fredag, juni 02, 2006

Mr. Chang

I'm now at the Savoy Hotel in the Myeong-dong District of Seoul. This is a very old part of the city, so the streets are narrow and it retains an open market culture. However, many of the buildings are new and quite tall, so the overall effect is of a tight, shadowy district. Very popular for shopping and for young people. The area outside my hotel is part of a series of seemingly endless walking streets (with a strong resemblance to Copenhagen's Stroiget), only sometimes cars appear. You just learn how to walk and not get run down.

Women in short, fur-topped boots and mini skirts call to you over amplifiers to invite you into the department stores. There's a man dressed in a suit, crown and sash on which is written a series of Korean characters. He does not move his feet but rotates at the waist and waves his arms and calls out something relevant to the store he stands outside. Shoe and jewelry and clothing stands line the center lane of these streets. Fruit stands and grill stalls are pressed against the buildings.

Yesterday I was picked up at the other hotel by one Mr Chang, who works for a test lab. He drove me 45 minutes across the city to testing headquarters where I toured the facility and had lunch with a team of researchers. Among the many things I saw there was a washing machine room where they were putting Gap t-shirts to color-fast and shrinkage tests. They use American machines when testing for American markets, French for French markets, etc.

But on the drive there, most of which was spent in silence, I could not help but feel good about it all, though Mr. Chang was really being put out of his way by this. He took me along the river for quite a ways (following one of the city's eight-lane highways). I spotted a Trump tower. I saw a beach with what appeared to be a sand (perhaps red clay?) basketball court. I saw fascinating buildings, one after the other, stacked all the way up into the mountain. All the while Mr. Chang seemed a little stressed about being told to pick me up. He'd seemed a little out about it the previous day when my contact told him he was going to do this. (Things like that are always happening here. No one disagrees, though.) But afterwards, when he rode in the cab with me to Myeong-dong, he brightened. We had to get out of the cab and walk into the district. Mr Chang insisted on pulling my suitcase along (and, later, insisted on waiting until the bellhop had my bag and was holding the elevator open before Mr Chang felt he could abandon his charge). We walked through the crowd, he stopped to ask a few people where the Savoy was, and, indeed, it was tough to find, tucked in very cozily as it is. The entrance we used looks to be an alley. But everything here looks to be that.

Still, in all the noise and commotion and the happiness of people taking their Friday afternoon to just walk in the heat and shop brought a smile to Mr. Chang. He said, "You see now why I do not drive here." He said, "We always take a subway into Myeong-dong." Thoughts of those adventures must have been running through his head, for he was now quite relaxed, even a bit lively to judge by the light in his eyes.

My own adventure awaits. But first: breakfast. It's 7 am here, 5 pm the previous day back home. I've a coupon for a meal at Goody Goody.
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