Sunday, June 28, 2009

Soulful in Seoul

Assalamu 'Alaikum,

Soulful in Seoul

I thought it might have been contrived but it doesn’t appear to be so. They are friendly; at least they try very hard to be. We are quite familiar with Japan and Japanese, we are informed about China and the Republic Chinese but Korea and Koreans are really a mystery to most of us.
We know they have a very good football team who have surpassed us by leaps and bounds, we know they have TV Dramas called Winter Sonata and Autumn something or other but that’s about our knowledge of Korea and Koreans. We know their country is divided into two and the naughty ones is the one above the DMZ, pronounced Dee Em Zee for Demilitarized Zone. The Hotel Brochure says it is a number one tourist spot now and there are daily morning or afternoon tours to the place. I suppose there is a sense of danger involved visiting such places although I believe they should divert some of the tourist money to the border guards on both sides who continue to humor the tourist with their theatrics.

I arrived with Seminar Speaking colleague Brother Mohammad Ismail by Korean Air 5 am local time. The first thing that striked us was the similarity of the airport architecture and design to KLIA, hmm who copied whom I wonder. Whilst we pride ourselves as the World’s best cabin crew the Koreans pride themselves in their airport being another World’s best hub. It’s obviously a developed country and the trees and greens just like most temperate climes are just pretty. They try so hard to speak English but the accent is a bit too far for me. Awoken from my slumber in my airline seat the stewardess asked me whether I wanted omega meat for breakfast. It worried me a bit until I realised she meant omelette. Its summer now in Seoul and the temperature is in the low 20s. I do suspect this can be a very cold place in winter. Everybody is lively and happy, although we don’t feel the fiesta mood as one might find summertime in European capitals. Mohd Ismail and I took a cab downtown on directions given by the hotel concierge and found ourselves in a Power Sale at Hyundai Department Store. Wondering at first why they sell cars in a department store, we soon found out that Hyundai is quite diversified and the store is actually a Korean version of Metrojaya. The thing that striked me as we entered the shopping complex is that there were so many Altantuyas around. Altantuyas shopping, Altantuyas serving, Altantuyas as cashiers it was quite unnerving. I regained my composure and started looking for Korean silk with Mohd ismail. We went to the wrong place, there were many boutique lady dresses but no textiles we intend to buy for our respective wives. We made a mental note to get the Seminar Organiser to show us the right place tomorrow. Mohd Ismail and I and Professor Syed Othman AlHabshi are here on the invitation of a certain Korean Investment Association to deliver a Seminar on Islamic Finance. Prof being the expert Scholar, Mohd Ismail the expert Islamic Finance legal guy, and me of course, the Sukuk guy. Like Japan and Hong Kong and Singapore, Korea also wants to be a center for Islamic Finance and the Islamic Capital Market. It is heartening to see Islamic Finance being the sunrise industry coveted and desired to be embraced by all. We are just wondering now when Mr Obama will cotton on to it.

Food is an issue for Malaysian Muslim visitors though. Well an issue for ones who are not motivated enough to go out and find Muslim restaurants. Well maybe we will do that next time we come as tourists but as hop in hop out seminar speakers that’s just too troublesome for us. Mohd Ismail survives on vegetarian dishes and bread in the hotel restaurants whereas I came very well prepared with maggie mee, sardines and a dried prawns dish specially prepared by my beloved. Tales of my near starvation on a similar trip to Hong Kong a number of years ago worried my wife enough for her to make sure I came well prepared this time. Hmm, serunding and French baguette does taste so nice when you are so far away from home.

Seoul is one hour ahead of KL and I can’t stay up too long to be fresh for the talk tomorrow. One especially good thing about this hotel they put us in, the Seoul Garden Hotel is that the broadband internet is free. Perhaps their Malaysian counterparts will also now start not to charge for room broadband internet.

Class of 72. Sulaiman House.

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