Korean Reunification

May 12th.  332-198 Seokgwan-Dong, Seongbuk-Gu, Seoul

You should be the first to know. Reunification has taken place in Korea. Five minutes early, at 11.00, Ali's plane landed at Incheon International Airport, and life in Seoul has changed beyond recognition. As predicted, it was not quite the equal coming together of two systems that the word reunification suggests, more like a straightforward noisy take-over by the forces of the West, but the boyz are in town. We have been on a short foray into the neighbourhood, played football and basket ball for a long time, eaten, and now they are asleep.

The week has been much my busiest, with preparing for them, and for the opening of the play. ........

Break in Transmission. .....It is now Monday morning. Did I say they were asleep? What I meant was dozing for two hours before waking up bright and cheerful from 11.00-3.00am. This might have been worse, had it not coincided neatly with the timing here of the live broadcast of Birmingham v Norwich, culminating in the blues glorious return to the premiership. My cup runneth over.. but I am a little tired. That is nothing - I have attached a picture of the current state of my children. Ali is in a similar condition in their bedroom!

E-mails may be shorter for the next three and a half weeks. Not that I expect there to be any let-up in the number of exciting happenings. First responses to Eddie and Jim have been enough to confirm that Ali and I will be roughly in the position of minders to teen idols for much of the time, and these are exciting weeks in Seoul's life even without them here. The World Cup is apparently not being sufficiently fervently anticipated by the Korean people. Soccer is increasingly but not overwhelmingly popular here, and there was a furore when baseball was given more press coverage than the competition one day this week. The determination for this competition to do good for the country borders on desperation, with posters everywhere, and campaigns, not so much advertising the Cup, but exhorting people to clean up, be polite, smile. It is like nervous parents who don't think their children are quite up to the standards of behaviour of their expected guests, without some pretty heavy coaching.

Teams of supporters have been recruited from amongst the locals, for countries that may not have many, so that by the time Senegal plays the first match, there will be thousands of suitably dressed well drilled Koreans chanting for them. [I wonder who was given this briefing job, and how deeply they researched the role of football fan. It's a wonderful picture...right everybody, after three "We hate villa and we hate villa...we are the villa ...haters". Not bad, not bad, now, can we have a go in Croatian, and don't forget those gestures we worked on last week....]

Actually another controversy is that the Korean team itself has the slogan 'Korea - FIGHTING!', which some have felt gives an inappropriate image. It is being modified to roughly 'Korea fighting-but-not-that-type-of-fighting'. My favourite World Cup campaign is in the public toilets, where the 'Restroom Association' has put posters by every urinal saying 'Go all in Seoul', with the word goal highlighted. Very neat, I think you'll agree. Also worth watching will be the dog-meat traders campaign, a valiant rear-guard action which looks likely to bring out the riot police in some numbers, since they have vowed to set up a large number of stalls near to the stadium, to reclaim the rightful position of dog-meat as a cultural tradition which should be valued and supported.

The riot police are very evident actually. They do turn out in numbers for every kind of protest. I'm hoping no-one leaks news of Jim's slightly dissident attitude to eating Korean food, or several coach loads of alarmingly disaffected-looking teenagers with shields and batons may well surround him, as a precaution. This happened to some not terribly dangerous looking old people who were protesting outside the city hall about pensions last week.

The first performance of Heads or Tails went well, if slightly nervously. The audience was disappointingly quiet, but this was in part because their teacher had told them to be. They did seem to get what we wanted from the play, as far as I could tell. I had a lovely e-mail from one of the pupils waiting for me when I got back here, saying 'It's a very exciting, funny, and morality learn a lesson. And player is good performance. There will never be such a good chance as this again' Pretty high praise.

Last week at the embassy was very funny. No tea on the lawn, but a game of tennis with Colin, who invited me, and with Michael Breen, who used to be the Guardian Correspondent here, and wrote a really good book about Korea. Very nice interesting man, who has been here for twenty years, has had dinner with Kim Il Sung [N Korea's notorious last leader] and generally knows a lot.

Also this week I started running a short course for teachers one evening a week. 27 came, from 7-10 at night, out of an interest in theatre-in-education. It promises to be a significant thing, I hope, in developing the work that Young-Ai is establishing here. It is harder to get access to schools, and particularly to curriculum time, than it is in Britain [where it is hardly easy] but once again the striking things in talking to teachers were the similarities, not the differences.

There is still no sign of waking here, and it's past eleven, so I'm just going to check some pulses.

Next week we are off on our trip on Sunday to Jeju Island to see David Beckham's triumphant return to the international stage, so I'm not sure about the timing of the next message, but I'll do my best.

Lots of love

Pete

 

Letter Ten