Nicholas Quirke was putting an end to his whinging about being stuck in Seoul on 17 February 2020 and moving South. He was taking the train to Busan and taking in the South Korean Scenery. With another vast breakfast inside him and another snowy day to contend with he set off for the Station. He had decided to take the subway, as arranging for a taxi to get to his location and organise where he would be picked up seemed too onerous. He still had money on his transit pass which made it a cheaper and swifter option. It was also an easy trip with only one transfer; nothing difficult, or so he thought a simple change of line took him 30 minutes to achieve as for some reason his suitcase seemed to weigh twice what it had previously and even through the station had an elevator there were still 2 flights of stairs to negotiate. It proved ridiculously hard to carry the case up the steps and he was lifting it 1 step at a time till a woman took pity on him and helped with the first flight, with second it was even more of struggle. Anywhere in the world, If he had seen anyone having a problem he would help out and it seemed extremely surprising that none of the able bodied,, fit men even gave him a glance to help. He was in a sweat and quite annoyed by the time he got to the platform. It was a smooth journey from that point and he found his train, the platform, carriage and seat without any stress, though he found it most alarming that there was no one at any point who checked his ticket. It was 3 hours into the journey before he even saw a guard. He wasn’t complaining though, for a 5 hour journey which cost him £15.00, he would just sit back and enjoy the scenery and the changing weather. He left Seoul in a snow fall, witnessed a blizzard, saw a mist settle, watched the skies clear and arrived in Busan in blazing sunshine. Ha hadn’t expected the countryside to be so mountainous. For the entire journey, as the train rattled through the valleys and plains of Korea the Mountains loomed large and once again he had the sensation of being in a Japanese Watercolour. On the journey, the dark clouds that sent snow and rain his way gathered to deliver a disappointing and frustrating piece of news. Peng had been running in the Tokyo Marathon and had invited Nicholas to join him in Tokyo. He had then made plans to get to Japan and travel through this intriguing and exciting country. The marathon was now cancelled to all general entrants and only local indigenous runners would be able to take part. This meant that he would not get to spend time with Peng and he would now be in Tokyo alone, if he should even go there, with yet another city fearful of the threat of the Virus. He would have to reschedule or go back to his original plan of flying back to Beijing from Seoul at the end of the month. Change was always unsettling and he agreed with Peng to review the itinerary. Nicholas was going to a seaside town, city, and had imagined he was headed to Korea’s, Brighton, a charming resort. but when he saw the scale of the sprawling Metropolis, another city nestling amongst mountains and peaks, he was completely astounded. He got a taxi to his hotel which had an ocean view, settled in and then went to look at the beach and go in search of something to eat. Naturally the Vegan restaurant he found was closed for two weeks and he eventually settled for a Subway vegetarian. He discussed plans with Peng who made some changes to flights for him which left him feeling extremely grateful but a little startled at how easily he was handing over responsibility for his schedule to another person. After 3 nights sleeping on a floor, he looked forward to a soft comfy bed and it was goodnight Peng, goodnight world.
Nicholas Quirke was faced with another breakfast on 16 February 2020 even more lavish than the previous day, though he panicked slightly when the chef tried to give him an egg. He also decided not to indulge in the wafer thin seaweed strips that were offered. It’s was very cold and there were also a lot more guests that the previous day. In between breakfast and meeting his friend Patrick, who was going to take him to a barbers and then would have some lunch. He chatted with Peng and started packing in anticipation of moving on the next day. He opened the door of his room and to his astonishment it had snowed and gave the old traditional building the most romantic feel. The snow really excited him and as he walked to meet Patrick he couldn’t help but feel the whole city had been transformed and held a magical feel, particularly as they walked round the alleyways and small streets in search of a barbers. It took a while as Patrick did not want to take him into one of the many old style coiffeurs. In the end patience wearing thin he was allowed into an old grubby emporium where for the equivalent of £4.85 he had a cut, a beard trim and shampoo. Feeling refreshed they’d went for tea and Nicholas enlisted Patrick’s help to sort out the train ticket he was trying to buy . Again, this proved more frustrating than its should have been. In the end he suggested they just go to the rail station and buy the ticket there. He had wanted to treat Patrick to a proper Vegan meal but once they were that far from Insadong they did they looked for somewhere to have lunch near the station. Patrick thought it would be a good Idea to take him to a famous mall where the Pop and movie starts could be seen and they had a truly spectacular Bookstore which Nicholas could not work out how hey stocked the shelves. It was pristine, no dust yet the shelving towered above them. A lovely spot. They had another tea and worked on the next transport prospect. Which, although they managed to book he would not have confirmed till 48 hours had elapsed. Though the difficulties he was experiencing in planning his next moves were frustrating and made him a little irritable, the excitement of what was to come more than compensated the obstructions. Though he now had really had enough to eat his guide wanted him to see the Itaewan area, where they could eat and find a Vegan Restaurant . The atmosphere reminded him of the old Soho, bustling, noisy full of bars, cafes and restaurants and the promise of sex. There was nothing vegan and they ended up in a faux Italian where he had spaghetti Aiol which they served covered in cheese another deja vu. moment. It was quite late by the time Nicholas said goodbye to his friend and felt quite sad that it was possibly the last time he might see him. Once in the room he got back down to floor level, which he was quite enjoying and packed his bags. The now familiar anxiety that change and travel bought him began to flirt with his equanimity but after a talk with Peng his Sense of well being returned and he wrapped himself in the quilt on the floor, enjoying the heat and went to sleep.
Nicholas Quirke was sidetracked on 15th February 2020 from his original intention by the move to new temporary lodgings. Right next door was the Seoul Museum of Modern art and instead of trekking across the city to play in the faded kitsch of an abandoned amusement park, his cultural hormones got the better of him and he spent the morning enjoying the highlight from South Korea’s most prominent new artists. This was not before he was summoned at 8 to eat a breakfast of broth, a bowl of vegetables, rice and at least 8 accompanying small dishes. It was delicious and extremely satisfying and would, he thought, fuel him for the rest of the day. The exhibition of installations and videos the young prize winning artists was inspiring and challenging. He found himself laughing and moved by some of the work and even participated in a piece by completing a survey about inclusiveness and the meaning of ‘Us which was then added to the work and data. He was further entertained and impressed with a catalogue and entire work on ‘Perfect Family’ A company claiming to be providing loving parents, supportive spouse, coveted lover, trustworthy friends, providing you with a more perfect family than your own family. The gallery itself was almost a work of art with its cavernous empty spaces luring you to explore and discover more. He enjoyed a tea in the gallery and connected himself to the internet to try and sort out train tickets but to his frustration he got nowhere with the website and decided to leave it till Sunday, He also intended to have a haircut but lost the will to get to the subway to get to the area his guide Patrick had suggested and as an alternative took a walk in the park. The views of the mountains and the open spaces created a feeling of peace and content, He loved how the modern and ancient sat so harmoniously together as he looked at the rising peaks he began to see in the details of the mountain side the watercolours and art that one associates with the Japanese. The day had slipped away from him again and after another long chat with Peng decided to go and eat. He found an Indian restaurant and after scouring they menu for the most vegan dishes they produced, was horrified when his Main dish was served garnished with cheese. It was sent back.. At the guest hose he struggled again with the internet, failing to download the photos. he finally gave up and went to sleep , hoping it would be a more comfortable night than his previous night on the floor
Nicholas Quirke was starting to feel stuck in Seoul, even though he was moving hotels 14 February 2020. There was much more to see in the city, but he had done most of the things that interested him. He was supposed to be in China and working things out on making a life for a year there. In Beijing he had already formed a strong bond with Peng, there had been job opportunities and even places to live in the Hutongs, which made him feel like he was simply killing time till the Coronavirus settled down and he could get back to the plan. He hadn’t known what to do when he fled the virus and had only bookEd 7 nights. He had planned to work out a proper Itinerary but had allowed himself to be distracted and here he was a week on having a holiday rather than Making plans and putting down roots. Here though was a change of scene, He had loved the Buchon Hanok Village so much, he wanted to try some traditional style living and booked himself into a Guest House. Before checking out he had a short chat with his mother, finished packing, organised a Sim, talk with Peng and responded to some emails. He was delighted with the location, but on arrival, the reality of traditional living hit him. It was going to be an experience living at floor level. There were no chairs, his bed rolled up on the floor, though that was a heated floor. He enjoyed eating cross legged in the restaurant, he was going to have to manage living like that too. It would be good for the sciatica, he’d thought. Once established in his new abode he set off to lunch at the Vegan restaurant he he’d been to before and enjoyed another good lunch. He had also promised himself tea in a proper Teahouse and he found the charming ‘Moonbird thinks only of the Moon’. As he sat down, the sommelier appeared with a menu and a book of `Korean Poetry’ for him to read. it was clearly a favoured spot for older artistic locals. He fell in love with its ambience and even when a group of old men came in and were staring and chuckling about him, his Maoist look, clearly the source of their mirth, his feelings for the place was not diminished. Almost 2 hours were spent enjoying the delicious ginger tea, which made him realise the Unidentifiable ingredient in the tea he, Slava and Kseniya enjoyed in Ulan-Bator was in fact, ginger. He messaged them right away. He had promised Peng that he would get him some coffee from a Fashionable local cofffee shop and went to find it and a takeaway meal for the evening. Once again he got himself lost, city mapper telling him he had arrived at Felt, but was actually standing outside Adrians Cafe. He eventually asked a young man who directed him inside what looked like an office block but was in fact a high class mall. The penny dropped, he was starting to get the hang of the life here. He managed too to finally locate an Indian Vegan restaurant, it too. Was in the middle of a mall, and oh what a surprise, it was closed for refurbishment. Nicholas located another two restaurants he could get a Takeaway from and after some difficulty managed to get a warm mushroom salad. He made his way back to the Guest House and when he finally sat down to eat supper he was joined via Face Time by Peng and they enjoyed an evening of chat and laughter As he went to bed, he discovered the downside of living in the traditional style was the amenities were not as effective as in a smarter hotel and he struggled to get the WiFi working consistently. With that frustration in mind he went to bed.
Nicholas Quirke was both disappointed and amused as he sped towards his day’s adventure on 13 February 2020. He was very keen to see outside of Seoul and drawn to the border between The North and South. In particular he wanted to see the ‘Third tunnel of Agression’ which was an infiltration tunnel built by the North Koreans to take 30000 troops into the south. Unfortunately when booking the tour, one had to have a Guide, he was told the tunnel was shut due to an outbreak of Swine Flu in the North since October. Nevertheless, it would be fascinating to visit the Demilitarised Zone, the DMZ, and see the freedom bridge, and from the Odu Mountain Unification observatory see into North Korea and see the closest town which is a 15 walk from the border. The idea of North Korea is shrouded in mystery And to his and the fellow travellers Eternal disappointment, the views, the mountains, the forbidden land remained shrouded in mystery to them. This was not his day, not his trip in which to have some enlightenment about the strange land, for as the bus drove out of Seoul a mist descended and despite the hour long journey, by the time they got to the first attraction nothing could be seen of the DMZ. It made the experience, mysterious and ghostly. The sights and memories of the Korean War, the closed bridge, the pleas for unity and the half glimpsed fields of the zone were a moving testament to a country, families torn apart by fear and resentment. Hopefully, by the time they reached the Odu Mountain, they would be able to see more. A flags fluttering close to the obnservation deacon could barely be seen. Absolutely nothing. The day was not a complete failure with the tour ending at the War museum and memorial. The tour ended for him here. there were a number of commemorative and moving memorial, with the most touching being a sculpture called brothers, which depicted the true story of a brother from the North meeting his sibling from the South on tune battlefield and the anguish portrayed in the structures was heartbreaking and set the tone of the visit for. Him. As he looked at the flags of the 21 countries that joined forces to reclaim Korea from the North, he was moved to read the thanks and gratitude from the South Korean people, and the fact that his father, during his national service, had played a small part in their struggle to keep the independence, only so recently reclaimed from the Japanese in1945 bought A tear to his eyes. This was a story he was able to embellish on when he was approached by two Koreans Suyun Park and Mr Lee, asking why he was here. He explained that he was on a tour, but did share that his Father had served in Korea during the war. They advised that they were trying to form a community of the`Korean War Veterans’ descendants and he was the first one they had encountered. They took a photo of him with Mr Lee and shared emails addresses to talk further and share information. The war had always seemed so distant to him but being in the museum, talking with the representatives, learning what happened, the thousands that were killed, both North and South the families torn apart and the struggle to rebuild Bought it’s carnage and in fact his father and all the other participants in the war into a shocking reality. His Time on his return to the hotel was Taken up in first sorting out his move to another hotel the next day, a long conversation with Peng and a 2 hour hunt through the streets surrounding him for a new, Data only Sim. A fraught time and one in which he ended up in an argument with a Korean mobile phone representative. A refreshing ginger tea and a snack in a coffee bar calmed him down before returning to his hotel to pack. He was excited by the new hotel he was moving to and went to sleep looking forward to what St Valentines Day would bring.
Nicholas Quirke was relieved to wake to a rainy day on 12th February 2020, not because he was tired of the sight seeing but because he was suffering from a bout of sciatica and it meant he could rest up, find a sports massage, and relax. Finding an appropriate massage proved difficult. With the offer of something more sensual was quite prevalent he’d had to enlist the help of the hotel reception to find something suitable. They found a hotel spa where sports massages were on the menu on the 14th floor of a department store. After a lazy restful morning he set off to Dongdaemun to get some help in releasing the nerve. He discovered a new area of Soul that was both modern yet felt old too. And it all looked somehow romantic in the winter drizzzle. Her had a map, he tried to follow city mapper but he could not find the hotel or the spa. He hit the 14th floor of several buildings. He showed the map and asked, ‘Is this here’ and they either said yes, or sent him to another building. He spotted a tourist information office and finally after an hour he got to to spot he needed to be. There was some negotiation and Nicholas used Google translate to get the right information across. he felt a little nervous and the ladies didn’t seem 100% convinced of what he was asking, but it was a sports massage and thats what he got. Every muscle was pummelled, stretched , pressed and battered and though he felt like a wrung out towell by the end of the hour, the pain in his leg had, for now disappeared. He got back to the hotel just as his guide Patrick arrived. He helped Nicholas with some research for as trip the next day and on new hotel, he was due to check out on Friday, as well as train tickets for Busan. They then set off for Insadong. a colourful artisan area full of gift shops and traditional arts wares, where they ate and then went to as bar to chat and learn more about Korean life. During the evening Nicholas got to speak, though briefly with his two sons. It was good to hear from them and his spirits, particularly now the sciatica seemed to have receded, soared and saying goodnight to Patrick made his way home to his penultimate night at the hotel. He reflected on the day which should have been relaxing and though he still relived the stress of searching for the spa undoubtably felt happy and positive. His plans had gone awry but solutions were presenting themselves.
Nicholas Quirke was wondering if he had some sort of curse following him on 11 February 2020. He seemed to have a sixth sense for failure that pursued him through virtually every day. His morning started, as now most days did, with a long conversation with Peng, After leaving China he hadn’t anticipated still communicating with his friend on such a regular basis, but advice, talk, laughs and companionship that had been so helpful in Beijing continued to brighten his day. And advice had been high on the agenda for the day, as Nicholas was planning on going to the Bukchon Hanok Village and Peng had been there too. An area of outstanding beautiful Historic traditional homes, not a model village,, a preserved 600 yr old urban environment, actually inhabited, as he discovered when he got there and found the locals on duty to keep the visitors silent and to not disturb the residents. He was once again lost in the beauty of the myriad angles of the eaves. The views of the mountains were inspiring and he was delighted, highly amused to see the Korean day trippers, populating the Hanoks, (alleys) of the village in traditional costume. To often he had joked about wearing his kimonos and silks on the journey, here he had his chance and missed it. Peng had sourced a vegan restaurant for him in the vicinity, and though it seemed easy to get to, once he was in the tiny, meandering gunnels of the restaurant area he was lost and faced blank incomprehension in every rustic looking establishment he enquired at., When he eventually found it He felt was worth the Struggle. Osegye Hyang was another beautiful dining experience, though he could have done without the TV screens littering the calm of the restaurant. He ate cross legged on the floor making sandwich’s of his food with lettuce leaves. Delicious and satisfying. His next stop was Seodaemun Prison History Hall. The Remains of a prison compound built by the Japanese in 1908 when they invaded Korea. It was another beautiful sunny day, and by the time he arrived, even though he was only wearing a lightweight jacket, he felt overheated. An important fact as his temperature rose further when he discovered the Prison was closed due to the Coronavirus. Every day it seemed he faced the challenge of closed public spaces and his anger with himself was beginning to lose its limits. Fortunately, on deciding to walk round the compound he discovered the back of the prison was exposed, so he could at least look at the buildings and read about the torture and execution of the Korean freedom fighters that were imprisoned there. The fences lined with the faces of the martyrs to the cause. He had noticed an increase in the pain levels he was experiencing from the sciatica which had been bothering him, and when he got in he asked the front desk if they knew of a Sports massage he could get, laughing as he tried to explain that it was not for sensual reasons. They found him a place nearby in Dongdaemun and he resolved to go there the next day in an attempt to release the trapped nerve.