14 January 2017 (Saturday) – 31 January 2017 (Tuesday)
1:00pm – 7:00pm
Our group of 10 arrived Xi Yao in Nantou on 26 November 2016. Our luggage and backpacks were all stuffed with bisque fired ware ready for firing. We had planned this trip for sometimes, but other than our teacher Yokky; none of us really knew what the trip or wood firing entails other than these few facts: 1. Wood firing ware is unpredictable, 2. Overnight shifts are required, 3. One can roast sweet potato in the charcoal and 4. Taiwan cuisine is tasty.
So with a hopeful mind for fun and some good foods, we embarked on this journey.
Once we arrived, we spread all our wares onto two 4’ x 8’ tables, they were in odd shapes and sizes with plenty of flat ware. The Taiwan teachers inspected our works with interest, but were probably contemplating “ how were we going to accommodate all these varying shapes and sizes inside the kiln?” In the process of loading the kiln, pots of similar size and height are grouped together so the space could be utilized efficiently. The path of the flame, and the way it will interact with the pots is determined by the way it is stacked. We commenced loading at dusk, but there were still plenty on the table by midnight. Master Lu and Master Chang circulated the tables in perplex, as if they were solving a mathematic equation. Then slowly but miraculously everything was loaded in; and we managed to start the firing at 3 a.m. after a worshipping ritual. We entrusted the fate of the pots to our own God. Up to this day, to pay respect to the Kiln God remains a ritual, because with all that is uncontrollable and unpredictable; every outcome is really subject to chance.
For the following 2 days, we needed to maintain the kiln temperature under 200 degrees Celsius for the ash covering process. We also helped to sort out the various fuel woods while the Teachers cut them with a chop saw. One day, 5-ton of Longan wood was delivered; and we watched in awe & documented how the delivery crew and the Teachers strategically converted the huge load into an orderly stack. Other fuel woods were scraps from a furniture factory; we had hardwood like mahogany, teak & iron wood, which filled the space with nice scent. We were rummaging through the bags of timber to find nice blocks to keep, while the insects and small black mosquitos had a feast.
From the third day, we had to raise the temperature, by increasing the frequency and the amount of wood casting. After it rises above 1,000 degree Celsius, it is generally a challenge to further increase the temperature. Sometime we would cast a ton of logs but only managed to raise 50 degrees overnight. “The last mile is always the hardest”; we could only remain patient and persistent.
When the temperature had reached above 1,000 degree Celsius, we needed to wear protective glasses to look into the kiln. Through the stokehole was a vision in magnificent amber, the glowing pots looked as if they were about to melt.
In the afternoon on Day 6, on 2nd December, the temperature had reached 1,150 degrees Celsius and needed to be maintained for 2 hours. Once the peak temperature was achieved at 1,250 degree Celsius, the firing is done.
It was 11 p.m.; we were very exhausted but were all too excited to rest.
This is not our typical Hong Kong style of travelling. Jiji is a very small town where the center in only a block, there are no Michelin starred restaurants, no shopping mall, no UNESCO sites; the best cuisine is beef noodles; our most frequent lunch was chicken thigh bento box. But the ten days allowed us to “stop and smell the roses” to focus on a single task. When we looked at our final works, we venerated the natural beauty that was created by the amalgamation of wood, fire, ash, earth and air. The journey resonates with us.
We would like to express our sincere thanks to the teachers: Lu Dong-Chuan, Cheng Ming-Hsun, Chang Hsuan-Fong and Wei Chuan-Ling; who had shared their wealth of knowledge to make this experience so remarkable.