The Great South Gate -Gwanghwamun- Cultural Treasure #1
The sound of industrial strength drumming draws me to the Nanta Theatre. The show is a spectacular combination of traditional Korean music, story telling and performance, set in a commercial kitchen. I won't tell you any more, but I promise you will have a good time. It is getting dark when I emerge, so I head off to Insadong for bit of night shopping. This is a collection of tiny art and craft shops, antiques, coffee shops and restaurants in one of the oldest parts of town. There is talk of putting all these shops into one big complex, but I hope it never happens as a lot of the atmosphere would be lost.
Afterwards I am escorted back to my hotel by a young student who wants to practice his English. He is tall, gorgeous and looks like Gong-gill in "The King and the Clown. " Contrary to the image often portrayed in Western movies, Korean men are chivalrous and, I suspect, romantics at heart.
The newspapers report that subway drivers now need counselling because of the growing number of suicides on the tracks. Once it was only the occasional student who had failed his exams. Now it is increasingly the elderly.
Another disturbing sight is seeing a legless man wheeling himself around the market on a low trolley and playing a battered cassette recorder in order to solicit change from passers -by. This happens on the subways too. Although I am sure their lives are more interesting than say, being stuck in an institution, it seems to me that some people have been forgotten in the headlong rush for individual prosperity and material wealth.
On a more positive note, I also read in the papers that large corporations such as Samsung and SK Telecom are doing quite a bit of community service and that the city is starting to address environmental issues such as clean air, more green space and the effects of rapid and unplanned development. They already have No Car Days in Seoul - odd registration numbers one day, even ones the next.The recent restoration of the Cheonggyecheon Stream with its historic bridge, which were long buried under a freeway, is a perfect example of what this city can do, once it puts its mind to it.
Meanwhile, there seems to be altogether too much emphasis on shopping, so I wander down to the Han River for a cruise, once the nearest thing to a honeymoon Korean couples could afford. There is an air of faded glory about it. Today it seems to be mostly business men and graduation classes who take their leisure on the river.
The trip downriver to Namsan Island to see the site where the romantic drama "Winter Sonata" was filmed, is unfortunately booked up, so I take the shorter cruise upriver. Every bridge tells a story and all along the river, people are skateboarding, riding bicycles and jogging. It looks just like the scene in the movie, The Mutant, before the monster comes.
My last image of Korea though, is of a little boy standing on the water's edge holding a long string of kites reaching to the heavens. Korea means sky. Somehow that image gives me a feeling of hope and joy.
"You ask me how many friends I have
Water and stone, bamboo and pine
The moon rising up over the eastern hill is a joyful comrade
Besides these five companions,
What other pleasures should I ask?"
Thank you Korea for having me and thanks to all those Koreans - too many of you to name, for a wonderful year!
Special thanks to all my students too for teaching me so much.