With less than 24 hours in the capital, my aims were limited: first find the hotel, then find the river. The city-centre hotel was easily found with a little help from a desk at Incheon airport. The business hotel is cheap, bland and full of Japanese tourists – mostly families and schoolkids. In reception, I heard one tourist say although the hotel breakfast was notoriously disgusting, he was prepared to give it a go. I admire that spirit.
On such a short stop, it is hard to take anything in. I feel as if I am part of a film. It is perhaps no wonder. In the past forty eight hours, films have taken my brain to Berlin in 1989, a fishing village on the east coast of America, high society London between-the-wars, and a mental institution in 1970’s America. Walking the Seoul streets I forget everything I see is real, not just another episode of virtual reality.
The anonymity is addictive and dangerous. A stranger saying hello to me brought on a mild panic attack.
As usual, I am poorly-prepared. I used to be able to read and speak a little Korean. Their brilliant and original hangul alphabet which looks like a never-ending algebra equation fascinated me for a time. I watch a short Youtube video of useful Korean phrases. Then I remember I never really knew any useful Korean, only how to ask for a banana in a convenience store.
I took the underground to the Gangnam district, according to the free map, a mere fingernail’s worth of walk from the river. The free map lacked a little on detail though, and I was soon lost in a bleak block of numbered high-rises which wouldn’t have looked out of place across the northern border. At the back of the property was a cluster of robust exercise machines lined up along a bank. Surely the Han river lay beyond. I scrambled up the side and saw the historic Han river flowing into the Yellow Sea. Sadly my hopes of washing my hands in it were crushed by 10 lanes of traffic in front of me. Probably a good thing – the river has apparently been poisoned by the American military.