By Bobo Khuraijam
An embarrassed Yeng2k walked up and down the pavement. He started to call one after another. “The taxi just drove away. I ran after it but … the luggage has so many things inside. No, dada has got his passport with him. The return ticket and the rest of his belongings are inside it. Receipt … no, no receipt from the taxi. We boarded it from the hotel. Hotel Riviera.” End of call. He made another call. “There is no CCTV camera around here. Near the hotel … I can’t remember. I need someone with me to go to the police. My Korean is not that good to lodge a formal complaint.” One more call. “Sangbong! I need your help. Could you please come …? We are near the university gate.” Yeng2k’s face looked far stung than someone who actually lost his luggage. “This is not just happening, dada. What more things were there inside the luggage bag? Damn … the driver, he should have stopped to open the dicky.” The luggage has some clothes and a few other small things that we carry on a trip. Ticket, the agent can e-mail. “This is not the kind of day I planned for. I bought chicken to cook, then a walk in the campus and to the downtown after lunch”. Yeng2k, intuition has it that the luggage will be found. And that wouldn’t be a surprise in such a place. We can still follow the plan. Meanwhile, Sangbong turns up. Lean and a little grungy by Korean standard, he wore a pleasant smile. He told us that he had alerted the university security and that the police would arrive soon. And the police did arrive a little later. Two policemen in chic uniforms got down from their patrol car. Sangbong spoke with them. They gave us a phone number, assured us that they would help and went away. It was the FM broadcasting station number. Most of the taxis tuned in to FM radio. Sangbong called the number. Our request for broadcasting about the luggage was immediately accepted. We thanked him for his help. Assuring us that he will alert us if there is any lead from the police, he left with the same smile.
LEIPAKLEI: took us to Jeonju, South Korea, the land of Morning Calm. The four night hospitality given by the organizers expired at 11:30 in the morning. Further stay in the same hotel would make us poorer by 160 USD per night. Team Manipur who have been staying in Korea either for job or studies rescued us out. Most of them stay in Seoul some three hundred kilometers away from the festival venue. They informed Yeng2k who fortunately stays near. He came to fetch us from the hotel. He hails from Kakching. Studied at IIT, Bombay; now a post-doctoral candidate at Chonbuk National University, South Korea. He watched a lot of Korean movies when he was in Mumbai. May be that’s why he is in Korea now, he joked. But he has stopped watching it now. He told, “reel and real are total opposites, Da”. His specialization was general engineering. But opted to study geology, which, according to him is more thrilling. He feels that geology could lay one’s creative ingenuity into heartless examination. His study takes him to far flung places of Korea. The villages in the countryside are similar to our village. That’s a different Korea from the city Korea – Globalised Korea: a Gangnam Korea. Yeng2k cooked chicken for lunch. Our own style of barehanded combat with rice and gravy was accomplished. His assimilative
prowess with chopstick (or anything) is a Manipuri signature, perhaps. The Sunday afternoon in the university campus was teeming with football, basketball and other games. Besides the overarching infrastructure, the students who were warming up for the game looked very professional. No wonder that they make imposing footprints in World Cup football and Olympics. Students in groups scattered about the campus enjoying the Sunday afternoon. Happy and healthy faces all around, “Da, I have never seen them quarrelling even if they are drunk”. Hmm… robotic! Ha. “They don’t cheat or lie. They are unpretentious. The first day I reached this place was unforgettable. The student guide who was assigned to receive me at the airport had left as my flight was late. A stranger asked me where I was heading. I showed the university address. Then he made a few calls. He accompanied me till I met the student guide.” We reached Deokjin Park which was inside the campus. The lake there is crowded with people when lotus blooms. Still there were a good number of people without the lotus. Families with packed lunch dotted the park. “They always make an effort to spend the weekend together”.
HANOK VILLAGE: Jeonju preserves root of their culture. Around 700 traditional houses are well preserved within the city area. Traditional art & craft, music & food, museums etc. are all showcased here. UNESCO has designated the place as world cultural asset. We rambled around the village. “Today could have been a beautiful day, Da, if not for the missing luggage”. The day is still beautiful Yeng2k. Let’s click some more pictures. We came across a stone structure, written on it was: “this is the stone structure in which the umbilical cords of the children of the royal families are kept in a pot under a stone structure which is called Taesil”. What? The Meities have been doing that since ages for every single baby born. Some film makers from Europe were surprised to read it. We were not. But there were elements of surprise saved for us. The bus ride from Incheon airport to Jeonju took 4 hrs, nearly 400 km drive: not a single horn. Koreans love their mobile phones very much. Elderly or young, we find their faces fixed to the screen: no single ringtone during the screenings was heard. Fashion is truly western: mannerism is truly Korean. Every evening Korean rock band performed as part of the festival: not a single band sang in English. They have an open market economy. You find all kinds of goods from all parts of the world: not a single pharmacy. For the record: Tamo Jiten who works for Samsung in Seoul, falls sick every time he comes home for vacation. And thousands of pharmacies could serve him. Super-polite volunteers and people are themselves a surprise. “Da, they are all like that”, claimed Yeng2k. He left us at the Cinema Street to meet in the evening again. Evening arrived, so was Yeng2k with a taxi. We reached his room. “Da, could you believe this?” He pointed at the brown luggage. “The driver came to the police station as soon as he heard about the luggage over the FM. He had apologized for the oversight and the inconveniences that might have caused to the owner”. We told Yeng2k that we were not surprised at all. Yet we realized that Korea is not only about ‘reel beauties’ who have mostly gone under the knife. It is also not about the K-pop and TV serials which have swayed the Manipuris.
Korea is about the surprises which we have stumbled like an Alice in wonderland. Yeng2k have been away from home, stayed in Mumbai for 7 long years. He had never felt homely in other places like in Korea. We are grateful to the team Manipur in Korea for sharing Leipung moments and for their help. Thank you: Tamo Jiten, Gugu, Freeman, Bidhan & others.
FOOTNOTE: from China-Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar … you name it. The weapon of choice for eating is chopstick. We wonder how it full stops at Moreh. Leipung Ningthou, calls it, “Cheitek laan gi maangkhraba leekhun”.