2013 Travel Diary #30: New Connections

Jeon Do-yeon in I Wish I Had a Wife - in the Hanmi banking hall
Jeon Do-yeon in I Wish I Had a Wife – in the Hanmi banking hall

Museum of Modern Art, Gwacheon-si, Saturday 14 September, 1:30pm. I’m still wandering around some of the museum’s permanent collection when my phone rings and my 3pm appointment wonders if they can shift to 2:30pm. It’s 1:30pm by now, and City Hall is a one hour journey away, so the proposed new time is going to be a stretch. But I’ve nearly finished, so I say I’ll get there as soon as possible. But as I enter the Plaza Hotel it’s 2:55pm.

The Seoul Plaza hotel
The Seoul Plaza hotel

The appointment had been made at the suggestion of Kyung-sook’s teacher who has a banker friend with artistic interests, and the teacher had suggested that the two of us meet up when I was in Seoul. So we made the arrangements, from my side out of respect for Kyung-sook’s teacher, and there I was. It was the most pleasurable duty call I think I have ever made. Mr Park’s English was impeccable, but more importantly we find so many common points of connection. We start on the inevitable conversation about how I got interested in Korea in the first place. And I tell him that in the mid 90s my main task at the big accounting firm where I used to work was to assist Korean banks establish their London branches, helping them through the Bank of England application process and preparing their business plans. It was the time of the second wave Korean globalisation, and all the banks that had not yet done so were queuing up to open their London offices. Of the several banks I worked with, the one I had connected with most, mainly because of their extremely civilised branch manager, had been a certain bank – the bank which features in the Sol Kyung-gu film I wish I had a Wife – which is now part of Citibank Korea. It turned out that Mr Park had been the successor to that civilised branch manager, and had even taken over his house in the South-western suburbs of London.

We also talk about the Korean art scene in London. “Do you know a Korean curator in London by the name of…?” he asks, and I complete the sentence with her name “… Lee Jiyoon”. He had been with her not an hour previously, and before we know it I’m on the phone to her arranging a meetup for the following day. We never seem to have time to meet up in London, but somehow things are different in Seoul.

We could have continued talking for a long time, enjoying the fruit smoothies in the comfortable café on the hotel’s ground floor, but he needs to get home back in Gyeongnam, and I need to get to my next appointment. My new friend is good enough to direct the taxi driver to the address of the recently opened Seoul Museum in Buamdong, and we part, agreeing to meet up next time I am in Korea.

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