May 26th Seoul
On Jeju, where there are apparently only 60 days a year without rain, we had three of them, so perhaps the holiday rain jinx that seems to have followed us around has lifted. Certainly this week has been beautiful, with Seoul unusually clear, and bright sunshine relieved by a nice breeze. No sign yet of the stifling humidity which is supposed to be the mark of summer.
Things are hotting up generally, with the city busier than usual in all respects. A slightly mind-boggling thought , in a place which let's face it is never short of action, but let me try and give you a sense.... Take the 7th most densely populated country in the world, rule out 70% of the land from habitation by putting forested mountains in it. Persuade the population of all the remaining rural areas that life would be better if they moved to the capital. Inject a hysterical work ethic to ensure that the population is up and about for 18-20 hours a day. There you have the usual activity level of Seoul. Set the temperature to maximum. Now add one World Cup....
Several times this week we have just gone out somewhere, and on the way encountered dancing, singing, processions... happenings are everywhere. Every organisation and individual here is having its special event now - the Seoul Performing Arts Festival, for example, usually in September, has been shifted to now, for the Cup, and that is a kind of Edinburgh-scale event, which we had not even noticed.
On Saturday night we went to the first night of the World Firework festival, which was a long tube-ride. The subway stop nearest to the fireworks had been closed because of crowds, so we had to go past, and walk back, watching the fireworks but arriving at the event only as they finished. This left a crowd of probably several hundred thousand* on Yeouido, [Seoul's Manhattan, remember], all trying to get back at the same time. We looked at the options, and went for walking across the river bridge with two sleepy children [I think it was on a walk like this that they came up with the name Han River - it means 'big' river, and is very apt] and catching a bus. Two and a half hours later we were triumphantly home. Ali ended up being given a seat on the bus, with E and J both asleep on her, and five Korean women holding on to them to stop them falling off. I was standing, but fully supported in all directions simply because the bus was full. The word 'full' here should not be confused with the English word meaning every seat occupied and a dozen people forced to stand in the aisle. This is the word 'full' as in a jar full of jelly beans. There would have been room for two or three lying up on the heads of those standing, and even this seemed likely to be taken at one point.
Yesterday we went for a meal and to a traditional outdoor performance with Young-Ai and her elusive husband [also called Han] and her daughter Sae Ryo, who with Young-ai will be in Exeter for a year from September. I have explained that it is very like Seoul. Sae Ryo and Jim got on very well. The boys have been playing in the street a lot, which is great.
My course for teachers has finished, but I am still busier than I would like to be with the tour of the play. The performances have got better and better, and there is wonderful response, which interestingly is mostly on the internet. There were more than seventy messages on the University website from kids who watched the last performance [Hangul-speakers among you can read them at www.knua.ac.kr/performance/board] This week we have four performances in the University Theatre.
Other highlights of the week ahead should be a trip to see a show called Nanta [billed as 'Stomp with Korean Food', swimming at the Embassy, the World Cup opening ceremony [no tickets I'm afraid, but we will soak up the atmosphere...] and I expect a few more unexpected encounters on the scorching streets of the city.
Brief football notes.........Based on first-hand knowledge of recent performances - Danny Murphy is no great loss, but where is McManaman??? Not even discussed when the first twenty seven midfielders are all injured? He features on the posters here, along with Owen and Beckham. Did you hear that in Sweden they were celebrating his omission. Where is that manager from again...conspiracy, I think.
Off to Dreamland this morning - a rather faded but nevertheless Seoul-scale theme park up the road, which Eddie and Jim have been agitating for.
*I know I have been known to exaggerate in these messages, but the Chosun Ilbo reported this crowd later as 450,000!