May the Fourth be With You
332-198 Seokgwan-Dong, Seongbuk-Gu, Seoul
Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, a potentially difficult time for us both, although obviously for Ali the lack of my romantic presence is more than made up for by the pleasure of looking after the boys on her own all the time. I had to make do with a special massive barbecue in the azalea-studded garden, shaded in the elegant wooden pagoda from the blistering sun, with a big cake, because I had casually mentioned the fact to my students. But spare me your sympathy, because it is less than a week now until the real big day. May 12th. I am getting excited, counting the days, beginning to wonder how it will feel, after such a long time away......... for Birmingham City to be finally in the Premier League. I am also worrying slightly that I won't be able to concentrate on the match, with Ali and the boys arriving in Korea on the same day.
I have been strengthening my links with the British authorities here this week, with meetings at the British Council and at the Embassy. Because of the relatively small British community here, there is a kind of status slippage, by which I can speak to people who in other circumstances would be far too lofty for the likes of us. The Ambassador seems quite likely to come to see my play, for example, and later today, I am invited over for a swim at his residence, which is an unbelievably quiet colonial stately home with lavish gardens, perched implausibly between Dokksugung, the main royal palace permanently full of tourists, and the huge streets and blocks of central Seoul, perhaps one of the busiest and most crowded few square miles in the world. This prime piece of land was retained through Korea's traumatic last century, apart from brief occupation by the Chinese - [Seoul changed hands four times during the Korean War] and the building itself is actually one of the oldest in Seoul. The city has a number of much older palaces, all of which are in fact reconstructed [rather well], having been destroyed at least once each, and one or two older academic buildings, as well as some tombs and archaeological sites with very ancient remains, but none of the main buildings or houses are any age at all. Almost the entire city was built in the last fifty years, having been thoroughly pillaged by the Japanese, and then razed to the ground several times during the Civil War [as it is most often called here]. The piece of Seoul that is forever England, which also includes a bizarre 1920s italianate Anglican cathedral, was apparently kept safe during the bloody Japanese colonial period because the ambassador had been at Oxford with the Japanese head man here.... makes you proud doesn't it? Still, it will be nice to have a civilised dip. I expect we shall have tea on the lawn afterwards.
My invitation actually comes from Colin, a Counsellor at the Embassy, who has lived here for some time, speaks korean, and has a child Eddie's age. We had a meeting about some ideas he has for a touring theatre group to come here, and it is good to have the possibility of meeting up with his family when the boys are here. I also met Young-Ai's daughter finally yesterday. She is called Sae Ryo, and is five. They will be in Exeter all next year for Young-ai's sabbatical. [Choi Young-Ai is my Professor, and the person who invited me out here]. There is no shortage in general of children for Eddie and Jim to play with, in the local park, and on the streets around the flat as well, which feel wonderfully safe. They are barely negotiable in cars, which never go above walking pace.
Seoul is a safe city generally. The traffic on the big roads would certainly be dangerous if it could ever go fast enough. There are a lot of 'minor' accidents. I am not sure of crime figures, but my GI friend, who has been here for three years, was aware of only two murders in Seoul in that time, for example. One of them was an all US army murder, and the other was thought to have been done by a soldier, but turned out to be a 'domestic'. George Bush probably remains the biggest threat to our safety here.
Heads or Tails opens on Saturday at Wonchun Middle School in the gymnasium at 11.30 [if you're passing]. We have had good and bad rehearsals this week. A friend from Birmingham, Kim Ju Yeoun, watched the run yesterday - she is doing a PHD at the University of Central England on using the British model of Drama in Education in a korean context. She couldn't quite believe it - said that it was very different from anything that is ever shown to Korean children. It feels a very serious play, but with quite a few funny bits, which I have worked particularly hard on, to try and make sure they are funny for our audience. It has been hard to get it into schools. We seem likely to receive complaints about the nature of the play, from some teachers and school managements who may think it is 'too much' for their pupils, and my students are anxious that teachers will be insulted by the aspect of the play that is attacking 'traditional' teaching styles. The setting in 1940s Ladywood, is a distance away, and the specifics of it, which were very significant within the original production, are played down in favour of emphasis on the global truths in the story. It has been fascinating directing the play, trying to sense what is meant by the differences in speaking lines in a language of which I still have so little grasp. The actors have been wonderful to work with. But for now it is all guessing - I can't wait to see what it all actually feels like in performance.
By next Sunday the play will have opened, and my flat will have filled up, so this concludes phase one of my adventure, and the stage when your presence has been most necessary to me. We may even have a series of shorter messages, for the month of my colonial occupation here, but then there is the family trip to see Beckham stride out again in Jeju Island, Eddie and me forming our links with schools, Jim tackles Korean food, Ali and the mosquitoes, and the World Cup itself - so much to come, so much to tell you about......
Come on you blues.....