May 17 – 12:01 AM, Seoul, Korea
I slept some on the two hour 10 minute flight from Narita and am in fairly good shape. I’ve just ordered scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives. For the last few days I’ve been eating only one meal per day.
I noticed quite a change in the appearance of my fellow travelers. The businessmen particularly, are on the whole, a very different breed. On our flight to and in China, the Westerners were conservatively dressed, subdued in their demeanor and tentative in conversation and eye contact. By comparison, these fellows on their way to Seoul are sharks. They are out to score in an environment with which they are familiar. The hustlers are reving up for the game. I haven’t seen this many unique characters since my last viewing of “The Godfather”.
To compliment this cast of characters are Marines, Army and Navy personnel returning to their posts. It’s been a long time, perhaps my tour with the North Carolina Symphony, (Ft. Bragg.) since I’ve been on and I’ve been this close to the regulars of the United States Armed Forces.
A lot of young mothers and wives, some with children – heading towards their reunions with spouses. Two empty seats away from me is a young, but quite tall and big boned wiry blonde in shorts. About 45 minutes out of Seoul, she makes her third trip to the bathroom – returns to her seat and puts out a make-up kit on her folding airline tray. Eyebrows – cheek blush – lipstick. Then contact lenses fluid – removes her lenses – douses them with the fluid (too much, her palm is dripping with the stuff)- replaces them. Then a large bottle of skin cream – arms thighs – knees – calves. Come on sister, you got a guy over here that hasn’t been laid in two weeks. A few minutes before we land our eyes meet and she smiles. That’s okay for her. As Amaryllis once remarked, “She’s gonna fuck until the top of her feet are raw”. I want to follow her off the plane and see if she is met at the airport and by whom.
I have to let that go because we are met just inside the arrival lounge by our Korean consul – David Hutchinson and his Mr. Fix-it – the amicable, but impatient Mr. Park. They are both in a hurry and by the time we cleared Customs and Immigration, I stopped counting the number of times they had looked at their watches.
I can understand Mr. Park’s attitude. It is obvious that harried is his normal operational mode. But David is pissing me off. He seems rather laid-back and we seem to be inconveniencing him. Finally I pulled the plug and give him the good ole boy routine. “Ya got a tight schedule tonight Dave”? He doesn’t fluster and tells me that a couple of old friends dropped by tonight unexpected, and he and his wife were entertaining them. He wants to get back to the party. That’s straight ahead – and I give him a few points but he looks kind of slow and when he speaks Korean to the immigration officer the guy doesn’t seem impressed. If we are lucky we won’t have to deal with him too often. He doesn’t need five drummers in his life, who does? – besides he is shipping out in a few months.
To say that Seoul is uptight is to understate the feeling at the airport. Everything is handled by the Army (Korean) – and these guys let you know they are not kidding around. The airport looks new and clean. It could be Toronto Malton airport.
A bus is waiting for us and we could take right off except for Bill. He had his scissors confiscated at Narita because they were too long. He remembers at the last minute and runs back into the terminal to find the Northwest Orient office where they should be holding them in an envelope. 15 minutes go by and Bill returns empty-handed. He says he will call the airport tomorrow and perhaps take a cab to pick them up. The damn scissors cost 2 or 3 bucks at the most!
It’s dark as we drive into Seoul but it feels like New York and we arrive at the Seoul Hilton International. Marble, brass, stainless steel, carpeting, and classically subservient bell boys and desk clerks.
Dong-Wook Park, Mr. Percussion of South Korea, and a really warm, dedicated guy has met us at the airport and arrived just ahead of us at the hotel. It is late but we speak with him for a few minutes. He greets me by name and I feel strangely out of kilter because it seemed so natural. I spoke with this guy for 10 minutes – 2 years ago in Dallas, Texas. Our official hosts – Korean Broadcasting System – have three representatives at the hotel and we are given are per diem checks – some ridiculous sum, like 200,000 won which equals about $250 US. I cash mine at the hotel desk. The hotel manager introduces himself to us and says “Room service – money exchange on 24 hour services – and the bar is open until 3 AM. There are 100 people on duty to provide you with any service. Welcome to our hotel”.
Welcome to capitalism. I love it. We walk towards our bags and pass the elevators. Hold on – who is that silver haired image from our past? Well, holy shit it’s Sprio T. Agnew, conviccted felon, former Vice President of the U.S. of A. with a few cronies. A fallen angel and he’s in Seoul – still wheeling and dealing. I wonder if he’s paying his own way and who he is working for now? He surely isn’t looking the worse for wear. Taller than I thought.
After I walked in my room I realize I would like to close the door and not come out for a week. We’re not fooling around here – Triple A first-class. No curtains on the windows, sliding screen Korean style, TV in a very expensive Korean chest. Full bar, refrigerator, folding Oriental closet doors with solid brass handles. Expensive hardwood desk with real brown marble top with matching coffee table, glass topped. Shoehorn, brush, shoe bag, shampoo, skin cream, bath foam, lint remover. Brass lamps, ceramic lamps, brass rose vase, couch, easy chair, full-length dressing mirror with soft yellow brass lamp. Upholstered trash cans, bathrobe (good quality), two pairs leather slippers. Marble and hardwood bedside table with built-in digital clock and state-of-the-art controls for every electrical fixture in the room. High powered shower with big plush towels – not Howard Johnson – but Bloor Street boutique plush. Adapter plug in a wicker basket on the full-length green marble vanity. All lacquered Kleenex box – silent, perfectly balanced and adjustable air-conditioning. Hip print in brass frame and touch tone phone in olive. Rattanish wallpaper and enough pillows to keep a Girl Scout troop happy. The telephone information book and all the hotel service books – usually in vinyl or clear plastic – are stitched leather. The bar is inset and lined with mirrors.
My eggs come in two portions drowning French pastry shells perfectly made – you could count the layers. The salmon, chives, capers, horseradish, lettuce leaf could only be better at home. 4 cups of coffee in a beautiful shape stainless steel pot. Real butter, salt and pepper shakers – China – good quality linen napkins – lemon wedge – two rolls nice and crisp and flaky outside – good consistency inside.
Before ordering, I put on a shirt and tie, jacket and slacks before looking for some ciggs. This joint is big and all marble and brass. Whatever happened to China? Austrian gourmet show downstairs. Cabinets are empty now but they are selling sausages, truffles, pate – all kinds of fancy stuff.
This morning, or rather this afternoon, we had a rehearsal at the KBS studio and a reception at the Canadian embassy residence. Got to put the “Do not disturb” sign on my door. The Chinese do not have a word for privacy. Somehow I feel the sign in this hotel is going to work. PS – found a flashlight, for Christ’s sake, on my bedside table! Well I’ll retire with my Hong Kong edition of the International Tribune. Whoops, almost forgot – the brass desk lamp switch which is a reostat and earlier, when I took a hot shower, the bathroom did not steam up.
May 18 – 9:40 AM
KBS is deja vu of NHK in Tokyo -post World War II architecture. In the control room of the studio where our videotape is being made, a disc jockey is churning out US hits from the 60s.
The Canadian Embassy party is at Mr. and Mrs. L.A.K. James’ home – 330 – 363 Sungbuk-Dong, Sungbuk–Ku – telephone 741 1980. A beautiful view from their backyard – down a mountain over one section of Seoul – ours. He explains that originally he assumed he was seeing the city from here, until he drove over his hill and came upon another vista. The city sprawls.
Bill Bauer is the ambassador and his humor and good sense attract the entire group. He has a large Gallic nose on a rather thin face – small eyes. He reminds me very much of the man from whom we rented a cottage on Canning Lake for a few summers – Kurt Morlock. We discuss traveling to Thailand, Burma – his experiences there. Then he says, with the perfect inflection of Michael in Tokyo* – “It’s a living!” We all toast him with true affection and good humor. Later I explain why we were so moved by that expression. *(Michael Craden, former member of Nexus who died in 1981.)
One comment he makes is interesting,”A secret is something you keep in your back pocket until you put it on the table out of desperation”. “Desperation is the operative word” he says to me when I later, repeat the phrase to him. We are the first Canadian group to play Korea. There are a lot of people on the lawn by now, up. Must be 60 or 70. I ask one of the embassy wives to explain the interests they represent. Korean English paper – Canadian bank – KBS executive – a lot of Koreans she does not know – embassy staff and the Korean folk group in traditional dress, What colors and interest their costumes add to the gray western suits!
11 AM after calling Eleanor
I talked to the President and VP of KBS. They tell me directly that we should have sent them a videotape of Nexus (they are sponsoring us partially). I realize that we had been of little help to them and they are concerned about profit and loss. I am then very direct and tell them we are sorry – we owe them and that besides guaranteeing our concert will be a success, we will make it up to them if we ever come back. They respond very positively to my bluntness in my apology.
After the reception we return to the hotel to have a group birthday dinner for John at the Japanese restaurant. We go to the coffee shop for dessert – ice cream in brandy and chocolate cake
Tonight the president of KBS is giving us a dinner. Overweight, slightly disheveled, ashes wafting on to his suit, perspiring and eyelids pinched shut, he looks like a rather dull, but dangerous owner of a wonton fast food chain, fronting for cocaine trafficking. His VP is the perfect foil. Short, thin, bespectacled -neat -, warm, smile, good sense of humor, comfortable conversationalist. I so desire an end to reception dinners, tours and organization in general.
My spirits are lifted by my call home. So good to hear Bryce’s and Eleanor’s voice. Time to “Shawn-Lay-Bah”.
PS – As we departed the Canadian Embassy reception there is a large circle of flowers on a stand with a sign welcoming Mr. …., President of Hyundai Motors. Placed directly on the front walk, it was not there when we arrived. Who is the honored guest at this reception? I look at my invitation and it says “In honor of the Canadian percussion ensemble Nexus. Mr. and Mrs. etc. request the pleasure etc. etc.”
Seems the James’ are doing double duty tonight. As we leave the next shift comes in, either way we lose. There was no bouquet for us. Ah, Vanity, Vanity, thy name is ego. Hyundai makes the Pony automobile that is being imported into Canada next year. There are priorities in this world.
Our rehearsals are turning into taping sessions. More videotaping, more interviews. I think KBS is more interested in the gate then whether or not we are properly rehearsed.
The dinner at Korea house was spectacular – very traditional Korea. I think it is second only to the meal in Kyoto given us by the executives from Seibu department store. We discuss the powers of ginseng and the recommended brand is deep red. I was guaranteed its restorative powers, given usage for at least one month.
We leave the table and go into a large wing that is a theater. A traditional Korean orchestra is seated on either side of the stage and the performance begins of mime, fan dance, drumming, scarf dance, instrumental pieces. Some of the most incredibly powerful, exciting theater I’ve ever seen. What in God’s name do they want us for?
The building in which the meal and the theater performance takes place is in the former house of a nobleman and is very beautiful. Even more beautiful than the Chinese structures we saw – because of simplicity, to my eyes, a lack of gaudiness. Less painting – more dependence on natural wood grain use of wood design.
May 19 – 12:03 AM –
Miss Korea was chosen tonight. She gasped and cried. The presentation was an exact copy of Miss America. The American TV channel is run by the Armed Forces. Very few commercials and they are designed to warn the service personnel against loose talk and drugs. As Miss Korea was being interviewed they show Bob Barker announcing Miss USA – a girl of New York and Oriental ancestry.