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Monday, November 29, 2004

Korea - any soul?

Arrived at 5pm in the swanky new Incheon airport – a new addition after the 1988 Olympics, in fact only a few years old. Gimpo is the Olympic airport – now used for Japan flights – same time zone, 90 minute flight to Tokyo.

Odd country – in the sense that there seems to be the enormous urban sprawl (upwards – 25 storey tower blocks everywhere, the famous MTUs full of broadband). Not likely to see the country during this trip – yet it’s the size of England with a population of 58 million.

Drove for 90 minutes through massive concrete jungle – me passed out on the back seat, my driver stuck in this megalopolis’ evening rush-hour. It’s like a mixture of Manhattan and Bangkok – the latter for the exotic people, food and script on the neon, the former for the concrete canyons. In the shopping malls, saw a ‘live’ computer gaming tournament – filmed in front of an audience of 200, for a satellite TV channel. Two professional players opposite each other wearing headphones, the audience watching the screens above their heads, the audience at home watching the same. Me? I just watched the audience watching the screens – very Derrida-like, post-post-post-modern…

We walked out after dinner – Marcel, Phil and our hosts – in the chilly evening, with a full moon. Our hostess got very red-faced from her allergy to beer, but insisted on drinking with us. East Asians don’t have the important enzymes to make beer metabolise – but still the sararimen drink like fishes.

Now it’s 4.30 – fell sleep at 12, woke at 3.30. It’s going to be ‘Lost in Translation’ today – it’s still only 7.30 pm UK time. As I’m not on til 2.25, and we’re not meeting til 12.40, maybe I’ll get breakfast at 6am, then sleep until 11. It’d be nice to go swimming too – very nice pool here at the Grand Intercontinental.

This is the World Trade Center – we might not see Korea at all in the next 30 hours. It’s massive and about 10 years old – less building since the 1998 crash apparently, but not much less. Phil’s on the 29th floor, me on the 7th – but the hotel must be 40 floors high. It reminds me of Stalin’s culture palace in Warsaw, so inappropriate and massive a symbol of a different and imposed culture – in Stalin’s case, Asian dictatorship and megalomania, in Korea’s case the capitalism of Manhattan that has been successfully grafted onto Asia.

Question: do they play online gaes because there’s nowhere to play outside? I saw some ‘golf courses’ that looked like driving ranges with greens – yet they lead the world in golf. I saw no nature, lots of chemical plants and mud flats on the flight in perfect visibility in the late afternoon, such a contrast with the emptiness of Siberia and Mongolia for hour after hour. The south and east have nature, apparently – next visit. It can’t all be as soulless as Seoul…

Absolutely shattered after sleeping 12midnight-3.30am, and then from 10.30 til 12. In between, swam, lifted weights including fabby love-handle vibration machine, and shanked a few golf shots.

Now at conference – fast approaching 6pm (9am UK) and Mr Sandman is playing on my eyelids. The conference finishes at 6.45 and then I’m being collected for dinner with Professor Kang’s students.

It’s been interesting – both for fellow speakers from Europe and Japan, but also for the Korean dialogue between government, CSOs and industry – they all distrust each other and govt is trying to impose a form of regulation, while continuing to call it ‘self-regulation’. But that’s a constant battle, especially in East Asia – Korea is a puddle of democracy in an ocean of authoritarianism – gvt renationalised ccTLD recently!

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