The following is an excerpt from the rough draft of Gyeosunim, my next novel. Enjoy.
The hotel was surrounded by office buildings, tucked on a narrow side street. Having studied Google Maps, I walked straight from Seoul Station, past Sungnyemun Plaza, where the old city gate near Namdaemun Market still stood tall. It had been reconstructed after an arsonist torched it in 2008 but it looked the same as I remembered it. A gate that no longer kept people out, but welcomed them. Another street to cross and one more block, and I could see my hotel. ENA Suites. Only 15 minutes from Seoul Yuk.
My first order of business was a data card for my phone. While I had WiFi in my hotel room, I found that the speed of the free WiFi on the train from Incheon to Seoul was laughable. While I could establish a connection, it took forever to download any page I searched, and I couldn’t refresh my Facebook or Twitter, couldn’t check in with family to let them know that I had arrived.
Back in my hotel room, with a now-usable phone, I called Brad’s cell number and reached his voice mail. I looked at my watch: it was almost 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. Brad was likely still at work, likely the same for Wilma. I left a message with my phone’s new number and decided to nap until he called.
My body was still on GMT, eight hours behind. I managed to get some sleep between Frankfurt and Beijing, thanks to the bed on the Emirates flight. But if I was going to get ahold of my jet lag, I knew that I had to keep close to the hours of where I was now and not go to bed until about 11 or so, my normal bedtime.
Still, a short nap wasn’t going to hurt.
My phone chirped before I could lay down on the king-sized bed. It was a notification of a Facebook messenger video call. “You’re up early,” I said, as the familiar face came onto the screen.
“I’m already at the office,” said Siobhan, “and have been up with the sun. Early bird and all that. How was your flight?”
My sister, always looking out for me, probably tracked my flight through an app on her phone. She knew I was due to land in Korea by 1:45 and gave me a few hours to make my way to the hotel. The sun would have risen in Edinburgh shortly after 5, so she had been awake for nearly three hours.
“Can’t complain, though I hate Frankfurt Airport. My layover was almost an hour and a half, and it took nearly that long to get through two sets of security and make it to my next gate. I should have transferred in Paris. Surprisingly, Beijing was easier.”
“How’s your hotel?”
“Wonderful, so far. The room is spacious and clean. The staff at the desk speak perfect English. I’m up on the fifteenth floor but my room looks out to office buildings within the block I’m situated. If they weren’t there, I’d have a perfect view of Seoul’s old gate.”
“Have you contacted your friends?”
“I’ve left a message. I think they’re still working for another hour or so. I was about to have a nap while I wait to hear from Brad. How are things there?”
“Just peachy. I’ll let Mum know you’ve arrived safe and sound. She’s coming over for dinner, this evening.”
“Lovely.” I had seen my mother, now in her early 80s, just yesterday morning. I visited her in her seniors’ apartment, in Barnton, west of Edinburgh. It’s only a 15-minute drive from Siobhan, on the way to the airport. I had stayed with Siobhan and Ian, her husband, in their New Town home that evening. Breakfast with Mum, and then a taxi to the airport. “Give her a kiss for me.”
“Have you contacted The Missus?” Siobhan loved calling her that, rather than by her name, even though we were not married. We moved in together, to my North Berwick home, more than 10 years ago. Had been dating since 2002, off and on, from afar, while I still lived in Ottawa, Canada. When I sold that home, in 2005, and moved back to my birth home, we became more serious. In 2008, we consolidated our residence.
“Unlike you, she’s not up with the sun. I’ve decided to call her before I turn in for the night.”
“She might be out at that hour. It’ll be the middle of the afternoon for her.”
“Since you reached me on my phone from your office, you should know that this is the Internet Age, sis. I’ll reach her whether she’s out or not.”
“True. What did we do before smartphones?”
“I seem to remember you phoning me for the first time when I lived here. It was bloody three in the morning.”
“I remember you telling me the time in the same words,” Siobhan laughed. “How’s the weather in Seoul?”
“Beautiful. It’s 25 celsius and sunny. The forecast says that there’s no rain for about a week.”
“It’s 12 and wet here.”
“Sucks to be you.” My phone began to ring. At the top of the screen, above Siobhan’s head, Brad’s name and number appeared. “Got to go, sis. Love to all.”
Cold and wet. Typical May weather in Edinburgh. It could be worse. I remember standing atop Berwick Law on a winter’s morning, just before I made my second trip to Korea. How one can feel about the weather is all a matter of perspective.
I cut the video call to Siobhan and tapped my friend’s name. “Buh-ra-duh,” I said in a heavily accented Korean voice.
“Lolan-duh,” came a similar reply. “Welcome to Seoul!”