June 23rd - Seoul
There may be some sad individuals out there who feel that this week the world cup lost its interest, as our brave boys went tamely home in a sweaty mess. I can reveal that this is not quite the majority feeling here. For your special correspondent, the only sadness is that suddenly much of what I have to tell you is being relayed to you already by other johnnie-come-lately journos who have swanned in here, sensing that news is being made. I dare say that there has been some passing mention in their media of the scale of Korea's celebrations after beating Spain. I spent most of last night wandering the streets just soaking it up. I had a Korean flag painted on my cheek, a fetching arm-band and of course my regulation 'be the reds' T-shirt. The result was that everywhere I went I was met by people wanting to take their photo with me, or just shaking my hand or simply laughing at me. Several older people through the evening wanted to share their makkoli [rice wine] and antibodies with me, just as some kind of expression to the wider world of overflowing Korean happiness. Younger people did high-fives, danced around me, drummed or just screamed.
Earlier, some of my students headed back to the campus to watch a Korean adaptation of a compilation of Beckett pieces, transferred into a movement medium, and suggested I come along. I am ashamed to say I laughed out loud. I ask you. What do they think I am, some kind of theatre academic? I recovered enough composure to say that the world of Seoul had tonight a real feeling of the absurd, which I wanted to research on my own, and got on a random bus into town to see more celebrating. Many people just drove around, competing at how many they could pile on a car or motorbike, waving flags. Car horns are still now regularly banging out Dae Han Min Guk at 9.00 Sunday morning, even though a spoilsport rain storm arrived at about five in some kind of futile attempt to calm things down. As I went on my way, crowds of a decent size were still gathered around TVs everywhere, watching the endless replays. Everyone seems to be equally amazed each time the result comes out. On Tuesday, instantly declared a public holiday, Korea play against Germany, who else, at Seoul World Cup Stadium. The prize a World Cup Final against Brazil [perhaps Turkey] in Japan. On Wednesday I fly out of Seoul. If Korea have won [and who would dare bet against them] I will not need an aeroplane to fly back, I could be carried just by the wave of noise and feeling, or ride out on one of the slightly terrifying volleys of impromptu hand-held fireworks.
It all started happily enough. The crowd was all in red T shirts, many with Korean flags draped around their shoulders, noisy and excited. And that was only the crowd in school for the final performance of Tong Jeon Teon Jigi at 9.30 on Saturday morning. 'It was, you may say, satisfactory'. Not the best performance, perhaps minds were already slipping elsewhere, but the end nevertheless of a really terrific experience from my point of view. The play will now be re-worked for presentation at the World Congress of ASSITEJ [Association Internationale Theatre de Jeunesse] in Seoul in July. The fact that I am back here for that [17th-31st July] takes the edge off my goodbyes here. In a way I'm just having a three week visit home before the finale.
After the performance we had a barbecue meal in a restaurant near the University, and then hit the streets with the rest of the population. All our first options for places to watch the match were full - a woefully inadequate term. So in the end I watched it rather bizarrely in a big church, where one of my students is a worshipper. Clearly the power of prayer had its effect on the inspired players, not to mention the linesmen. There is an awesome quality to the way the Korean team is playing, but there is also the less-mentioned fact that they are very good individual footballers. Strangely the people here do not think they are a faceless team with no stars, as seems to be the way the western media put it.
It's strange to think back, but until yesterday this message seemed likely to be dominated by tales of the famous victory against Italy, which was in those days the pinnacle of Korean achievement, but is now a distant foothill. The grumpy Italian reaction to their defeat got a great deal of coverage here, and upset people quite deeply. Footage of the players barging surlily past autograph-hunters at the airport, and the absurd conspiracy theories of politicians and football people alike briefly cast a shadow on what seemed at the time to be the biggest party in history. Three and a half million people on the streets of Seoul, not a single arrest, and no litter. Goodness only knows what the figures will be for yesterday. Again it's easy to forget the other aspect of Tuesday that certainly helped the party here. All the team's success up to that point had been mirrored across the East Sea, but no more. As the Korea Herald rather unusually unequivocally put it, 'Korea make history - Japan are history!'.
On Tuesday, I decided to get out of town, and to find somewhere sleepy and quiet. I got on a train to a place called Cheonpyong, a lake resort which at weekends is full of young Seoulites waterskiing and bungee-jumping. Evidently on tuesdays it is empty. It was a very hot day, extremely quiet and certainly sleepy, as you can see. I was able to find such an empty area that I could strip off and swim in the lake.
The rest of the week involved final presentations from my classes, evaluation sessions and planning for the work in July, all of which continues and will with luck be finished by Tuesday.
And so the adventure draws to an end. These messages home have inadvertently taken on the structure of a well made novel, with everything neatly coming to a head, on Tuesday. At this point we do not know what the ending will be. I shall do my best to fit in a quick final chapter, win or lose, before I set off home. This time next week I shall be watching the World Cup final with you all. It can't end up being Brazil against Germany after all this, can it?