Sunday, April 30, 2017

I Wander

In 1845, Sara Coleridge, the brilliant daughter of the better known Samuel Taylor, wrote to her dissolute brother Hartley about the qualities of certain English-language poets: "To be always reading Shelley and Keats would be like living on quince-marmalade. Milton and and Wordsworth are substantial diet for all times and seasons."

I walked eight miles alone today, trekking first to Emart to return the kilograms of insect-afflicted oatmeal (the bugs did not deign to show themselves under the fluorescent lights at the returns desk, but the lady there kindly gave me a refund anyway), and then down to the seashore in time for sunset. Inland was a pleasant floral aroma, where the grey stone walls were covered with thick, polished, leafy ivy, emerald in the sunshine. On the other side of the stones, occasional stumps of dead palm trees resembled bolts of twisted hemp fabric. From a distance, the pointed pylons from which the soccer stadium roof is suspended looked like a volley of rockets launching skyward. Several World Cup matches are to be played there in the coming weeks.

Saturday evening I went with three other girls to one of the multiple posh hotels near the convention center to hear a band. The cab--the steering wheel was pimped out in pave red crystals--dropped us off at the front door, which was flanked by a pair of magnificent bronze verdigris foo dogs. Inside, a grand piano accompanied a smoky-voiced jazz singer in the forested lobby cafe-bar. Just past a Salvador Dali sculpture was a huge staircase that overlooked the gardens and the pool.

We took a short stroll through the palatial grounds, where the illuminated palm trees shone gold against the clear star-studded black sky. It was a perfect location for a romantic moment, just out of sight of the pool but within earshot of the band. A little stone cherub was piddling in the koi lagoon.

We seated ourselves at a table near the pool bar and consulted the menu. It was cluttered with absurdly overpriced offerings; the cocktails ranged from 28 to 32,000 KRW. My 250 mL Coke cost 5000 KRW. But the amenities were stunning, from the indoor/outdoor pool, illuminated and warm, to the blazing fires on stone circles overhung by cantilevered cloth canopies. People in soft grey robes, the hoods cloaking their faces, shuffled around the pool and to the sauna in one-size-fits-all rattan slippers. Slim servers in khaki pants and pale blue shirts briskly darted out of the enclosed cafe, carrying trays to lounging guests. Colored lights flashed on the stage. Families were splashing in the pool or lingering nearby, listening to the music. Toddlers drooped over their parents' shoulders as the evening progressed. The music was great, and the band members--who had come over and chatted with us during breaks--called us onto our feet to sway and clap to the rhythm. The members were from Miami, and it was the last night of their three-month stint on the island; they told us they'd been housed in suites for the duration of their contract, provided with lavish breakfasts, laundry service, and daily room cleaning.

On Thursday I was treated out by six of my adult students at another hotel, which had a hot and cold buffet and all the fixings for shabu shabu. There were salads and mandu and sushi and sauced pork and other delights. For dessert there was soft-serve ice cream and a chocolate fountain into which you could thrust marshmallows that had been impaled on long bamboo skewers. Despite my going back for thirds, my students claimed I didn't eat much.

To and from lunch, I was chauffeured in a massive new Mercedes-Benz sedan with two sunroofs, leather seats and subtly-illuminated wood paneling in the doors. The driver had pre-selected Norah Jones on the stereo as I had said in class that I liked her music. After the meal, they took me for a scenic drive down near the naval station. As we cruised the shore road, two Korean navy vessels tore out of port, suddenly curvetting in the water and sending white wake boiling up their sides. I immediately pulled out my phone to check to see if anything untoward had happened on an international level, but there was nothing. Then I dozed off in comfort.

My students told me that I am like Jim Carrey (I wonder what the guys I went to see Ace Ventura with while we were at university would say?). I'm very physically expressive in class. I figure that a good portion of language comprehension is nonverbal, and if they have a dramatic presentation to explain particular vocabulary they're more likely to remember it. The ladies also complimented me on my clear skin (a temporary condition, thanks to the antibiotics which drove my eye infection into remission), asking me what my regimen was. I admitted I didn't have one (I'm the sort of person who washes her face with dish soap if that's the nearest to hand), but I don't think they believed me. Koreans are very into skincare, and the idea of an educated woman who isn't is unthinkable.

Friday night a lovely Korean colleague of mine fixed a Japanese vegetable curry. It was superb. She really does have a beautiful complexion, and she works to keep it that way.

The weather is deliciously comfortable at the moment, cool, clear and slightly breezy, without the oppressive humidity that will mark the better part of the summer. All Saturday I had windows in my house open, which helped with the feelings of physical and emotional congestion that have dogged me for weeks. The swaying and billowing of my bedroom curtain in the fresh air reminded me of a perfect morning 25 years ago. That day, I woke up in a cottage in the garden of a hotel on the Italian Riviera. The long pure white curtains curled in the breeze and early sunshine, and the musical sound of conversation among the local laundry women trickled up from the nearby mews into the soft and spotless room. It was heavenly. The breakfast of fresh bread and jam on the veranda overlooking the Mediterranean was likewise heavenly. Now, had my traveling companions only been less devilish...

After church this afternoon I went to Hi Mart again. I bought two air-purifiers. The same handsome young salesman helped me, and again he respectfully referred to me as "mother." Argh.

When walking on the seaside, I feel I am on the edge of the universe, because there is no clear horizon. The sea fades away into the sky like an airbrushed backdrop in a 1950s Hollywood movie. The rocks nearest the land are black and dove grey, but the ones by the water are ash-colored. The tide-pools are glassy, reflecting the rough stones and the occasional pair of ducks paddling in the shallows. As the sun sinks, the water turns Wedgwood blue, and the sky pale lavender. It was well after dark when I got back home this evening, or as dark as the heavily-electrified streets get. I remind myself it'll be like daylight at midnight in Seoul, where I'm scheduled to spend this coming Wednesday through Sunday.

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