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.

Contents
4-5 Sept Arrival
Introduction | 1 – Leaving London | 2 – Arrival in Sancheong
6 Sept The International Traditional Medicine Expo, day 1
3 – Preparing for the Expo | 4 – Honouring the spirits, feeling the gi | 5 – The official duties
7 Sept Sancheong’s finest potter, and the start of the hike
6 – An editing project is born | 7 – Min Young-ki’s new directions | 8 – Prayers to the Sanshin
8 Sept Jirisan
9 – Sunrise on Cheonwangbong | 10 – Breakfast at Beopgyesa | 11 – Mother Mago, the Goddess of Jirisan
9 Sept Sancheong, Gwangyang and Suncheon
12 – The recreation forest, and getting to know the Expo | 13 – The Sancheong Oriental Medicinal Herb Institute | 14 – Gwangyang and the journey into Jeollanamdo
10 Sept Suncheon International Garden Expo and arrival at Unjusa
15 – The Suncheon Lake Garden | 16 – Hwang Ji-hae’s The Lugworm’s Trail | 17 – Kang Ik-joong’s Bridge of Dreams | 18 – The Korean Garden | 19 – Mosquitoes at Unjusa
11 Sept Unjusa and back to the Sancheong Traditional Medicine Expo
20 – The temple of a thousand pagodas | 21 – Return to Sancheong | 22 – Tiger, Bear and herb: the traditional Korean medicine experience | 23 – The pillow of eternal youth | 24 – Yin, Yang and Ginseng
12 Sept More time at the Traditional Medicine Expo
25 – The Hallyu 4.0 Experience | 26 – The first round of farewells
13 Sept Sancheong and Hongdae in one day
27 – Last day at the Expo | 28 – Clubbing with the CFOs
14 Sept The Galleries and Museums
29 – Korea Artist Prize 2013 | 30 – New Connections | 31 – We are all heroes: Baseball and the Bull at Seoul Museum | 32 – The Seokpajeong: a haven of peace in Buamdong | 33 – An evening in Daehakro
15 Sept The Sajik Daeje
34 – The Gods of Land and Grain | 35 – Renewing old friendships
16 Sept Return to London
36 – The royal perambulation | Thank-yous

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