Dear Britain

I am very sad to hear your tragic news. You must all be devastated, and the makers of ludicrous powder-blue outfits must be distraught. I considered suspending this week's news out of respect, and then remembered I haven't got any [respect, I mean - I've got plenty of news]. Perhaps some thoughts of far away will help distract you from your national mourning. I do hope that none of the tributes forget to mention that marvellous time she went to the East End in the blitz, and showed that she really understood ordinary people.

It's Sunday, which at the moment is my only day off, with rehearsals for Heads or Tails filling my non-teaching days. These are increasingly fascinating. I have to cut the play down from 90 to fifty minutes, which has been a little traumatic, but probably quite good for me. This is deemed to be the longest that any school here is likely to spare their pupils from proper work, even on a Saturday, when almost all the performances will take place. Really the attitude to school and college is staggering. I know I've gone on about it before but..... one of the students in my cast finishes rehearsals with me at 10.00 every evening, goes home [90 minutes on the tube] and at midnight she takes a lesson for a high-school girl for an hour. She is giving her special coaching for the national university entrance. [Special except that almost all of them have it] This exam is crucial. It takes place on one day in the autumn, the exam paper answers are in the papers in the evening, and the corpses of teenagers are picked up from beneath apartment blocks all over Korea the next day. Do you think the NUT would be considering industrial action?

I have to say that the University of the Arts, where I am working, is clearly unusual, and the atmosphere here is not oppressively formal, although they still work too hard. I am now completely used to the attitude to me, which is really so fantastic... random students in the corridor, who aren't even in my classes, stop me and give me chocolate biscuits. It is this, and the facts that if I ask them to do something, they just whole-heartedly do it, and that they laugh spontaneously and apparently genuinely every time I even try to be funny, I think explains at a stroke why I have come back. I mean, what more could one possibly ask for? I had a hole in my sock on the first day [shoes are taken off outside the room before every session] and the next lesson Chi Ok gave me two new pairs of socks. If I accidentally lick my lips, two glasses of water appear within seconds. I could go on.

Yesterday, Young-Hoon, who was a student when I was last here, and who now is an administrator, and who also acts as my interpreter for rehearsals, asked me to visit his english-learning group. They are an internet community which meets face to face once a month, and who provide another example of the self-improvement obsession. The leading light of the group is an impressive young man called Teong Heun, who works night shifts as a labourer for the Korean railways, and learns english in the daylight hours. His lesson included introducing a list of words [opera, ribbon, nylon and raindrop] with which Koreans traditionally have difficulty, and explaining that with an 'R' your tongue doesn't touch anything, and with an 'L' , it touches the roof of your mouth - go on, try it. His top tips were to repeat this rist for one hour a day for a month, and to learn the words of 'raindrops keep falling on my head', and sing it one hundred times during difficult moments at work. This was part of his seven stage programme. [I guess the singing thing works better for working on the railway than it would in some jobs] I do not mean to mock this. He sang 'raindrops' extremely well, and he made me feel, not for the first time, utterly ashamed of my pitiful efforts with Korean, which in other contexts I feel I've worked at pretty hard. I put it down to not having enough bad times at work.

The rest of the group was largely younger women, who were mortified by my presence, and who spoke english well, but very shyly, with hands over their mouths. I found myself talking like a text-book for some reason, and saying things like 'how do you do?'. Some kind of instinct to collude with the idea of England that prevails took over. But they wouldn't have understood if I'd talked in a Birmingham accent, would they?

The group meet on the fourteenth floor of a block in Yeouido, which is Seoul's Manhattan. It has this tag because it is an island in the Han [big river to you] is full of skyscrapers, and is the business district. Probably comparisons end about there. There is a large cherry park which next week will be sensational, when the blossom hits town. Yesterday it was raining, so I didn't look round.

Oh yes, the rain. Saturday, when Peter found out that his part of town is not quite so quaint when it rains, and the drains overflow......

I have been paid for my first month [two weeks of which was spent at the Korean Embassy in London] but I cannot get the money out of my account until my Alien Registration completes, and my passport is returned. Still, I now have 3 Million in my Korean account. Pretty good, eh? I managed to spend some money yesterday, which is tough when everyone gives you things. I took all of my cast and crew for a meal, explaining beforehand that it would be my treat. This is what you have to do apparently. Offering to contribute when someone else has suggested the meal is not on. We had a vast banquet for two hours with eight people - barbecued on the tables in front of us. It cost about 26!

Earlier in the week the same group had taken me to the theatre and a meal, which was a really good trip. Three former students were involved in the play, which was a wonderful performance with a range of puppets, and was visual enough for me to be less out of my depth than sometimes. It was good to meet the performers, who wanted to know all about what Eddie was like now. Actually it was nice to be thought of as mainly Eddie's dad - being a guru-figure can be so draining! It also reminded me of quite how excited things may get when Mrs Professor and her small entourage arrive. The chocolate biscuit sales of the area will go sky-high.

We have successfully video-conferenced a few times now. It is very strange to see and hear Ali and the boys, clearly, even if slightly out of sync. Jim just thinks it is completely normal, of course. What was wonderful was that it didn't work at first, and Eddie got it working, with me talking him through it over the phone, as if landing a jumbo from the ground. Precious little father-son moment.

This afternoon Professor Calvin McClinton, visiting professor of Musicals, has arranged tickets for The Last Empress, Korea's big big musical, which came to London earlier in the year. He and Tommie St Cyr are two of the three Americans on the staff, the other being Sun Tek Oh [right], the Korean-American whom I had wrongly identified as Odd-Job. In fact he was in Man with the Golden Gun, as Hip, the agent that helps Bond and kicks people, plus about a million other films. [Oddjob was in fact played by a Japanese Hawaiian wrestler called George Sakaro, now sadly gone the way of the QM]. That is the ex-pat community here, such as it is, with me representing the non American world, which lets face it needs a voice here.... But that is another issue, perhaps next time.

Love to you all in your hour of darkness


Letter Four