Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Wednesday 12 December 2007

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My third full day in Seoul was the best. For one thing, I had a leisurely breakfast featuring real fried eggs. I had to get a talk ready, but that’s nothing new (and neither was the talk, ha ha). I ventured out of the hotel in search of coffee about 1130, past a shop offering “Sweet Buns” and into the maze of little streets which fill the gaps behind the huge sky scrapers and office blocks in the business centre. I got my coffee in a little corner shop: cappucino is served in a plastic cup with a flattened straw so you can drink it even when its hot. Outside, someone was making a very loud political broadcast from a van, bizarrely of himself. Suddenly, the streets filled with office workers in search of lunch: I was swept along by a tidal wave of smartly dressed people desperate for kimchi and soup: eventually I settled for a lunch which looked soup-free inside something called a “bier hall”, though no-one was drinking or being offered beer, where I had the full monty option — two pieces fried meat and one of fried fish, together with the usual assorted vegetables and sauce for a mere 5500 wong.

The stream with amazing lights that I saw on day one is probably the most interesting thing in this bit of town, even when the lights are off. Cheonggyecheon Stream was more of a covered over sewer for most of the 20th century, but in 2005 it seems the mayor of Seoul organized a major environmental clean-up which involved uncovering it, giving it a nice new bottom, and surrounding it with tasteful stonework, so that it became a long park running through the city, a little oasis for pedestrians. Most of it is about ten metres below street level, with a tastefully variegated stone walkways on either side of the stream, also featuring occasional stepping stones, wooden bridges, and a few grasses and reeds. No visible fish, and the water is only about six inches deep, but it looks clean and makes a pleasant sploshing noise which drowns out most of the traffic noise above, for once. There is some tasteful Korean art underneath one of the bridges, and a rather nice long mural showing King Jeongio’s Royal Parade but not much else to look at.

After a while the huge office blocks above the stream give way to the usual kind of Asian shopping cityscape of hundreds of little specialist shops with wares spilling out onto the pavement, and extending down tempting little chaotic alleyways. The area I walked through when I surfaced from the stream seemed to be devoted to ironmongery so there were shops selling every imaginable kind of lightbulb, or every kind of copper tube, or great snaking heaps of plastic piping, or dozens of differently sized electrical generators. and every possible variant on the humble waterpump. It reminded me of my grandpa’s shop a bit.

Resisting the temptation to explore further, I then rushed back to the hotel to meet up with my hosts from Korean Uni for the afternoon. Instead of Beom Mo Chang, I found I was being waited for by two charming young graduate students of his, who giggled rather a lot, bundled me into a taxi, and off we drove to Korea University, through lots of much more interesting looking bits of town. Their brief was to give me a tour of the University campus, but I managed to prevail on them instead to sit and drink tea and natter, which was very nice. Then they delivered me to Professor Kim’s office, by means of campus shuttle bus, where I was given books, and thanked, and rushed off to give my standard TEI P5 talk, to an audience of about 20 students and staff, some of whom seemed to enjoy it. And we then went to dinner in a Chinese Restaurant, or what passes for same in Korea. Maybe it was just having more manageable Chinese-style chopsticks, maybe it was being plied with soju, maybe it was being surrounded by anglophones, but this dinner was much more relaxed and enjoyable than yesterday’s. Come to think of it, it’s probably because the other guests were all academics rather than civil servants. Then Professor Chang took me back to my hotel by subway, a rare treat, and I caught up on my email, packed, and went to bed early.


Written by Lou

December 14, 2007 at 18:13

Posted in Uncategorized

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