Seokkwan-Dong, Seoul  Sunday 14th April 2002

Dear West

The nation here has been on the edge of its seat this week, the newspapers buzzing with re-unification talk. Is it going to happen, just how long will it take, for the north and south sections of David Beckham's second metatarsal to re-join?

Back on the front pages, similar issues have preoccupied us. With apologies to those of you who are well aware of all this, here is a Ladybird guide to Korean reunification. The assumption here is that Korea will be reunified, the questions when and how. Of course the model assumed is really reclaiming the North into the capitalist world rather than some kind of fusion of systems. The Korean war never officially finished; the current state is ceasefire rather than peace, and the ultimate aim of the south [or rather of the US] is victory, rather than anything which really resembles negotiation.

The current President of the South, Kim Dae-Jung [in hospital this week with a foot injury, along with Beckham and Jim] staked his political success on progress with re-unification [the 'sunshine policy'] and things were going well until September, with tourist cruises begun from south to north, and with staged reunions between divided families. Then security was upgraded, North Korea took offence and talks were called off. After that George Bush included NK in the top three of his league of evil, and the future looked gloomy. This matters a lot to everyone here. Not only is almost everyone in the south said to be separated from someone close, but the divide seems to be a cause of pain within the national psyche, and of very practical suffering as a result of the level of military activity - from the massive American presence, to the fact that all South Korean men serve three years in the army, with serious effects on families and relationships.

Americans here will tell you that Bush's advisers knew what he was doing, and that it was all part of a plan to up the ante, and encourage North Korean progress. Whether or not that is being a bit charitable, talks are now back on, and the Minister of Reunification sent someone to Pyeongnyang for talks about talks this week. Reunions will start again at the end of the month, and the final railway station on the broken Seoul to Pyeongnyang line was symbolically reopened. I will go there and investigate when I get the chance...

Back in my little bizarre world. The news. Well, I am now proudly registered as an alien. Another visit to the great bureaucracy resulted in the return of my passport, and a crucial little card. It has a fuzzy picture, and the words Registered Alien in English and Korean. I am not sure quite what it qualifies me for, but I show it to people whenever I can. I have started watching out for Sigourney Weaver, who I think is stalking me.

I received a bundle of sticky labels in the post from my English-learning friends. I had casually admired their set, with words in English to stick all over the house, and so they sent me a Korean set. There are 130, of which I understood three, which are now proudly stuck to the toilet, the soap and a pair of shoes. Today, I shall go through the dictionary with the rest.

Yesterday the cast of Heads or Tails [or 'Tong Jon Teon Jigi' as we now call it] went to do a session in a school, which was very encouraging. The school was huge, but reassuringly familiar in its feel. The children were fantastic, and very forthcoming in the discussions we did, which were about what they understood from the four scenes we showed them. They had no real problems with the things my actors were anxious about [coping with the distance in time and place, quick character changes etc] and they drew masses of meaning from everything, so it served to make us all feel that this eccentric enterprise has some chance of being quite successful.

I had an hysterical visit to the British Embassy's club night, to try to secure my tickets for England [what's left of them] v South Korea. I did that, and also secured my place in the British Cricket team, which starts its season next Sunday [against Pakistan and South Africa teams and the like!] and should provide some material for my messages. British not English, you note; all part of the concerted thrust towards reunification I imagine. The assessment of my cricketing skills that resulted in my selection was not too strenuous. Along the lines of, 'just breathe on this mirror, would you?' There are one thousand British people among the 48 Million in Korea, and a remarkably dysfunctional cross-section they are too, if the ones I've met are anything to go by. I'm sure they speak equally highly of me.

Tragically, I seem to have missed the toilet convention, that I promised I would tell you about. This was down to the back-to-front date system - the same reason that my theories on how the world changed after 11/9 have not gone down well - everyone is wondering what happened in November.

The video linking is continuing to provide me with great therapy and entertainment. Jim just sits and chats away on his own in the room, without feeling it's odd. He now types messages, [like Eddie, except that Jim's are random letters] and then tells me what they mean. One of them apparently meant ..'I can't kiss you because you are on the other side of the world....'

Which sounds like a good sign-off

Love to you all

Your resident alien

[available, two fully functional feet and practically on the scene if Sven needs me]

Letter Six