LAETITIA'S FIRST STADIUM, HER FIRST TV INTERVIEW, AND HER 35TH BIRTHDAY. AUGUST 2001 SEES KYLE'S 36TH BIRTHDAY, A VISIT TO KOREA'S BEST EXAMPLE OF A WALLED CITY, AND WE DO SOME WATERSKIING (WATCHING).
NONHYEON-DONG. HAIRIER AREA? This is a picture of Nonhyeon-dong, our little part of one of the world's biggest cities. We live in a four-storey building at the top of the rise in the middle of the picture, in an area packed with 24-hour hair and nail salons, drycleaners and estate agents. It's the most expensive district in the city, because of its closeness to 'where it's all happening'. It's also a place with a slowly-increasing crime rate, as lots of wannabes live here, and they all have the same budget: just enough to cover expensive cellphones and luxury brag-name (sorry, I mean BRAND name) items but not enough for household insurance or decent security.
|KYLE'S STREET - AND OFFICE. This is a look at the street in which I work. My building is the one on the left topped by the huge white cube. My tutoring room (which you see in the pic below) actually looks down into this road, Kangnamdero, from the 10th floor. There are actually only eight floors, though, 'coz they insist on referring to the Ground Floor as the 'First' floor, and they don't have a 4th because the Korea word for 4 ('sa') sounds spookily like their word for 'death', so they don't generally have 4th floors! Just like the Chinese, they're often very wary of saying things which sound bad or ill-omened.|
DIRECT ENGLISH. Our new working environment is really a startling contrast to our previous ones. No more maelstrom of noise and young voices echoing through the halls and corridors of schools various and diverse. Now it's carpeting, wood and plush 1-to-1 tutorial rooms high above the city streets. Staff wear suits or uniforms, there's not a kid in sight, and it's lovely! Laetitia works for another branch in Apkujong, while I work in Kangnam. While we work from 7am, the tuts are only 25 minutes long and we're generally home by 3.30 (unless we're short-staffed, in which case we work all day and get home by 10pm). This is as close to an ideal job as it is possible to get in this field, so we're as happy as pigs in the proverbial.
|SPORTING TYPES. Not really. We spent the first Saturday of August on a free promotional tour of the all-singing, all-dancing stadium which the Seoul government is building for the 2002 Soccer World Cup which'll be held in a joint arrangement here and in Japan. We got ourselves onto the tour because they'd also be throwing in a gambol around one of Seoul's nicest palaces, AND a sundowner look at the megalopolis from the top of its highest point, Seoul Tower, on top of Mt. Namsan in the middle of the city. This was the first time that Laetitia had ever been inside a real stadium. After the tour, we were interviewed for the weekend paper proudly proclaiming our complete ignorance of ANYTHING to do with sports.|
|LATER. We ambled around the afternoon sunlit-lit gardens of one of Seoul's biggest tourist sites, Chong Duk Palace. At the end of the day, L was cornered by a TV crew who wanted her take on the place etc. She did marvellously, and was seen by lots of people we know here when it was aired the following Monday night. The palace features a UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site called Piwon - the King's Secret Garden. The King also tried to get back to his 'roots' by building a huge complex of 'landed nobility'-style farmhouses in which he lived now and then (just like that suddenly- shorter French Queen Marie Antoinette's ersatz farmyard which still exists in the gardens around her old palace of Versailles).||
TALKING TECCHIE. We've just hauled ourselves kicking and screaming into the realms of 'households-with-TV' by buying a huge 2nd-hand set along with a VCR and a cable TV subscription. We've now got 7 remote controls in the place (including one for the aircon) and a tower ot boxes on a table facing our bed (no couch yet, see). Everything's near-as-dammit to hi-fi and hooked up via our stereo system so everything from the broadband internet-delivered music channels we listen to to the local MTV gets to us in stereo.
|SUNDOWNERS AND AGE-UPPERS. I turned 36 on Saturday, August 18th, and marked the occasion with a nice get-together of view-minded people on top of Seoul's highest mountain, Namsan. The cable car that runs up the one side of the thing offers more than just the chance to save some energy - its upper upper cable station also boasts Seoul's best view from the pub on its roof.|
|SUWON. On Korea Independence Day (marks its liberation from the Japanese in 1945) we visited the city of Suwon, about 2 hours drive from Seoul, to check out what's supposed to be Korea's best example of an ancient walled city. The place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is quite impressive. One can walk in a 6km circle around the original walls and forts ringing what used to be the old city and which were restored in the late 1970s. Really worth seeing. One CAN walk the whole way...but we opted to do only half of it. We went with Jung-Eun and some colleagues of hers who very kindly drove us around. The original plan was to head further south to see the World Ceramics Expo in the famous pottery-making centre of I'chon but the public holiday crowds had packed the freeways and this made us rethink...|
|WALL OF A TIME. On top of one of the hills is a lovely grassed walk between a double wall which must have provided defence against all kinds of invaders in the past but which didn't deter us - they left the bloody gates open! Getting ones shoes off and strolling through the grass up here was absolutely the recommended course of action.|
|FORT-ISSIMO! In many of the something like 30 forts and gates which ring the city, there are people dressed in traditional get-up walking around to add atmosphere, and an interesting element to happy snaps (if you're confused, it's the guy with the sword). In the other pic, L and Jung-Eun are standing in front of a traditional Korean bell which you can pay to actually ring. To get that thing heard across the city, one uses a tree trunk suspended from the roof. Fun - but loud.|
|NOSHING TO SNIFF AT. After a few hours of strolling, we packed ourselves back into the car for the drive back to Seoul, where Jung-Eun's friends took us to a restaurant in our part of the city for a feast. Korea is well-known for something called Hanjong-shik, a special meal for old Nobility only, consisting of a HUGE array of dishes - and this was not it. Despite the fact that the table was groaning under the weight of the food, a real Hanjong-shik meal actually involves twice or three times MORE food! No wonder the ancient nobles spent so much time in contemplation and seclusion - all those beans and chillies must have made it VERY difficult for them to spend time in rooms without ventilation... BURP.|
|OFF TO THE PLACE OF FREE AIR BUT EXPENSIVE WATER! On the last Sunday of August, we headed NE with an old friend of ours, Sung-Ho Kim, who we first got to know during our time in Korea in '98. He's a keen sportsman and driver, so we drove to the waterskiing area of Kangpyon, about 2 hours outside the capital. We had lunch, enjoyed the view of the skiiers and banana-boaters from the restaurant terrace, and generally enjoyed the day alongside this tributary of the Han River which bisects Seoul. An hour's skiing costs $40.|
|OTHER STUFF HAPPENING THIS MONTH. Well, we've heard from a lot of old friends who have managed to dig up our e-mail addresses from various places on the Internet, especially from our University's 'Former Students' pages. It's really nice to catch up on what people have been up to since we saw them last - but it's NOT so pleasant to be notified that old classmates are planning class reunions to mark TWENTY YEARS out of High School!!! Mope, mourn -where DID the time go (etc etc blah blah gibber gibber)|
The rest of the year.
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