OnDol - the Korean floor was traditionally stone (now metal pipes embedded in concrete and covered by a thick layer of a linoleum-type flooring). The houses were heated by a charcoal stove with pipes that passed under the house. The stove radiated heat through the stone. When Koreans travel they miss their food - kimchee, hot pepper paste, roasted seaweed - but also the soothing surface of warmth that they sleep, eat and sit upon. As one local historian observed, "In making the transition between pit dwellings and houses, my people never lost their strong attachment to living at ground level. The family still spent most of its indoor life on the floor, which provided living space for eating, talking, sleeping, everything.”
DolSot - Korean chefs include a vise-grip or an ordinary pair of pliers along with their knives, oversized chopsticks, spatulas and kitchen shears, as necessary kitchen utensils. A number of rice dishes as well as soups are cooked and served in the DolSot, a stone bowl which the chef takes directly off the fire and places on an underplate with the pliers while the server waits to take it out to the table. The DolSot should come to the table with the soup bubbling furiously or the rice crackling and roasting against the stone - the dish finishes cooking as you wait for it to cool enough to eat. The rice at the bottom of the bowl hardens and caramelizes slightly giving the dish a wonderful aroma. The hard rice is considered a treat and is sold alone as a snack - NoRunGi.
OnDol and DolSot are two elemental aspects of Korean life - they possess a simplicity, durability and roughness which makes of harshness a beauty. This aesthetic penetrates many aspects of Korean life. Even though Koreans have been experts at making fine celadon (green and white porcelain) for centuries -the most remarkable ceramic production is the brown rough-hewn stone wear. Each cup in a set is a slightly different size and shape. The mouth is not perfectly round. The surface is mottled and slightly rough in your hand. You can easily see the mark where it was taken off the potter's wheel and the indentations of the potter's hand - as artfully careless looking as calligraphy and just as expressive.
There are a number of dolmen (the root 'dol'' here is of Celtic not Korean origin) in Korea including a few still standing within Seoul city limits. The Korean sculptor Yi Gi Chul takes natural boulders from the mountain near his studio and hollows them by hand with a chisel. He works in a rhythmic and painstaking way, creating the negative space in such a way that the natural line and shape of the boulder is unaffected. Approaching the rock from one side you see nothing until coming around the corner you have the surprise of the gutted boulder and the innumerable tiny chisel marks. Another sculptor, Jeong Kil Taek, makes very striking pieces in which huge, smooth, flat black stones have indented patterns in the top, which contain pools of water giving them the appearance of stones indented by water dripping over long time. The flat gray of the dry stone and the dark black of the wet pool provide an evocative monochromatic contract of depth and texture.
All of this reminds me of my favorite thing from Korea: the ink stones used by calligraphers. They are a two piece black rock, the lid of which is ornately carved with a dragon, fish or an abstract design. The bottom piece - a sloping indentation. The ink, in the form of blackened charcoal stick (the residue of OnDol), must be scraped against the stone well with some water to create the deep black ink necessary for a clear brushstroke on rice or silk paper. The calligrapher to clear his/her mind before starting to rub the charcoal in a repetitive meditative gesture for thirty minutes or more, releasing the compressed blackness into the water.