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About a week ago I had an e-mail from someone inviting people to a Democrats Abroad meeting on Wednesday to watch the US election results at a place near Itaewon. I asked Botond if he wanted to go with me and the answer was in the affirmative. So, after a minimum of sleep, I met him on Wednesday morning at Changdong Station and we headed down to Noksapyeong Station.

Noksapyeong Station is on one of the newest subway lines in Seoul (it seems like there’s always a new line under construction somewhere in the capital or the equivalent of the Home Counties (Gyeonggi Province)); the lines stations are often quite impressive – it’s a bit like the Jubilee Line. Noksapyeong has a fancy multi-levelled cylindrical concourse bisected by escalators, and is one of the nicest I’ve seen. It also has an hideous mural of football players (must resist the urge to say ‘soccer’ – must … resist …).

Anyway, the event was held in a modest bar in Haebangcheon called the Orange Tree, which is above a modest restaurant called Indigo (the Itaewon area is saturated with foreigners, especially Americans – it’s where the US Army base is). The two establishments are owned by the same people, and both are quite pleasant – in a modest, trendy way. Bo and I got hot drinks from the restaurant, took them upstairs (via the street) and sat at a table in front of the projector screen.

On said screen was projected an internet feed of MSNBC. We arrived shortly after 10 in the AM Korean time, which was something like 8 in the PM on the East Coast. Thus, polls had closed in some of the eastern states and the network was able to broadcast its own projections. Obama was winning, but it seemed like things were going according the usual plan – Obama taking Democrat states and McCain taking Republican ones.

At one point, a guy came over to us and asked us if we were European, and if one of us was British. Late the previous night I’d sent an e-mail to the person who’d sent the invitation asking if it was OK for non-Americans to attend; he’d e-mailed back saying ‘No problem’. And this was him. We shook hands, said hello, and he went back to his conversation with someone else. That was about the extent of our mingling.

There were about thirty people present, I’d say (but don’t quite me on it), and a good handful of Korean photographers and cameramen. These latter set themselves up by the projector screen so they could shoot people in the face – so to speak. As Bo and I were sitting right there about three metres from the screen we aroused some interest. I did my best to ignore them as they leant in and took my photo. I’t be funny if I turned up in the papers described as an American. I had a couple of days’ worth of stubble on my face, so I reckon it’s unlikely that happened.

Further projections were aired as polls closed at 11 and 12 o’clock – some of these provoking big cheers and rounds of applause from the Americans. We joined in with the clapping.

I wanted to leave shortly after midday so I had plenty of time to get back to Nowon and have time to see to a piece of business. However, Bo wanted to go and look at clothes in Itaewon. I decided I could drop into a PC room to check whether I had a payment to make, so I went with him. It turned out I didn’t have a payment to make (which situation was to be reversed the following day – see my next post) and Bo ended up not buying anything.

Of course, when we got back to the hagwon we learnt that Obama had won – and our American colleague was ensconced at the reception desk computer watching MSNBC on the internet. By then my interest had – not exactly waned, but been concealed under my grey office persona (that’s a grey persona for offices, rather than a persona for grey offices).

Obama’s win is fantastic, it goes without saying, and historic not just because he’s a black man in a country that has a painful history vis á vis people of African descent, but also because he’s a northerner, a middle-class liberal in a country that appears to see ‘liberal’ as a dirty word, that seems to distrust anything that smacks of intellect. And also because of the grass roots support he’s motivated.

The last thing to do with America that captured the world’s interest so sharply was probably the attacks of 9/11. And it seems to me that Obama’s election is a kind of inverse 9/11. In 2001 people outside the USA said, ‘Today, we’re all Americans;’ and I think the world must feel the same now. But this time it isn’t sympathy for gut-wrenching destruction – it’s hope, it’s excitement. It’s pride.

With a Democratic White House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House, America should really be able to move forward with a progressive agenda for the next for years – and the rest of the world will be willing it on. (And George R R Martin might just finish A Dance with Dragons.)

Categories: Current Events, Life
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