Thursday, December 19, 2002

This weekend was certainly a memorable one. Amy and I hopped the "Seoul Train" early Saturday morning and headed up to Korea's biggest city. Five hours later we stepped onto the platform of Seoul Station and wandered into the big city. First impressions, Seoul is huge. Have I mentioned that Seoul is massive? There are people everywhere.

We walked out of the train station and right into a large mob of angry Koreans heading off to the US embassy to protest against SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement). SOFA was negotiated in the sixties and is the framework for the governance of US military forces stationed in South Korea (there are over 37,000 US troops here right now). Most of the country is majorly pissed off right now, as two US soldiers were recently acquitted of running over and killing two young Korean girls in their armoured personnel carrier (APC). There have been large protests across the country demanding an apology and a renegotiation of the terms of SOFA, which currently allow US soldiers to be tried under US military law for crimes committed in Korea - a fact that many understandably feel is unfair and biased.

Anyway, Amy and I did our best to keep our heads down and avoid any problems.

We then went to meet Joanna and her friends Mark and SK at the bus station and on the way back we were accosted by a very friendly older Korean man, who spoke incredibly good English. Turns out he had immigrated to Chicago after the Korean war and was back in Korea to visit some old friends and relatives. He proceeded to show us some pictures of him as a 15 year old youth posing with an American GI and holding a very big gun. It was a fascinating perspective listening to him relate stories of post-war Korea and just how much it has changed since he had left. In just forty years, the country has gone from war-torn devastation to one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. I wonder what some of the younger generation who were off protesting against SOFA would say if they stopped to think about what their parents and grandparents had gone through only a few generations earlier. Maybe they wouldn't be so quick to condemn the USA and Western nations.

From the bus station we head to Itaewon, a district in Seoul dominated by a large US military installation and row upon row of vendors selling knock-off Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and other Western brands for cheap. We had dinner at a decent Mexican restaurant and went for beers at a pub nearby. It's amazing how quickly you can forget you're in a foreign country there, where just about everywhere you look you see another white face. It was kind of a surreal experience.

Anyway, despite all of this rambling, the purpose of our adventure to Seoul was to go and see Sasha in concert. We ventured onto the subway and made our way out to the Sheraton Walker Hill hotel where the party was taking place. We arrived at about 11:00pm and lined up to get our tickets. The venue was fantastic and very cool. The crowd was about half Korean and half foreigner. The music was loud and the lighting was intense. A very good vibe indeed. The whole party was sponsered by British American Tabacco and Smirnoff, so they were handing out free packs of cigarettes faster than you could fill your pockets (something I'm sure would have made Health Canada have a coronary) and the drinks were strong enough to run a small automobile.

After a couple of opening acts, Sasha came on at about 1:30am and proceeded to play until about 5am. It was a solid set and really got the crowd moving. We all danced until our legs ached and our feet were sore. The only downer to the evening (and morning) was when we left, our bags and coats that had been orderly checked in at the beginning of the night, we now found lying strewn across the floor in big piles. They were several panicked moments as we frantically searched through the heaps to find purses, wallets, jackets and bags and luckily we all found our stuff eventually. Some were not so lucky, there were several people in various states of hysteria either sobbing or swearing up a storm at the concert organizers. All in all, it was pretty FUBAR.

As we left the hotel exhausted in the early hours of the morning, we made our way back to the subway and back to the train station. Amy and I jumped the first train to Ulsan at 7:30am and fell promptly asleep. We awoke as the train drew into Ulsan, and we got home as fast as we could. I've been sleeping ever since....

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