Monday, 16 August 2010

Seven people or things that changed my life: (5) Suze

I saw Suze coming towards me from a long way off, although I couldn't see her face, as she was walking in the shade of the trees because the sun was still hot on that early September day.  The paths were crowded, but it was only Suze I saw.  She was taller than the others, but this was the campus of Seoul National University  in Korea, and although there weren't many foreign students there in 1987 that wasn't why I noticed her.  She had a way of ducking her head from time to time as she walked that must have come from growing up tall, although most Dutch people are tall; I had read somewhere that the Dutch are the tallest nation on earth.  Now she needed to duck her head, because the tree branches were trimmed to a height that assumed the only walkers on the paths would be Korean.  Suze and I walked towards each other that day, and for the next three months we were together pretty much all the time.  I liked everything about her, the skinny little pigtail on the top of her head, the baggy blue jeans she nearly always wore, so that from behind she looked like a cartoon nautical Dutchman from a children's book - you almost expected when she turned round that she would be smoking a pipe - and the way she said, when she was searching for a word in English or Korean (we were both taking a foreigners' course in the Korean language, for very different reasons), something in Dutch that sounded like "hubbledepup".  We drank beer together, sometimes a lot of it, and we smoked a lot.  I smoked Arirang cigarettes that were as close as I could get to the Marlboro I was used to, and she smoked roll-ups made from a Dutch brand of tobacco she had sent to her from home called "Javaanse Jongens" that I thought was the coolest thing I had ever seen.  South Korea in 1987 was just out of military dictatorship; there was still a midnight curfew in the streets; and although there was no shortage of consumer goods they were all Korean-made.  Japanese pop music, in those pre-download days, was actually illegal.  I was away from my family for three months to take this course, and I loved Suze for her company, for her ideas - we went to alternative theatre and traditional dance shows and odd smoky bars she found - and especially for our endless, swooping conversations that sometimes saw the morning come in before they were over.  When I was pursued by a Buddhist monk with amorous intent it was only Suze I could tell about it, and we laughed.  When we were both locked out of our hostels because we missed the curfew we spent the night in a coffee shop talking nonsense, and we laughed.  When we pushed open the door of an odd little cafe we wondered, but we were on our second drink before we realised it was a brothel, and we laughed.  I dragged Suze along to a student rally against the government, where we were abused because the students thought we were Americans, and there was tear-gas in the air from an earlier demonstration.  Much later, over beers, Suze told me I was going into politics, and we laughed.

I saw Suze three times after that Korean autumn - the next year she came to London and we spent some days together - she liked my children, who were five and ten then - and I went to Amsterdam twice and surprised her both times with a knock on her door in Warmoestraat.  Ten years passed between the two Amsterdam visits.  Suze told me, weaving the message somehow into the thread of our conversations in Seoul, that I was allowed to do things, that I could do things, that I could change things for myself and for other people.  I hadn't known this before the Korean autumn, but after knowing Suze I knew it for myself.  She had studied medicine and modern dance, and she wanted to learn about Korean art.  Later she managed a cafe in Amsterdam. She could do anything she liked.

Suze died two years ago.  She was two years younger than me. The only picture of her I had I sent to her partner Harmen.  In it she has her eyes closed against the wind that was making our cheeks sting that day, and she is standing on the harbour wall at Inchon.

Goodbye Suze.  I think of you when a cold wind blows, and I remember our Korean autumn and how different things were afterwards.


the eternal worrier: said...

Oh that was so sad at the end. I sort of got suckered in and then that happened. Lovely post.

dreamingspire said...

Did you manage to change things? When Harold Wilson got in, I thought that there was a good chance (perhaps bolstered by the knowledge that we were both born in Huddersfield), but it soon faded. In 97 I thought that things would change, and indeed my business prospered for 3 years before falling flat on its face as the reality of sofa govt hit. It was Thatcher from 79 who made changes - but not enough. Now CamClegg has learned from the past, appearing to be addressing the real problem of 40 years of sclerotic public admin - but will they manage to build something that will last? (Yes, the in-word is sustainable, but nobody seems to understand what that means.)

Anonymous said...

Cam/Clegg 'learned from the past'?!!!

Come off it!

And re-read your stuff on the Wilson years!

dreamingspire said...

CamClegg: Witness the experienced team assembled in Cabinet Office, the pressure on several Whitehall Depts, the realisation that the 'no such thing as society' was wrong.
Wislon's govt had gone wrong by 1967, of course, but the new technology industry that I joined was optimistic until the interference got to them shortly after that. In the Blair years, straight after 97 the industrial sector that I was in did well until 2000, with increased export business.