19 November 2005

Perfect Girl in Seoul - in pictures

Given Sarah's grandfather Warren's service in the Korean War, Sarah's own work on United Airlines' service to Seoul, and Sarah's half-Korean girlfriend Kirsten, Seoul plays an instrumental role in the plotline of Perfect Girl. I spent the time yesterday and today, going after some places that I mention in the novel.

Sometime in 1979, Kirsten Peabody (later Kirsten Choi) was born at the Yongsan US Army Base in central Seoul, to an American GI and his Korean wife. A month later, she left for Anniston, Alabama. This is a look at what remains of the base; still partially under US Army control, it's mostly off-limits to civilians, but the base is being turned over to South Korea, to be turned into a park. I took this picture from the new National Museum of Korea, which occupies part of what used to be the base. In the distance, Seoul Tower, the most visible landmark in Seoul, is visible.

On July 10, 2003, Sarah worked Flight 893 from San Francisco. She was assaulted by a drunk passenger, and upon arrival, was traumatized during the followup interrogation by the Korean police. Of course, getting the crew visa itself was an ordeal. Finding herself in Seoul against her will, Sarah holed herself up in her hotel room at the Shilla, and refused to come out for two days. The following two photos explain why I put Sarah at the Shilla, of all hotels in Seoul.

The Shilla is located on the slopes of Mt. Namsan, just south of downtown Seoul. Here is another look at Seoul Tower from the Shilla grounds. It would have probably been visible from Sarah's room, if she ever cared to look outside.

Sarah would've also had a view of downtown Seoul. She remarked that whoever founded Seoul must have had good aesthetical sense, because of all the stunning mountains surrounding the landscape, but added that the current residents no longer have that aesthetic sense, because of the sorry architecture of the buildings. Even to me, this certainly does not look like Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, or other Asian cities with exotic, distinctive skylines. And while the historic palaces are there, they are not visible from the Shilla.

On the third day, Sarah's last full day of the layover, she finally decided to step out and face the world, with help of her purser Evelyn and her Korean-speaking colleague Julie. Evelyn and Julie brought Sarah here, to Insa-dong Antique District, the most traditional shopping district in Seoul. I could find many foreigners visiting here today as well.

Evelyn and Julie would've taken Sarah to a traditional Korean restaurant for a barbecue lunch, hidden away on an alleyway like this. Surprisingly for Sarah, the three didn't get kicked out, and the waitress at the restaurant was very courteous. I added a bit of my own personal experience, by having Sarah hear Mariah Carey's "Hero," and be inspired by its lyrics. Mariah Carey is probably the best-known and most popular American in Korea today.

Sarah enjoyed the rest of her stay in Seoul, and ended up working several more flights into Seoul until she was laid off in 2004.

This woman is writing calligraphy; she calls it "butterfly letters." I saw many other displays of traditional Korean art and craft, and I am sure that Sarah and her company would've seen a few as well, as they strolled the main drag of Insa-dong.

As much as I would like pictures of Incheon Airport and the United Airlines office there, strict security won't allow me to take pictures of those places, so this will have to suffice.

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