Neil Burden requested I use this song for Seoul. I can't believe it, all my grand plans for a classy blog and it's turned into a wedding* disco taking requests from the floor. Who's supposed to be in charge here, eh? Someone's found a handbag in the ladies toilet so please speak to a member of the bar staff if you think it might be yours. Doesn't the bride look lovely?
Back in the same hostel in Seoul, a number of the English-speaking guests were still the same. On the first night I was sitting using my computer in the kitchen where Paul, a New Zealander, was listening to an younger American guy explain his misfortunes. I wasn't paying a lot of attention, but the general summary was that he had taken some slightly-dodgy teaching job in the country with an organisation who assured him that it would be OK if he didn't get hold of a working visa until later. They generally pissed him around, reneged on promises, threatened to shop him to the police (meaning deportation) and refused to return some of his vital immigration paperwork. At one point he had apparently leaned over a desk to angrily tell the woman there to immediately return his paperwork, whereupon she had slapped him hard in response. Paul and I were telling him the sort of advice that he probably already knew or should have known, such as don't get yourself into compromising positions in the first place and that he must have made his demand in an over-aggressive manner if she had slapped him and therefore he was wrong to have done so. Then, Paul starts saying "Although, if she'd slapped me like that, I would have hit her back, hard!". "That's not good advice!!!!", I leapt in, "He shouldn't be doing that under any circumstances!!". "I would though" continued Paul, "I would have hit her to the ground and then I would have held her there and....." etc. God almighty!
This reminds me of a story from my first stay in Seoul. Sitting in the same kitchen one afternoon, I was sharing the table with a Canadian girl called Alex who worked as an English teacher to support her own studies. Looking for some extra work to bring in some more money, she received an offer to take part in a phoney abduction and ransom of a local businessman. She spent most of the afternoon negotiating this assignment over the internet. Apparently, the gentleman in question got sexually aroused by being abducted by young women, tied up and made to pay them a ransom to set him free. The ransom money was then theirs to keep. It sounded a bit dodgy to me, but the lady organising it assured her that no sex or nudity would be involved and that the 'victim' would sign a legal disclaimer beforehand absolving them of any blame for commiting the 'crime'.
The next evening, Jiny had arranged for us to go and see a performance of Korean and French hip-hop. We went to an art complex very much like the Barbican in London, but without the iconic concrete carpark-style design. The first piece was a quirky and inventive ballet sort of parody of Swan Lake with some younger performers. Next up, were another set of dancers who, although beginning with a routine built around Gnarls Barkley, soon went into the same modern street-ballet themes. Extremely good they were too. Jiny was now pulling the tickets from her handbag to check we were in the right show, wondering where on Earth the hip-hop was. The third performance before the interval was another group dressed as night demons corrupting a pair of innocents, all in what I would call ballet stylings.
After the break, we began with a French performer would did his stuff alone on stage with a number of props including many packs of cards he sprayed around and a set of giant cards he built into a tower. After he was done, the lights in the theatre came on again and the stage lay empty. The earlier dancers didn't return for a final bow and everyone sat there for a while wondering if it was the end before slowly beginning to get up and leave. We asked an usher if it was over. He didn't know but he certainly knew that I wasn't allowed to take a picture of the house of cards on the stage when I tried. Bloody kill-joy.
Wednesday I went over to one of the city's many universities where Saratu is studying, to meet her for lunch. We got a large and impressive platter of Korean food with no meat, but I had forgotten to mention the "no spicy" clause, so could sadly eat little of it. In the afternoon, I tried to book myself on a ferry to China for the following day but, when I checked the telephone number on the website, I noticed that they stop taking bookings by this time of the day and, ominously, did not take telephone bookings on the day of departure.
In the evening, my Seoul host Jiny again took me out, this time to find one of the many famed jazz clubs. Considering there are supposed to be so many of them, it took a while to find one. Once inside, there was only one other group of people there and they quickly turned out to be the band having a last drink before getting up on stage. But, a bar is a bar and probably nowhere was going to be packed on a Wednesday so we settled down. The band were a three-piece with a cracking drummer, an accomplished pianist and a double-bass player who was competent enough but, frankly, lacked a muse and his one solo spot couldn't have been less funky if he were a German with the flu.
I rang the ferry company again in the morning and, although they were not taking telephone bookings, they did suggest that there were tickets available if I went down to the port. I rode the metro back out to Incheon, found a bank to withdraw enough money to pay for the ticket, then took a taxi down to the terminal where they were able to sell me a berth as promised.
Before I arrived, the skies had been clear, or at most lightly overcast. But once inside the departures lounge, a fierce rain drummed down on the roof. Later on the boat, after I had used the on-board sauna and hot sping bath, I went outside to look at the night sky while I brushed my teeth. The wind was so strong that I could not even breath through my nostrils (as one is obliged to do when brushing one's teeth). But still the boat remained steady. The wind must have got stronger still after that because when I went to bed the boat bounced, shuddered and on occasion even loudly banged on the choppy seas. This was a proper ferry, not a diddy catameran doing the Dover-Calais run, so it must have been harsh weather to have had this effect. Although I knew we were safe, my mind couldn't help wondering just what would happen if the boat did start to sink. It's not as if a helicopter can hover in such strong winds, much less lift off so many people. And it's difficult to believe that there are so many bigger boats in the world that one could come to our aid so quickly. And how would people be transfered to it even if it did?
South Korea was a great country, even if it was a difficult one for me and my diet. A beautiiful place with lovely people and a rich cultural heritage. The small number of cashpoints for foreigners and the limited amount of Englosh spoken suggest it is not really geared up for tourists, but there is much to see and do so I recommend it thoroughly.
The final word must go to my two exceptional hosts, the two Lees. Jiny in Seoul and Byung in Jeonju were fantastic in looking after me and ensuring my time in their country was as good as possible. My kindest thanks to them both.
* - Co-incidentally, on the day I am posting this, he is actually getting married