London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

The LKL Korea Trip 2009 pt 9: Hails and farewells

Thursday 23 / Friday 24 July

I’ve left it rather too late to do my LKL-related networking, and I’ve been up too late most nights trying to do on my netbook what I could do in a quarter of the time at home, so I have little energy today – despite all the Korean food I have been eating which I am assured is good for the “stamina”. In between doing bouts of nothing, I meet with three people with whom I’ve been in touch on LKL-related stuff over the past months and years. I wish I’d had time to do more.

Hanmiri menu
A menu from Hanmiri

Much of the reward of this little hobby of mine is the network of knowledgeable people who somehow are happy to talk to you. So thank you to Tom, Christian and Anthony for making time available to say hello and goodbye, and I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet Mike, Scott and others, or to renew friendships from previous trips. It’s another excuse to come back again.

A farewell dinner with my friend Mr Hwang, formerly in the London embassy, at Hanmiri in Kangnam – a splendid place where you get the full works of palace food, including a sweet-tasting Galbi Jjim and some pine mushrooms (자연송이구이). I’ve done very well for dinners during my stay, thanks to the hospitality of Korean friends, and it’ll be my turn to get the cheque book out when they come to London.

The next morning the banquet is still sitting heavily on my stomach, so no breakfast. It’s time, regrettably, to leave.

Tip: if you’re getting the same KAL Limo bus back to the airport, pick it up at the Koreana Hotel – it’s the last pickup before the KAL building and the highway. Joining the bus at the Koreana means you don’t have to schlep round all the other hotels on the route picking up other passengers. Thanks to Anna Fifield for this tip.

The bus takes 50 minutes from the Koreana, and I’m the only occupant. I arrive religiously three hours before take off, and (the first time this has ever happened to me) I am rewarded with a free upgrade to business class accommodation. Great way to end a vacation. I hand back the phone at the SK telecom counter (and discover that my dutiful calls home have set me back 300,000 Won), and now it’s time to clear security.

Incheon airport planThe other side of immigration, the Korean Culture folks have seriously upped their game since I last passed through Incheon. Very appealing, highly tempting crafts were on sale, including beautiful ceramics by holders of regional intangible cultural properties. I almost succumb, but resist. I was surprised, though, that one thing was not available for sale: CDs of the fusion kayageum music which plays on the KTX, in souvenir shops and and pretty much everywhere. This would be an ideal place for an impulse buy, but they are not available anywhere. But I do find, in the Skype rental outlet, a small CD shop and pick up something a bit less posh: the mini CD by the latest girl band, 2ne1, whose video brightened up one of my trips on the KTX. Rather like the grappa you buy on you Italian holiday, though, it wasn’t quite the same when I listened to the CD at home. Another one for the next jumble sale.

Another impulse buy in the Lotte duty-free: a three-bottle box of Andong soju (meant to be hangover-free, which I seriously doubt). Your normal soju that Lee Hyori advertises on the subway is around 20% alcohol; the Andong soju at the airport is available in 30% and even 45% versions. I chose the weaker version. Baekseju, Insamju and Hanju were also on sale.

Hanbok version 1There are four traditional Korean culture outlets in the departures area: two on the main concourse and one in each of the spurs1. The former two were busy with travellers painting their own Korean fans – a free activity to pass the time before boarding. Lacking artistic tendencies, I elect for the complete tourist experience: I have my photo taken wearing two different hanboks. My camera battery runs out in the nick of time before too many embarrassing photos can be taken.

On the flight, the greater space in business class enables me to get my netbook out to prepare some blog posts for when I’m next connected. The seats are very comfortable, and recline flat. Mrs Park, my neighbour in the next seat, is a tour group leader. She tells me that all the passengers in our section, upstairs in our 747-400, are economy class people who got lucky, which explains why the in-flight catering and entertainment system are identical to what I had on the outward leg.

But the entertainment is just fine. Other than My Girlfriend is an Agent, which I saw on the way out, the Korean films on offer are Marine Boy and More than Blue. The latter looks rather too much like your boilerplate Korean melodrama:

Kei (Kwon Sang-woo), a man abandoned by his parents, and Cream (Lee Bo-young), a woman who lost her family in a car accident, are partners who support each other. When Kei finds out that he has less than 200 days to live, due to his illness he starts looking for a man who could take care of Cream.

You couldn’t make it up. Marine Boy looks equally unpromising – a champion swimmer who has to take up drug running (drug swimming?) to pay off a gambling debt. Instead, I create my personalised music compilation on the audio system, featuring all the names that seem to have been so popular on YesAsia recently: FT Island, Epik High, Bobby Kim and the like. Even Yozoh is available. Cute. Even more encouragingly, some back catalogue works and stuff for older listeners were available: Boohwal, Sanullim, Yang Hee-eun, early Kim Gun-mo and probably more Trot than you would want to listen to. I wish I’d brought my noise reducing headphones. I watch a Hollywood film, but can’t escape Korea: in Grand Torino, which I’ve been meaning to watch for a while, Clint Eastwood plays a US 1st Cav veteran from the Korean War.

Hanbok version 2My neighbour Mrs Park is about to lead her 10-strong group on a whistle-stop tour of Europe in 13 days. A group of 10 doesn’t really make money for the tour company, but Europe is expensive right now, and there isn’t the demand. I look at the tour schedule: London, Paris, Interlaken, Milan, Pisa, Rome, Venice, Innsbruck, Munich, Vienna and probably some places in between that I’ve forgotten. London in a day. Amazingly, in most cities they have a Korean restaurant lined up for the evening. Maybe the First Lady’s ambition of making Korean food a global cuisine is already on its way to fruition.

As my vacation is ending, Mrs Park’s tour is starting. Typically for a Korean, she tells me to call her next time I am in Seoul. Another one to add to the list.


Index of the 2009 Travel Diary:

  1. I discover later that there’s even a museum on the fourth floor []

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