Tuesday 21 July 2009
A slowish start to the day. Too much alcohol and food (and salt?) the previous evening, plus the heat and humidity of the Busan weather, meant that sleep did not come easily. A brief tube ride to Busan Station to the KTX for Seoul. On the Busan subway, a whim makes me buy a rather fetching purple plastic mac from one of the hawkers who trundle their trolleys up and down the spacious carriages (3,000 Won). The ajumma sitting opposite buys a cucumber slicer the like of which is constantly advertised on the British QVC shopping channels (1,000 Won).
I’m too lazy while on the KTX to make any phone calls to fix meetings or the next day’s proposed trip to the DMZ. If it’s meant to happen, it will happen. I tap away on my netbook while the national serviceman next to me dozes. It’s a shame he doesn’t wake up till Seoul Station is announced. He turns out to have impeccable English. One month left of his service, he will return to Korea University to finish off his business degree. We want to talk more, but it is time to go our separate ways.
Back in Insadong I recuperate a while, and then think it might be about time to fix some activities for the next day. But I discover almost too late that I should have been making some calls on the KTX. It being July (hot and muggy), it’s not top tourist season. So the travel companies have cancelled their Panmunjom tours until the tourists return. I’ve only been away down south a couple of days, but already Insadong seems to be filling up with foreigners as the sultry season seems to be coming to an end. But not enough of them, it seems.
Some traditional performances at Korea House beckon. I ring to check the programme, only to discover that their second sitting of the evening has been cancelled until the tourists return (so the lady on the other end of the line tells me, in perfectly acceptable English). The only performance of the evening is in 20 minutes time, so I leap into a taxi and get there just in time (one of the rare occasions I’ve experienced where a taxi is quicker than the tube). Well worth it. I’m a bit of a snob about compilation albums, and this was a compilation performance. But for beginners, it was ideal. Around 8 minutes each of fan dance, pansori, samulnori, sinawi and the like, in a show lasting just over an hour. If you didn’t like one art form, it was soon over and maybe something more to your taste would come on next. A good introduction to Korean traditional performance arts by top performers.
I missed out on the Korea House buffet because I arrived “late” (though if there had been 10 of me I could have booked a court dinner), so I return to Insadong and have the first disappointing food experience of my trip in 보릿고개 추억, a pile-’em-in and rip-’em-off tourist place in one of the wider alleys off Insadong. The “pan broiled octopus seasoned with red peppers” (낙지볶음) turns out to be raw onion in a tepid but quite pleasant red sauce, with a couple of bits of tentacle in the mixture. They couldn’t be bothered to typeset a menu where the menu item on the left of the page aligned with the price on the right. And there was either an English & Japanese menu (with poor paraphrases of the Korean dishes, but no transliterations) or a separate Korean menu – so it was impossible to come to an informed choice about what it was that you were ordering. With soju and rice: 21,000 Won. I won’t go there again. Neither should you.
Index of the 2009 Travel Diary:
- 1: Arrival
- 2: Suwon and Prince Sado’s tomb
- 3: 20th century art and history
- 3a: Interview with Gen Paik Sun-yup
- 4: Recuperation and the Kilburn Art Space
- 5: Bulguksa and Seokkuram
- 6: Haeinsa
- => 7: Korea House
- 8: Galleries old and new
- 8a: Interview with Brother Anthony of Taizé
- 9: Hails and farewells
- 10: Reflections