“WHERE IS YOUR LUGGAGE?” ASKS THE Korean customs official with a cherub’s face. “No luggage,” I reply, causing the cherub to raise an eye-brow. “I’m only here for the weekend. To see my girlfriend.” “Ah, girlfriend,” he says, stamping my passport. “She must be good girlfriend for all this travel.” “She’s the best.” I look up at the clock behind him, which places the local time at three P. M. The cherub returns my passport and nods at the soldier who stands between me and the exit. “Soldier” isn’t the right word to describe a kid with greasy hair and a soft layer of stubble and who, despite the ominous-looking machine gun hanging from his neck, reminds me of a teddy bear. He smiles and gestures at me with the gun, indicating that it’s okay to pass. South Korea may be the most adorable country on Earth. Unlike New York, Seoul’s subway runs right into the airport, making it an obvious choice for a budget traveler like yours truly – I only have a few hundred dollars left to my name, and it is going to have to last given the abrupt end to my relationship with Danny Carr. So I’m disappointed to discover, studying the map on the wall, that none of the stops are labeled “the Four Seasons,” K.’s hotel and the only point of reference I’ve bothered to bring along. One more thing to re-member the next time I make a mad dash across the world to evade the police and spend the weekend with a lady. I exit the terminal to a sunless afternoon that feels ten degrees colder than what I’ve left behind. Rain is inevitable. Luckily, the taxi stand is where I expect it to be, just outside baggage claim, and a black-suited man escorts me into the back of a waiting car. Ahead looms a skyline, white, shiny, and clean, like a miniature Manhattan by way of The Jetsons. About forty minutes later, we pull into a semicircular
driveway in front of the Four Seasons. The driver points to the meter, which has just broken 11,000. I rub my eyes to make sure I’m reading the meter correctly. I hold up the portrait of Andrew Jackson. ” Hothyel, ” says the cabbie. I’m saved when a smartly uniformed valet opens my door for me. “Welcome to the Four Seasons,” he says in perfect English. “The concierge will be happy to help you exchange your American currency for our Korean won. I will ask your driver to shut off the meter while he waits. You should know that in Korea it is not customary to tip the driver.” The doors to the hotel part like curtains, exposing an international casting call for beauty and wealth. As I scan the lobby for the concierge, I find Ray. He’s sitting on a couch, looking completely at home, his attention focused on a dark-haired woman. He doesn’t look up as I cross the room to the front desk. An agreeably efficient concierge magically transforms $100 American into a princely 70,000 won. I’m on my way back to pay the cabbie when Ray intercepts me by the door. “There he is!” he yells, capturing me in a bear hug. “Man, do we have to talk!” I disentangle myself and place a hand on his shoulder. “Good to see you, too. Just let me go settle my tab.” Outside, the cabbie accepts the exact fare on the meter with the same smile he’s worn the entire trip. I slip a 5,000-note to the helpful valet – the extra zeros have me rolling like Donald Trump. I reenter the hotel, this time with a strut in my step. Ray is waiting for me, his arm around the dark-haired woman.