I awoke on the day of the Inaugural Meeting with a personal crisis: I’d lost my voice! Congestion, brought on by the city fumes, had crept up into my throat and all I could produce was a squeaky rasp. Soren valiantly offered to present my part of the talk as well as her own if it didn’t return, and so, with our ‘Plan B’ in place we made our way down to the hotel’s convention room.
We were met by councilors of the city of Cheongju; the festival’s organising committee; the media with their flashing cameras; and the full envoy of delegates, promoting their organisations with flyers or finely-printed examples of their work. As we mingled, I drank copious amounts of water and eventually my voice returned.
The first part of the day’s program was made up of the delegates’ presentations. There were representatives from printing, graphic arts and archival collections from around the world, as well as specialists in the field of printing heritage. They spoke about their collections, their programs—and the challenges they face in preserving and promoting heritage materials.
I opened our presentation with a description of Australia’s printing heritage. I described how the history of printing with movable type in Australia began with the First Fleet; how it was sustained during colonial times by a couple of convicts using old, worn materials; and how our printing technologies only started to catch up with the rest of the world when the commercial and agricultural industries of the nineteenth century were established.
Soren spoke about the Melbourne Museum of Printing itself: how it became established; its collections; its importance as the largest privately-run museum in the country; and the various programs on offer there. She also talked about Australia’s culturally significant Indigenous artifacts; how the cave paintings produced by the Aboriginals should be preserved and promoted as part of Australia’s communication heritage.
After our talks Soren and I settled into the last part of the program: the Inaugural Meeting itself. The representatives discussed various matters related to establishing an International Association, including its statutes and its future aims and scope.
Our big day ended on a high as we exchanged contact details with the other delegates and then set out for the Jikji Festival site for the ‘Friend’s Party’. Here we were treated to free local beer and a fireworks display—both of which challenged what we’d experienced in Australia. Korean people sure do know how to party!
Our Last Day with the Festival
Sunday the 4th of September was a highlight for me, as we made the trip to the beautiful Gayasan National Park to visit a particularly special fifteenth century Buddhist temple. The Haeinsa Temple is the depository for the Tripitaka Koreana: a collection of over 80,000 woodcuts carved in the thirteenth century and containing the world’s oldest and most exhaustive collection of Buddhist texts in Hangul (Chinese characters adapted to Korean language). It is considered by UNESCO to be one of the most important and most complete corpus of Buddhist doctrinal texts in the world.
The site itself was a marvel, being a pristinely-maintained and active place of worship set within the wilderness. We spent a delightful hour in this place, admiring the exquisite architecture and serene vibe.
This is the depository, which houses the Tripitaka Koreana. The story of each birch wood block used for the tripitaka is itself worth telling. Blocks were soaked in sea water for three years before being cut, boiled in salt water, then exposed to the wind for a further three years. After being carved they were coated in a poisonous lacquer to prevent insect damage, then framed in metal to keep them from warping.
Then, we were back on the road! We had seen the home of one of Korea’s national treasures; now we were taken to the place that would help us understand its origins: the Hapcheon Cultural Complex. This theme park, made up of a number of buildings and interactive displays, was built to mark the millennium of the Tripitaka Koreana. Its purpose is to educate and to promote this national treasure through workshops, presentations and exhibitions. Contained within the central hall, lining a spiral staircase, are facsimiles of the Tripitaka woodblocks.
This was our last day with the festival, and the organisers extended their appreciation by presenting us with two beautiful gifts: a commemorative display box containing chop sticks and serving spoons decorated with the festival’s logo, and a hand-bound facsimile of the Jikji itself! Our Korean hosts had been wonderfully attentive, succeeding in their goals for the conference: to initiate an international network of printing heritage organisations; presenting their own rich and sophisticated tradition; and to generate productive dialogue between individuals from across the globe.
At the end of our whirlwind trip Soren and I were exhausted but full of appreciation for all we had seen and done. We had met the world authorities in traditional printing practice and heritage, which had been a wonderful learning opportunity—and chance to promote the Australian chapter on the world stage.