June 3rd  Seoul

Dear jubilant crowds

I hope Sweden's equaliser or the threat of imminent nuclear war  haven't spoiled your street parties. 

Where do I start for this week? 

I suppose that this is the week that Korea was most likely to slip into your consciousness without me, with the eyes of the world upon us for the opening ceremony.  I hope that you were able to feel smugly knowledgeable as John Motson trotted out facts about Korean life and culture, or whatever, during the World Cup opening ceremony.  Here the commentary is in Korean, because the internet Radio Five Live service tends to have a delay on it

Here we were pretty pleased.  The front page of the Chosun Ilbo crowed that baseball still dominated the Japanese press, while Korea had won the hearts of the globe.  I expect some of the massed riot police who have practised so hard were disappointed, but the over-riding atmosphere here is of friendly excitement.  Everyone is on very best behaviour.  It is as if the Korean Government is treating the World Cup like a big Ofsted inspection.  Potentially embarrassing pupils have been excluded, I'm sure.  Certainly, a special law has been passed to force car-owners to use their vehicles every other day, so that the traffic is only half as bad while everyone is watching. 

For the England-Sweden match we were at the British Embassy watching on a big screen, with the same kind of genteel ex-pat crowd as in the friendly at Jeju.  Two photographers from the Korean papers had turned up, to get pictures of hooligan behaviour.  They sat at the front by the screen, and waited for ugly scenes.  Perhaps they should have simply taken pictures of the second half of the match itself.

Any thoughts about being here full-time are certainly put into perspective by any contact we have had with the British community.  There are some nice people here, of course, but....  Sunday afternoon was our time to go over as a family to the ambassador's pool, and it clashed with the 50th Jubilee [not that one] Mash. This is the Mixed All-Seoul Hash, a jolly event in which families run or walk around the city in the midday sun, following a trial set by the 'hares'.   This event was  being hosted by the British contingent [most of the hashers are american]  All the mash members have amusing nicknames - 'Ah yes well, I am Phidippides, for obvious reasons.  That is 'Large Member', and she is 'Dances with Dogs'.  Winners are toasted with lager sprayed over their heads and a not particularly lusty rendition of the song [I don't think I'll even go into the song]  I know watching any activity like this  from outside tends to make it look more absurd, but it did put into perspective any bizarre Korean behaviour I have been reporting.

Elsewhere in the week, the performances of  Tong Jeon Teon Jigi  went extremely well.  I could not be happier with the actors, who are fantastic, and the response of students, who certainly find it very different, but are almost all extremely excited by it.  The staff [excuse me, the 'faculty'] are a different matter.  Overall a resounding 'no comment', except from Young-ai and the one other women in the acting department.   I am not sure at all what the reason for the silence is - my students say loyally that they are 'jealous', but I think once again there are cultural factors here - I will let you know when I have some idea what they are!

Eddie has seen the play five times, which has been really sweet.  He will perform sections for you in Korean when he gets back [which is now very soon - Thursday]  He is a little in love with one of the actors, all of whom are in love with him of course.  Even listing the different things we seem to have packed into the boys time here is an effort.  This week they saw another four shows in addition to TJTJ  - not including street performances and casual encounters with singing or drumming.  A wonderful children's show which I missed was maybe the best, or Nanta, which I did go to.  This is a now rather commercialised version of a sensational show devised by five traditional Samulnori drummers, around the basic idea of using kitchen stuff instead of drums.  They cook a meal on stage, with much chopping, throwing beating and leaping.  Again, I am sure Jim and Eddie could give you a flavour.

Yesterday's main drama was Jim locking the bathroom door and closing it, so that he and we were trapped outside it.  A search of the neighbourhood for a ladder only yielded one which was too short for the second storey little window, but when I stood on the top rung, Eddie could just reach the window sill on top of me and he scrambled up, arriving triumphantly through the locked door,  to Ali's surprise [I had decided it might be best not to draw her attention to the ladder business!]  The neighbourhood certainly enjoyed the entertainment.

We also had a rare invitation into a Korean household.  Everybody I have met here is incredibly generous and hospitable, but I have almost always been taken to places rather than invited round..  But yesterday my translator Insoo had invited us to her apartment for a meal, which was a very special event - a very modern and spacious apartment in a huge estate of tower-blocks, with several children - Insoo has one, and her cousin came over as well.  Ali was able to find out all about breastfeeding and childbirth in Korea [good and bad respectively, is the short version] and Jim watched Toy Story with Korean subtitles, while Insoo's mother massaged him.

All I have time for.  I expect that next week the long long lonely emails will resume, as I adjust to life back on my own for the last few weeks here.....



Letter Thirteen