If there’s a downside to Seoul, it’s the traffic. New York City, London, Los Angeles – these cities all have major traffic problems, but nothing like what I’ve seen in Seoul. The difference is that the drivers seem kind of resigned to being stuck in bumper to bumper hell. No one’s laying on their horn or giving you the finger. It’s just sit, wait, talk on your cell, creep along.
On Saturday morning, we drove from Seoul to Jeonju, a city approximately 150 miles to the south. You’d think that would take about a two and a half hours. It took us over six hours. Most of that time was spent just getting out of the Seoul city limits. I asked the driver if there was something going on – an accident or a sports event. He said no, it was like this most weekends. And this was a holiday weekend, apparently. Everyone was trying to get away.
On the highway, vendors were weaving their way through the stopped cars, selling snacks and drinks. One guy was selling dried octopus. It was completely flattened, like a Looney Tunes cartoon character after being hit by an anvil. It was a pretty hot day and man, you could smell the octopus. I was secretly glad no one in our car wanted one of those.
At one point, we stopped at a truck stop kind of place to use the bathrooms and get something to drink. Outside, there were these glass bubble vending machines, the kind where you put in a quarter (or Korean equivalent) and get some little toy. Molly and I were taken by this one machine, which was selling these “Tofu Superheroes.” Little guys with white blockheads, like cubes of tofu, in different heroic poses. I wish I’d had some change with me.
The Film Festival was in its second day when we arrived. I wish we’d had time to see some of the movies. The program looked really interesting, with directors from all over Asia and Europe premiering their latest work. But since we were late in arriving, we had to soundcheck, grab dinner, then wait to play. At one point, we went into one of the movie theaters to get some popcorn. As we sat in the lobby, these really cute girls recognized us and said how much they loved Swan Dive and asked if we would we pose for pictures with them? Another parallel universe moment.
We played outdoors and by 10:30 pm, the time we went on, it was chilly. I don’t like to play guitar when it’s cold. Years ago, I lived in London and busked in the underground sidewalks during the winter. The icy winds would whistle through and freeze my fingers. I even tried wearing those Fagin-style fingerless gloves, but it didn’t help. The weather in Jeonju wasn’t quite that cold, but it was a challenge to fingerpick.
None of that mattered though, because the audience was competely over the top, probably the wildest we’ve ever played for. There must’ve been a thousand people there, cheering and whistling from the moment we walked on stage. They were shouting out, “We love you!” and waving and giving us the peace sign. As soon as we started in our first song, “Breezeway,” there was a whoop of recognition. It was like that for every song. And when our friends from the Melody joined us, things reached Madison Square Garden proportions. On “Saturday, Sunday, Monday,” we let the audience take over on vocals. Molly and I were smiling at each other, laughing at how weird and wonderful this all was. During one song, when she started to dance, the crowd went nuts. Someone yelled, “Will you marry me, Molly?” Of course, she accepted.
Afterwards, we did another signing, with lots of posing for photos. It was wonderful, but by the end we were feeling exhausted. Remember too that Seoul is fifteen hours ahead of Nashville, so our body clocks were all kablooey.
Back to the hotel. And the next morning, back to Nashville.