Cafe culture with a difference
Putting yourself in
someone else’s shoes for an afternoon
can be an illuminating experience.
Imagine what it would be like to be transplanted into a foreign country without speaking that language, and to set up in business there with the single intention of helping your customers understand just what New Zealand is all about.
Koreans_ all 45million of them_ probably have misconceptions about New Zealand,
if they have ever heard of it. (Apparently many believe this is a tropical country.)
New Zealanders have probably absorbed a bit about the division of
North and South Korea, but after that it often gets a little hazy.
So as an everyday pakeha Kiwi, with a mix of European forebears and
a nearly mono-cultural upbringing, apart from studying Maori language for a time,
I confess myself staggered by the courage of Koreans Aaron and Susan Seo.
When they arrived here to live in 1997, drawn here by the good impressions
they formed of New Zealand during holidays to the North and South Islands,
Aaron had been a high school art teacher for 20 years,
while Susan had spent over a decade running her own private art institute, teaching
painting and composition skills to students about to enter university.
The house at Lavendale
Aaron says he needed a new experience in life.
He certainly has achieved that – with Susan,
he now runs the Lavendale Gallery and Café near TaiTapu, ChristChurch,
in a 1910 farmhouse on a subdivided 4ha property featuring a lavender farm of 2500 plants.
Their main purpose is to introduce Korean culture to New Zealanders.
“When we visited the Auckland Museum, we were very disappointed at the tiny
representation of Korea compared to some other countries, and at that point,
we decided that our mission here would be to promote better understanding.”
The couple met as art students at Seoul’s Hong-Ik University,
where Aaron completed a Master’s degree.
Parallel to his teaching career, he pursued his own painting,
moving to his preferred composite landscape style,
and in 1988 held his first solo exhibition at the gallery Hyun-dai in Seoul.
His art works have been selected for several group exhibitions of Korean contemporary
painting, including the Korean Grand Art Exhibition at the national Museum of Modern Art,
and Susan has also exhibited her work, which is based on materials and textures,
usually employing rice-paper and oils.
Aged 13 and 11 at the time they emigrated, their daughter Alicia and son Alex
attended Riccarton and Christchurch Boys’ High Schools before leaving for
Otago University to study dentistry and health sciences.
While their children were at secondary school, Aaron and Susan also studied hard.
“We knew what sort of life we wanted to live when we moved here,
and that our English was not good enough for us to easily explain our art to people here.”
So Aaron took a succession of courses on photography, sculpture and New Zealand art,
while Susan honed her English during four years of classes at Christchurch Polytechnic.
One symbol of the dedication that has gone into that learning process is the way
in which the whole family decided to give up their Korean names,
which they found could be an almost insuperable barrier to easy communication.
Over six years, Aaron and Susan looked everywhere for just the right building
and environment in which to promote Korean art and culture
and exhibit the Korean antiques they had collected together for 20 years.
Then they found their 1910 rimu homestead.
It took the couple eighteen months to prepare the house
and gardens for their Korean-themed displays,
and obtain resource consents for a small café,
but in 2004, Lavendale was launched at last.
The property is named for the lavender farm they planted themselves.
Their first oil has been distilled from the first harvest in December and January,
and they hope their lavender products will eventually provide
an income to support the running of the gallery, which is free to all.
Distilling essential oil of lavender
After advice from West Melton lavender expert Virginia McNaughton,
the Seos decided on lavender as more in keeping with their gentle lifestyle
and less labor intensive than farming the cattle that used to be on the block.
Because of their location alongside the main highway
from Christchurch to Akaroa, they also thought an expanse of lavender
would add another attractive feature to the journey.
Another source of money to help with gallery management is the small café from
Aaron has built himself a propagation tunnel-house,
and is surprised that he has turned out to be something of a horticulturist.
“This has actually involved quite a lot of hard work in my mornings and evenings,
but when the crop is in flower it looks wonderful, and I’m happy.”
which Susan serves refreshments and small items for lunch, including Korean BBQ pork
and rice, Sanjok(skewered chicken) and Hae-mul-jun(seafood pancakes).
These have proved very popular with visitors, because Susan has cleverly mixed together
some New Zealand eating trends with Korean ingredients. As it turns out, she does not
have as many hours to spend talking art with her guests as she would like.
Korean culture room
However, on the days when the gallery closes, Aaron may be found in his lavender
paddocks or propagating house, and Susan in the garden studio
they have just converted from a farm shed.
Both Aaron and Susan are keen to seel their art work,
but they’ve found there’s hardly enough time to concentrate on it so far.
Lavendale makes an excellent refreshment stop for Akaroa-bound travelers,
or people who have heard through the grapevine
that the Korean culture room is worth a look.
“We enjoy telling people the background behind our displays,
and we have been very pleased with the response of the public to our culture.”
One of the most intriguing items is the miniature replica of
the Divine Bell of the Shilla dynasty’s Great King of Sungduck.
Made in the eighth century, the Emilae bell is rated as Korea’s National Treasure No 29.
The replica now house at Lavendale is a 1;18 model that also replicates
the majestic resonating sound of the orginal bell,
much to the wonder and curiosity of visitors who hear it, Aaron says.
Made by the Professor Bae Myung Jin of Sungshil University in Korean,
it was donated to the Lavendale display by Mr Byung-Hak Cha, p
resident of the CHCH Korea Newspaper.
In the Korean Culture room, handouts are supplied for visitors
who wished to read the detail behind the displays. Farming tool used by landlords for
controlling the outlets that supplied water to the rice field provides some insight into the
rice-field hierarchy – the longer the tool you used, the higher your status.
In a paper wardrobe, its frame made of pine to which repaper
and natural hard woven linen ar attached, official uniforms,
important documents and books are kept.
Aaron says the man’s formal black hat hanging on the wall may appear a some
what stupid clothing item, because there could be nothing more impractical.
But its sole function was to indicate social position by the width of the brim.
Screen rubbing form the Emilae Bell, at 3.33m high and 2.7m wide,
the biggest and most beautiful in Korean, show two Buddhist saints pouring tea.
Sal Po (Farming tool)
A 200-year old Jeju mortar consists of two parts,
one made from volcanic stones and used to pound grains,
and an outer wooden section where the grain is collected.
In the adjacent Artists’ Room, Susan and Aaron display their own works
as well as collected items by other artists, including local Cantabrians.
Outside in the gardens, old elm, plum, mulberry and quince trees are a
mong the oldest plantings in the district. At the Lavendale entrance,
antique gateposts –jeung nang- indicate the absence or presence of the homeowner
by the number of logs placed through matching holes.
A 19th century millstone illustrates how food items such as rice would be smashed
on the mortar, and green peas and beans ground using the millstone, rotated
by hand using a simple wooden handle.
An effective garden feature turns out h be a traditional island chimney designed
in a series of chambers of decreasing size to prevent heat loss and avoid strong winds
coming down the chimney. Close by are some 19th century statues of military and civil
officials, erected near the tombs of kings and dignitaries to protect and honour the dead.
The Seos used one and a half containers to transport their valuable sculptures
and antiques into New Zealand, and because of the phyto-sanitary regulations,
it took seven people a whole week to clean and prepare the items before dispatch.
“But we were happy to do that. We understand how important
it is for New Zealand, and we were allowed through remarkably quickly.”
Many items are irreplaceable – and very expensive in Korea – so the Seos have installed
security cameras, but everyone who has visited Lavendale has been both appreciative
and careful of their treasures, Aaron says.
Because the Seos used to live in Sonpa-Gu, ChCh’s sister city in Korea(pop. 680,000),
Aaron became involved with the sister city displays at ChCh’s Halswell Quarry park,
carving two traditional Korean guardian statues for the Millenium celebrations.
The Seos have also hosted many Korean groups at Lavendale,
including the artists who recently featured in a ChCH Art Gallery
exhibition of contemporary Korean art.
As I talk to this amazing couple, the background music,
Susan tells me, is from a group of Korean Female Buddhist monks,
who are chanting a message of inner peace.
In this house of Lavendale,
it would be difficult no to be impressed by the generosity
and goodwill that so clearly drives Aaron and Susan.
But as they build their new life here,
pursuing their goal of multi-cultural understanding,
they say their good Kiwi friends and neighbors are most appreciated,
for everything they have done to help them.
Cafe culture with
Words and photos by Lyn McKinnon.
New Zealand Lifestyle Block
(Meditation de Thais)