So I have been sent, by the Korean government, on mandatory in-service teacher training on very short notice, to Seoul. It happened more or less like this:

I get up on a Wednesday morning with some difficulty…drag myself through the notions of becoming acceptably presentable for school, run off for the grace bus (there are two busses…one is responsibly early , and the afore mentioned, just in time. )

I arrive at school with a bit of a sweat, and just as I put my handbag down at my desk and glance over at my class schedule, my co-teacher approaches me with caution, delivering his message as calmly and politely as possible.

“We have a small problem…could you go to Seoul…today?”

In more or less any part of Korea, the answer to this question is a definite: “yes”…. I am sure that you can get a bus to Seoul from just about anywhere in the (South) Korean Peninsula with  ease, and it should not take you more than 7 hours on average to get there… however, Ulleungdo, as with all things is an entirely different matter.

The outbound ferry leaves Ulleungdo just once (maybe) in off-season, and this occurs at 14:30 or 15:00 respective of season. I then have to take a taxi (10 minutes) to Geoseok terminal in Pohang and then take a 4-6 hour bus ride to Seoul. If you squeeze off the boat and run for a taxi, you may arrive at geoseok at 18:15 (depending on traffic and weather conditions) in which case you can purchase a bus ticket for roughly 29,000won and then run for the bus which departs promptly at 18:20. You then arrive in Seoul (gangnam) at roughly 22:30…once again…subject to conditions and availabilty.

In between all these things you need to cancel all appointments, draw enough money, purchase a ferry ticket, pack and arrange accomodation.

So after all of this and a flurry of events that have been erased from my long-term memory due to fatigue, I am now in Daehangno, Seoul. The West End of Korea. Our schedule is jam-packed… and so there’s not much time to play, especially due to a strict curfew. However, I have been able to steal away during the evening for a walk amongst quaint little restaurants and theatres with the kind of buzz and bustle that made me go to theatre school in the first place.

During my walk-and thought tonight, I stumbled upon a basker, playing guitar and singing in the amphitheatre of the performance arts centre. As I always do, I went over to give him some money (performance is a profession, for those who were unclear on the matter) but could not find the open guitarcase or hat or cup, so I asked him where I could put his money. I was refused. It turns out he wasn’t in it for the money (smart move)… I left, a little embarassed. The whole situation made me think about the relationship between the arts, the artist and the almighty buck.

Many artists seem to fall into one of two categories. The money hungry, and the suckers for punishment. Most of us strive for a healthy balance whereby we can stay alive long enough to produce work, perhaps have a family and still be creative individuals who contribute to society through their craft. How many of us can really manage passion minus poverty.

I have so many friends who are pushing forward through their hungry twenties to produce quality work at the cost of their health, and filial/parental approval. I was once one of them. Walking around in places like Dehangnae and the West End, I get a little drunk at the possibilities that open when finances are available, and I could not help but feel like we are in some way the slave of many masters.

Like whatever high we get from being in especially the more classic creative industries hinder our healthy, cautious decision making process. Our ability to pick out good pension plans and buy sensible cars are marred by our will to be what we want to be.

Broken dreams are ugly.

In the meantime, I’m trying to write a poem in Korean while I stroll in the cool post-winter air past little shops of horror, while I clumsily sip on my hot Vanilla Latte Grande.


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