June 9th Seoul
The Seoul 'sauna' was switched on on Thursday, just after Ali Eddie and Jim flew out, with impeccable timing. The temperature jumped from 25 to 36. I'm not sure what that is in old money, but I know there is an 'F' in it!
It is steaming hot here, in every way. To say that the people of Seoul are excited does it no justice. In England, I gather there was some satisfaction at the little football result on Friday. You may have heard that Korea won one too. Their first in 48 years of World Cup football. Tomorrow we play the US. A crowd of half a million [yes half a million] is expected in the city centre to watch the big screens. Riot police have ringed the American embassy, in case anything goes wrong. Since Koreans are still in a state of fury with the States about their speed skater being robbed of gold at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, even though the judge was Australian, there are those that feel all it needs is a wrong decision by a referee. Good job there's no chance of that then. Even sensible americans are hoping that Korea win. One less sensible spokesperson however was quoted as saying, 'we are not concerned. The World Cup has gone extremely well so far, american citizens here have been treated very well.' I think he was missing the point... they haven't been the enemy until tomorrow, at least not openly.
As I said before, soccer is not the number one sport here. The people filling the streets at this moment singing and dancing, are not all particularly clued up about football. They do know about Korea though, and they are united by three aims. Winning the World Cup is one, but actually they don't in the main expect to do that, even though hopes are now soaring wildly. No the main aim is to do better than Japan as a team and as a host. But the third whispered desire, not said very often in english...they want to beat the americans.
This is not about football. I suspect that it is unlike in England of course, where we particularly appreciate beating Germany and Argentina purely because of the unique football challenge they present. In Korea, other issues enter into the equation.
I'm with the Koreans on this one. Get up at whatever time you have to tomorrow and cheer along will you? You need to know the following chants: 'oh pilsung Korea, oh pilsung Korea, oh ole ole' [Oh Korea you must win, ole ole] 'Dae... Han Min Guk clap clap clap clap clap' [Oh, Korea!] and the old favourite 'Clap clap, clap-clap-clap, clap-clap-clap-clap Han-guk!' [Korea!] - they may be cheering the nation rather than celebrating the football, but at least they have several names for it.
Eddie and Jim and Ali are safely back in my computer now, after a wild four weeks, which I have only scraped the surface of in these messages, and which you can now hear first hand from them. Jim was ready to leave, I think, but Eddie would happily have stayed. There was a typically understated goodbye at the airport, which lasted almost as long as the flight back. No formal chance had arisen to say goodbye to my students, so I am still picking up signs of grief and mourning from some of them. It was great to have them here, to be able actually to exchange looks with Ali about everything that happens, rather than have to try and remember to write it down. There are so many moments. So many opportunities to say 'quite'.
Also opportunities to say 'aaah', like when we saw these lads on their way home from extra lessons one evening!.......
It feels a bit like going back to work, although actually in the middle of the family time here I was busier than I wanted to be. The students are doing their final presentations in schools. These are TIE programmes that they have created, which is really the core of my work here, and once again, watching the process in a Korean context is fascinating. The three groups have devised programmes about the closure of a rural school, cyber-families and a children's view of the Korean War. Each for a different age group, each very different. Because of the level of commitment that you know about, they have carried these through into projects which compare well with many professional pieces I've been involved with, in terms of preparation and performance level, and the overall standard is higher by a distance than when I was here before. Some things come hard, and some come very naturally, and one or two elements that they have introduced are genuinely new to me. The routine use of the internet to continue discussion beyond the visit to school for example, which I still don't think we are ready for in Britain.
Again no time for everything in the week. I should mention in passing the Real Body show, an extraordinary exhibition of dead people, preserved and dissected, very challenging really. I went out of ghoulish desire to take in as much of what is here as I could, but found it much more fascinating than I expected, and am not quite sure what I think about it in the end. It was packed with families apparently in pursuit of knowledge, and I learned quite a bit. I was on the point of thinking that there was absolutely nothing questionable about it, when I got to the deformed still-born children section.... I have to say in the interest of journalistic accuracy that this is not a Korean exhibition, but a german one which is touring here, and I think a version of it is in London too. Has there been controversy about it ? Because I'm sure you're wondering, yes they had all given permission, and the process of preservation is called plastination [more at www.bodyworlds.com]
So now I am back in virtual contact with home, but nothing is quite the same. They know what I mean now, when I talk about things, which is good, but the house feels more empty than it was before it was full, if you see what I mean, which is bad.
Tomorrow we are evaluating the tour of the play, although there is still one performance to go, and then I am hosting a party in the university garden for everyone involved - if Korea have won it should be a good one, if not.......