Myeongdong, Saturday 30 April 2011. I usually try to arrive in Korea on a Friday evening; or even, if I’m being profligate with my holiday entitlement, a Thursday evening.
But my trip this year was curtailed at the front end. Why? Because at home there was a Royal festive occasion: the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. They’d kindly decided to get married on a Friday – thus creating an additional bank holiday and a 4-day weekend. And while the usual Monday bank holiday at the beginning of May is associated with international workers’ solidarity, the Friday that started the weekend was distinctly more elitist. Everywhere in London – our own street included – there were street parties to celebrate the occasion. In order not to miss out on the festivities, I headed to the airport on Friday afternoon after the wedding itself had finished, but sadly while some of the local celebrations were still continuing. From a sunny England I arrived in a very rainy Seoul on Saturday afternoon.
The traffic in downtown Seoul was diabolical, the rain torrential. The driver of the limo bus managed to get himself in the wrong lane, and decided that instead of pulling over to the pavement he’d just stop in the middle of the road outside my hotel. Fortunately the traffic was stationary so it was not too dangerous to retrieve my bags from the luggage compartment under the bus and dodge through a couple of lanes of cars. But I was still pretty moist when I arrived at the Lotte Hotel check-in desk.
Why the Lotte? I can’t remember specifically why, but the Korean Tourism Organisation had given me a voucher for a free night there. And through my employers I had managed to get a corporate rate for the other nights. It is undoubtedly a very pleasant place to stay. Upstairs in the club class corridors there were some still photographs from the TV spy drama Iris, starring Lee Byung-hun among others, which some scenes of which were filmed in the hotel.
A Korean friend meets me at the hotel soon after I arrive, and we head off for a dinner appointment in Samcheong-dong. She had thoughtfully suggested a walk in the park overlooking Seoul, but the rain was unrelenting, and what should have been a pleasant stroll in the cool of the evening was an exercise in dodging puddles. We terminate it early and retire to the restaurant. The rain stops as we are eating, and after a gentle moonlit walk through Bukchon we go our separate ways.