the elegant Confucian gentleman sat in his wooden
floored room with the windows/doors hitched up so that the air could
circulate freely and create a lovely soft, cool breeze. Dressed in white,
flowing, finest ramie clothes, his hair carefully knotted under his
horse-hair hat, he would sit on an intricately woven mat or cushion and,
drawing his lovely little wooden desk to him, he set to occupying his time
with his Four Friends: his brush, ink stick, ink stone and paper.
After grinding the ink stick with occasional drops of water on the ink
stone, he would smooth out a piece of fine, fresh paper on his desk,
carefully placing special long weights at the top and the bottom. Then,
dipping his brush into the ink, he would write a few lines of poetry in
energetic, emotional strokes. The Four Friends had once more proved loyal,
constant and a source of enjoyment.
The paper will have been chosen from among thousands of different kinds.
Korean paper is made of mulberry pulp mixed with what is called "pulp" --
which is recycled paper. There is no right/best/good paper for any given
thing, everything depends on your personal taste. "Some prefer smoother
paper, some prefer more absorbent paper, some prefer more pliable paper; it
all depends on the individual taste. Generally though, good calligraphers
like very absorbent paper," said my interviewee, Chi-kwang Sunim. An
ordained Buddhist in Korea for nearly 20 years, one of her constant
interests has been paper. "You can't imagine the variety! When we were
making paper during a special workshop recently, we chopped up grass, pine
needles, flowers, almost anything to create a different texture, a
different smell, a different color of paper. (Actually, I had never really
thought much about paper, just used it. As the world of variety and
possible uses opened up before my eyes, I became quite engrossed! I
imagined rose paper, lily paper, lilac paper and so on...) Then we used
only natural materials so the paper would be stronger, last longer and stay
the same color, not fading or discoloring with age."
Chi-kwang went on to explain that natural bleaches really make a
difference. I knew normal bleach, chlorine water, but didn't know anything
about natural bleaches, and so I asked. "Oh, the stalks of different plants
like rice or better still buckwheat are burnt and the pulp is boiled with
the ash. This produces a really marvelous paper."
I began to wonder just how far paper could go. And then I was told. "There
are paper umbrellas, raincoats, vases, boxes, floor panels, chamber pots
and even shoes." (Shoes of cardboard, yes. But paper shoes?) The soles, I
was soon told, are made of layers of paper stuck together with glue and the
rest of the shoe is made of woven paper, the basis of many traditional
household articles -- all carefully varnished, or more traditionally oiled
-- stitched together with paper string.
Paper is cut into long strips and then rolled into long worm-like pieces.
It is these that are woven. Rather naively I began to wonder about the
practicality of walking in the rain in a paper raincoat with my paper
umbrella in my paper shoes! "All are woven from these worm-like pieces of
paper string and treated. The umbrella and shoes are varnished with lacquer
and the raincoat is treated with wild sesame oil. They're very strong, you
know," Chi-kwang assured me.
Cushion covers, table and floor mats, book covers, and vases are all made
of woven paper. Vases are carefully lacquered on the inside to make them
able to hold water. And then there is the traditional Korean floor covering
-- before linoleum.
Korean floors in the rooms traditionally inhabited during winter, when the
temperature hovers between 0 and -20 degrees Centigrade, were heated under
the floor. The floors were made of huge stones and earth under which flues
conducted hot air from a fire made in the adjoining kitchen to the external
chimney. The floor was covered with paper.
Large sheets of pulp-rich paper were stuck together in layers and then
dipped in vats of soya bean oil. The result was a very strong, thick paper
which was laid down on the floor in squares with the edges overlapping,
stuck down with glue. (Of course things have changed and now fish oil is
usually used.) The paper was then lacquered a number of times. These floors
start life a bright yellow which mellows to a rich chestnut as time goes
by. In fact, if the floor is sand-papered and lacquered again every year,
the paper lasts for ever.
It is impossible to finish an article on paper without mentioning today.
Long ago, clothes were made of paper and this is a new trend on the
catwalk. Wedding dresses, scarves, hats and suits are all being made of
paper. The best is 100% mulberry paper. The sheets are crumpled up over and
over again to make the paper strong and give it a lacy look. Then the
clothes are stitched and worn and even washed -- though carefully.?
Whatever the activity, each member of the temple continues throughout his
life to do his best to attain enlightenment. Living a simple life, being
vegetarian, abstaining from cigarettes and alcohol, being celibate, and
dedicating his actions to the welfare of all beings are ways in which
Buddhist monks try to improve the world.