Dreaming of a Kinfolk Life in Seoul

Originally written in Korean by Yeong Gyun Lee

Translated into English by Yujin Song and David Bevilacqua

The first thing that I set out to do after moving into an apartment with a view of the Han River was to buy a cutting board. For a long time, I've been a romanticist, dreaming of drinking a beer with some sweet cookies and savory cheeses on a little wooden cutting board as the sun sets. Since I had some Belgian craft beer at home and some nice beer glasses from Aoyama ready to go, all I needed was a wooden cutting board with a nice grain and a wonderful natural wood scent. However, finding the perfect cutting board proved to be anything but easy. Some of the cutting boards I found had a nice color but the scent was off, while some had a nice design, but it was obvious that no thought was put into the grain.

Unsatisfied with what the stores had to offer, I gave up on finding a perfect cutting board for purchase and decided to sign up for a craft class to create my own perfect cutting board. The Jip-bang* trend played a big part in my decision. When I thought about it more, it aligned more closely with my lifetime dream. Rather than placing value on consumer goods, I aspire towards a free and easy existence with simple items created with my own hands. The next evening, I sat in a small studio in Mullae-dong with a piece of ash tree as big as my arm. That night, Hami Yoo, the director of Small Studio Semi and a queen of carpentry, introduced me to the deep world of the craft with her "Crafting a Wooden Cutting Board for Bread" class. The ash wood that she recommended had a nice grain and elasticity and was strong enough to be perfect for crafting a cutting board for use at home.

Frankly, it was a much harder undertaking than I had imagined. I drew a draft on the piece of wood with a pen. Then I spent some time learning how to use a jigsaw and clamp. Cutting the wood along the draft lines required a lot of concentration. It took me thirty minutes just to cut the final form. After awhile, the sawdust in the air started to irritate my eyes and nose. Attributing it to the true charm of woodworking, I continued on, continuously rubbing my running nose with my apron. As the form started to take shape, I used sandpaper to smooth the wood, a taxing process in and of itself. After that, I finished it by rubbing the wood with nut oil. I figure the whole process took about three and a half hours from start to finish. With an indescribable sense of achievement, I carefully put my newly-created cutting board inside of a bag, placed it on the passenger seat of my car, and safely brought it home.

That night, I put a loaf of cheese bread, freshly baked from my own oven, on my craft cutting board and opened a can of beer. Enjoying the sunset, I found peace. That peace was short-lived, however. Full of despair, I let out a scream. The heated cheese bread had left a mark on my precious craft cutting board. The beer, sunset, and bread were perfect, yet the mark had ruined everything. I laughed at myself and finished drinking the beer. I took a moment to think. Maybe the dream of kinfolk life--finding joy and appreciation in the slow life, with freshly-baked bread and cookies on a wooden cutting board--is incompatible with men in Seoul. They don't have time to let their cutting boards dry completely for a few days. Still, as I re-apply nut oil to my cutting board, I continue to dream of the kinfolk life.

* Jip-bang: a Korean neologism indicating a unique yet simple interior design.

Young Gyun Lee
Editor of <Art Now> and <Noblesse>

Illustrator: Song Yeon Kwon
She draws and records whatever floats in her way as a way of proving her existence. Her drawings are present in many forms of art including books and performances and exhibitions.

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