108 Pigs of Desire
Two nights ago on Wednesday, one of the artists from Japan threw an event in the parking lot (the heart) of Seoksu Market. The lot was festooned with strings of lights made from red plastic piggy banks. One hundred and eight, if I might be exact. One hundred and eight, each symbolizing the earthly desires that bind us to this existence. Yamanaka Camera (we call him Camera) is a performance artist, musician and all around amusing guy.
During our first week, I saw him walking around with one of these large plastic piggy banks under his arm gesturing and conferring with his interpreter and a few Koreans. Then about a week ago six very large cardboard boxes arrived. You can guess at the contents. Volunteers and interns toiled at wiring and cutting holes in pigs. Soon there were four strings of lights.
When we came back from dinner after the longest bike ride of my life, we found Camera frantically trying to hang the lights with just the help of Hojin (patron of SAP, Porsche driver, man about town, and all around good guy). Hojin told me about how he had found Camera all alone in the studio with his head in his hands. Somehow some local men from the market had been enlisted and they had hung one string of pigs from the awning of SAP studio to a pole strapped to a strategically placed flatbed truck. The string was propped up in two places by 12 foot 1 x 2s (wedged precariously between the string and the asphalt). The international effort began in four languages: Japanese, Korean, English and Sign. It was a Marx Brothers-esque scene that lasted until 3 am. Early on, about 10:30, Hyun Mi, the pastor’s wife, showed up with some of the church family to watch. At one point, an over enthusiastic townsman fell off a ladder only to be caught by a 6’4″ American.
Steve, the guitar man, showed up to help also. We had met Steve at noribun, Korean for karaoke, a couple nights before (“Holy Diver?!” You? “Holy Diver”?). “Steve” is a name he adopted while in doing military service in Australia. I think his name is Mr Chung. I think maybe Steve figures his real name is unpronounceable to us. Tall and thin, Steve looks like a Korean John Lurie if he had fallen on bad times and become a roadie for Metallica. After the first man fell, Steve redeemed Korea in the ladder event and won a medal in the pig wiring Olympics.
By the time I left, all 108 piggies where suspended, and support poles buttressed by being nailed directly into the asphalt. The Koreans were sitting around drinking makkoli. Camera was thanking everyone intensely. I went home to my bed at the pastor’s house.
When I came back the next morning, all 108 desires were still aloft cordoning off the parking lot. Perplexed shoppers were looking for the parking elsewhere. The day progressed. It began to get dark. We plugged the pigs in. Church ladies showed up with food. Townspeople gathered.
Far away, drumming began. Through the back streets of Seoksu they came, the corps of traditional drummers with Camera in company-playing his melodica. Children and parents followed. Then through into the lot to where the piggies were. Camera taught us a hybrid of Japanese and Korean folk dances that he had invented especially for a song he wrote. All the artists of SAP had sung the song. The recording blared and the circle formed. The dance went on for a couple hours becoming more and more intricate with each iteration and participation of town folk. It was lovely. And the piggies looked down and saw that it was good.
The dancing ended. The occasion degenerated into any other gathering of humans in a parking lot in which alcohol and a flatbed truck with a big amplified speaker attached to a microphone and illumination from 108 red pigs is involved. One day I will write a whole email about the Korean people’s relationship to an open microphone. Right now I will only say it is akin to a slug’s relationship to a pan of beer: irresistible.
That night we went for dinner in a nearby restaurant with a very low, soft ceiling. Another group meal affair. Burners on the table and three large pans of boiling things. One of pork spine and potato, another of spicy chicken and potato, and a tofu and sour cabbage stew I liked very much.
“Why is the ceiling so soft and why does it bow down?” I asked. It was then that it was pointed out to me that this structure, and all the structures on this alley were actually tents. This one had been painted so many times over the years that the fabric was unrecognizable and stiff. Temporary structures that had been constantly occupied for the last twenty-some years. I’ve been walking by these structures for nearly a month now, and never noticed.