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Seokgwan-Dong, Seoul - 28th April 2002

Dear all

This morning I went to the World Cup Stadium in Seoul, where the opening ceremony, opening match and several significant games will be held.  Like all ten stadia being used it has been built specially.  Quickly and on an awesome scale, not very like our own dear Wembley.  The concept is impressive too - each stadium takes a different traditional theme as the core of its design.  In the case of Seoul, it is designed to look like a traditional kite, the symbol of reunification, sitting on an octagonal fruit dish of seats, a symbol of hospitality.  The site was until three years ago a wasteland resulting from fifteen years as Seoul's main landfill, but has been reclaimed.  The methane from the rubbish is collected and used to power the stadium and the nearby apartments, while no fewer than five linked parks have been constructed across the mounds.  They are not finished yet, I was told.  They open on May 1st.  In the Hangang, the river that divides the city, there is a fountain which symbolises the year 2002 by rising 202 metres [good to know that there are limits, even here!] and 21 smaller fountains standing for the 21st Century.

I know about all the symbolism because one of the 'silver army', the tens of thousands of retired volunteers who are helping on all things World Cup, was my individual personal guide around the stadium. He led me through an exhibition, detailing the development of the stadium, and the history of the World Cup, and then out into the place itself.  I won't get there for a match, I think - all sold out long ago, but I might hang around outside for the Firework Festival, or the Global Festival of Drums, or the Cup Countdown Cultural events [depicting gi and hon - energy and spirit to you - and life and peace], or the intriguing World Cup Guinness contests, the Happy World Rock Festival, the Sangam Cheer Show, or the World Flag Festival......I think you could say Seoul is making the most of its moment in the spotlight.

Yesterday I saw a wonderful show put on by the adjoining school in our university - the School of Traditional Performing Arts.  It was a new version of a very well-known traditional story Chunyang - which is a kind of Romeo and Juliet-like, rich boy and poor girl in forbidden love type story.  It was really extremely good - presented on the main stage at the National Theatre, with a cast of about three hundred, an all-singing all dancing extravaganza.  To my shame I had thought it might be something of a trial.  Korean traditional music is quite hard to listen to at times - lots of squeaks and bangs, different harmonics, very dominated as everything is by mournful, tragic laments, and often rather long.  This was not like that, and in fact the squeaks bangs and lamenting were very good as well as the comic bits and the spectacle.  Again the scale of support - the sheer amount of money committed to the production, which played to about 2,000 people, was staggering.

My own production is not quite being given that status, although it has much more money and time given to it than most things I have been involved in.  The set is being welded at the moment - in the University's own workshops, which are massive.  We are touring a full rubber floor with two layers to it, with sections that lift out during performance to reveal splashes of bright colour. The design team have been through two whole models, and innumerable wonderful sketches on the way to this creation.  1940s english wirelesses have been tracked down, and because an authentic pram could not be found it is being made.  All the costumes are being made from scratch, so that the costume designer has full control of fabric as well as style.  We have a poster.  I am slightly scared about whether all this will seem justified, although any failing will not be for want of effort.

Last week I went to the dentist, because I lost a filling.  This was a little scary, but I was told that the place to go was the Seoul Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, so off I went.  The dental department took some finding, but actually it was pretty straightforward, except that I waited for some time opposite the x-ray chamber which looked exactly like the electric chair in a stupid film I had watched the night before.  A very nice dentist with pretty good english put a temporary filling in, and we made an appointment for the real one at the same time next week, which gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say, 'so on the seventh day I shall come again, then'  This amused me a lot.  Not sadly anyone else, which is really why I mention the whole thing here........

Other highlights of the week include; my much admired Korean haircut, [admired by my students, ridiculed by Ali, I have to say], my night out with the Americans - one of the administrators has a boyfriend who is a US Captain on the main base [very interesting insight into that angle on things, one way or another] visits to three Middle Schools, and a jolly barbecue in the campus gardens with the cast of the Little Shop of Horrors, which is being done by the undergraduates the week we open with Heads or Tails.

The low point was a bad decision to demonstrate something in my much-admired improvisation class.  Up to now, I had just fed them a long list of fun activities, which they are very good at, and enjoy a lot.  A fool-proof and shameless route to popularity.  This week I thought I should show them how it's done, so as to bask in even more glory, and attempted to do this by introducing the art of street-theatre with a short example.  I thought it would be against the spirit of the class to plan anything, and I would rely on my vast experience and deep-seated instincts to carry me through.  Unfortunately.... yes you're ahead of me....... it is quite a long time since I've done any of that, and when I did it relied rather heavily on verbal humour which works best with english-speakers in the audience, so after a rip-roaring start, I plummeted into a pathetic panic, and ignominious failure.  I attempted to pass this off as an indication of just how important it is to have a structure in mind, even when improvising, but I could not avoid some decline in my standing.  Any more of that, and they might start treating me as some kind of mere mortal.... 

Tomorrow I am at the British Council for lunch with Fred, whom I met at the Embassy, and wants to know all about everything.  Then it's rehearse rehearse rehearse.  Less than two weeks until the rest of the family come, now.  I'm trying to get activities lined up, and a wash basin installed.

 

love to you all

 

Pete

Letter Eight