by Douglas Messerli
After the long 13-hour air trip from Los Angeles to Korea, over oceans I watched every time the clouds briefly opened up a view, I arrived at the Incheon Airport.
I had been told that I would be met by my translator, who would whisk me off to my Seoul hotel.
Although it took me a while to move through passport control and to receive my small bag, I rolled out of the entry doors with a feeling of being on time, ready to greet the person holding a sign bearing my name. No such sign appeared. No signs appeared save discreet hotel announcements: "Meet your Hilton Hotel representative at gate 15, meet your Marriott Hotel guide at gate 21."
Out of nowhere appeared a kindly Korean man. "You are clearly lost," he began in English.
My brother David and I shared one room, while my Father and Mother slept in another. My brother quickly drifted off to sleep, but all night long I was kept awake by rumbling and roaring noises, as if a crowd of angry protesters were stationed just a few blocks away.
I was dumbfounded. "How could that be in a city with hundreds of hotels. There clearly has to be something available."
One large bus, so its sign announced, was headed to Dankook University, the host of the conference I was attending. For a second I fancied riding out to the University, except that I knew no one would be there to greet me, and perhaps, I questioned whether events would even be scheduled there. I waited for a longer while. No hotel bus showed up.
He too brought out his glasses to study the brochure. Fortunately, the flier contained a small map of the area. And after a brief survey of the thing, he walked me forward to his cab. Finally, I was on the move, I thought to myself.
"All right," I attempted to calm myself. "When I get to the hotel, I'll take a shower. I'll email Hae Yisoo, the General Secretary of the International Creative Writing Center." He had been my line of communication throughout the months before my arrival. "Perhaps they will meet me tomorrow morning at the airport. Or I'll take a taxi into Seoul, after they tell me where to go. I've traveled a great deal. This is no big thing. It's important to get a good night's sleep."
I sent messages to both Hae Yisoo (who uses the nicknane, Heysoo) and to Ko Un's translator, Brother Anthony—fortunately, because the next day I discovered that Heysoo, exhausted by all the festival preparations, had not checked in on his email; at 11:00 p.m. Brother Anthony called him, and at midnight, Heysoo called the hotel with a message for me: he would be there to pick me up the next morning.
I finished as much of my "American brunch" as I dared to consume, and determined to take a short walk. Who made up these noisy night crowds? I wondered. And what were they doing in this outpost?
Seoul, October 8, 2010