▲ Canadian Joshua Markey got more than he bargained for when he stepped into Hong Young-bae’s carpentry workshop for the first time.The visit reawakened his passion for design and creativity, and also introduced him to a new life-long friend, Hong himself. Photos by Yasmin Aboelsaud
For most foreigners and English teachers on Jeju, Saturdays are often a day for relaxation and exploration of the islands’ wonders -but not for Joshua Markey. His Saturdays are spent at a local carpentry shop where he learns and practices traditional design with Jeju carpenter Hong Young-bae.
The Canadian teacher, who has lived in Jeju for almost two years, came upon Hong’s Shin Jeju gallery by chance after a shopping trip. “I came in here and realized I want all of it [the pieces] in my house,” said Markey, 24. “I really fell in love with his work.”
Although originally an English Literature major, Markey had always considered taking up carpentry. “I had a great interest in design and particularly architecture,” he explained. “It was kind of my dream, but my math abilities were subpar and it was not really possible for me to get accepted into any architecture programs.” His love for design took an unexpected turn the day he walked into Hong’s gallery. Markey and his Korean girlfriend were invited for tea by the owner and design master himself.
At the time, Markey’s Korean language skills were weak. “Through my girlfriend, he told me about his work. I asked him how I could go about learning his art, and he replied, through him as his student,” Markey said with the utmost enthusiasm. This fateful meeting was ten months ago, and Markey has been a studious student since. He works at the wood shop for about eight hours every Saturday.
Markey usually helps his teacher build pieces, but he is also able to construct his own designs. “The first thing I made was a pair of chopsticks,” Markey laughed while looking at his teacher, as though sharing the same memory. “I then moved on to making a coffee table, and recently finished a bookshelf of my own design, quite unique I might add,” he said proudly. So far, Markey’s kept all of his original pieces.
The gallery, which smells of freshly-cut wood at any time of day, is filled with local and traditional designs by his teacher, Hong, 49, a Jeju native. Hong’s father used to build ships on Jeju and Hong himself began carpentry 25 years ago.
With Markey barely speaking Korean, and Hong’s limited English, they manage to communicate through a mixture of both languages and a hand-sign language. “We communicate in our own language, which we joke about quite often. It works quite well, actually,” explained Markey.
The communication strategy must be working well, as Markey is now an honorary member of Hong’s family. Their work in the wood shop and gallery is a fraction of their relationship, which extends beyond work. Markey takes part in all their Korean ceremonies, family festivities, and holidays. Some of their activities include making Jeju traditional blankets, as well as picking grapes and making fresh grape juice at Hong’s residence. Recently, Markey experienced “bul-cho” with Hong’s family- a Korean tradition of cutting grass and picking weeds from relatives’ graves. “I’ve become his son. He asked my father to be his brother,” said Markey, expressing his closeness to Hong.
Their relationship, and his time as an intern for Hong, is starting to pay off for Markey. “This opportunity has rekindled my interest for design. I need to go back in this direction,” he said passionately. But not any design, Markey plans to keep constructing the traditional Korean designs Hong has taught him. Each piece is unlike any other, as the bumps and nicks on the wood are kept as is, not necessarily filed down to perfection. Their work has another major difference. “Our work does not use nails at all, so the wood is interlocked, pieces go into one another making it sturdy,” he explained.
Markey plans on continuing the internship, staying for another two or three years to continue learning. “I am now pursuing this as a career, and would love to have my own carpentry business in the future, even if I return home to Canada,” he said. As for teaching English: “Well, I love art and design, and I really enjoy working with my hands. Clearly English Literature wasn’t my destined path,” Markey laughed.
Hong Young-bae’s gallery is located at 1243-12 Nohyeong Dong, in Shin Jeju.
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