Monday, June 07, 2010

The Sandman

When I discovered that finance ministers and central bankers from the G-20 were meeting in Busan I felt like I wanted to go and stand outside the hotel to watch because suddenly, as a financial trader, my world was coming to me - here in the relative backwater that is Korea's second city, and I wondered if I would ever again be in the presence of so much collective inaction. But as events transpired, by the time they reached Busan, all I wanted to do was catch a glimpse of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer and shout “Stop letting President Obama kick sand in our faces, Mr. Osborne!” (a long story of Brit-bashing and appalling double standards, especially considering how Britain dealt with Piper Alpha).

But when we reached The Westin Chosun Hotel where the G-20 meeting was being held, it was by a complete coincidence. We'd decided some time ago to attend the Haeundae 'Sand Festival' not realising its proximity to the meeting either on the calendar or geographically. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't get to see my country's finance minister while walking past a stationary policeman every three meters on wooded path near the Hotel. As much as I would have loved to take a photo of the scene, that would most likely result in arrest in my country these days, and while twenty-three years after the end of military government Korea's normal policing style could best be described as 'apologetic', I wasn't going to push my luck.

My wife expressed a casual hope that the North Koreans wouldn't decide to attack Haeundae Beach while we were there. That's the thing about our northern neighbour - you have to think of the most reckless thing they could possibly do, and assume that sooner or later, they'll try it. It didn't seem quite such an absurd idea five minutes later when the sirens went off and I was treated to the sight of lots of Koreans all looking at each other in confusion. The first people I looked at were the police - who appeared completely unconcerned as usual. I suppose it must be normal. We don't get to Haeundae Beach very often - the poor part of town is too far away.

What wasn't quite as normal was the building that was evidently on fire at the far end of the beach, spewing somewhat unpleasant smoke down towards us from time to time. It probably wasn't quite the image the Korean authorities wanted to their international guests with their grandstand view in the hotel.

I did eventually find a smiling fat-cat, but not from The Westin Chosun - it was a sand-sculpture.

We may have arrived at the beach too early in the day. There weren't huge numbers of sculptures - a number were by the same Dutch artist, Jeroen Advocaat, and although a competition with around twenty amateur entrants seemed to be slowly getting under way it was clearly going to take some time to come to fruition. A dance contest was nowhere near beginning and further down the beach a sand-surfing ramp and football pitches were similarly lacking in activity. What I did find was a rather fascinating memorial to the Korean War - but more on this later.

I reached the end of the beach and the building which was belching smoke. It was not entirely surprising to find that it was having some construction work done - it often seems to be the way.

Unfortunately shortly after taking these shots I saw a casualty being loaded into an ambulance, escalating it from another one of those all-too-common unattended under-construction fires to something more serious.

By the time I was half-way back the football had started, but that was about the only development. Much like the G-20 finance ministers over the last two years, I guess our timing was a little off.

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