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Upfront

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENCE

Tea, talk and Trump BY

Amelia Lester

Y

D R E A M D E S T I N AT I O N

Soneva Jani MALDIVES

There’s luxury … then there’s out-of-this-world opulence. Welcome to Soneva Jani, where no one wears shoes and each villa comes with its own waterslide and a roof that retracts to star-flooded skies. Opened last year, the resort is the newest addition to the Soneva portfolio. It might have everyone talking but no one says a word during movie night, when guests kick back in hammocks to watch classic films on a huge screen; the hammocks and screen are suspended over water. Too dreamy. Tatyana Leonov

CHRISTOPHER PEARCE; ILLUSTRATION BY SIMON LETCH

E AT / D R I N K

BEEN TO an RSL club lately? They’ve changed. At least the Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL has, by installing a gun young chef (Freddie Salim) and a flash easty-westy diner (Nu Bambu) in a theatrical, kinetic space (Paul Kelly Design). Diners are striding straight past the bingo and spin classes to feast on spicy beef tartare with black sesame crisps ($16) and super-silky sorbets that range from charcoal coconut to a super-tangy yuzu passionfruit ($12). Where do I sign in? Jill Dupleix

NU BAMBU, CANTERBURY-HURLSTONE PARK RSL 20 CANTERBURY ROAD, HURLSTONE PARK NUBAMBU.COM.AU

OU’VE HEARD of tea with Mussolini. What about poison tea with Kim Jong-un? That describes my afternoon in Seoul recently, albeit with a few qualifications. The “poison tea” was actually a traditional Korean drink called ssanghwa, made by boiling the roots of various plants such as white woodland peony, lovage and Mongolian milkvetch. It’s jokingly referred to as “poison” because of its stridently medicinal taste. If it helps get it down, think of all the good it’s doing your liver. And Kim Jong-un? That was my tour guide’s full name. It’s quite a common one in South Korea, but given her line of work she decided it would be best to introduce herself to foreigners with another name, so I knew her as Skye. Over a week together, I learnt a lot from Skye about the lived impact of a divided Korea. Her family history to me sounded extraordinary, but to Koreans is a familiar story. Skye, who grew up in the Seoul area, is 48 years old and unmarried; her matter-of-fact label for herself is “expired woman”. (This applies to any single woman over 40 and seems not to carry the same stigma of, say, “spinster”. As Skye cheerfully explained, being an expired woman means she doesn’t have to style her hair in the short permed bob typical of married women and can instead wear it in a long braid.) Skye’s father grew up in the North Korean capital Pyongyang, one of five children born to anticommunist parents. Military service was compulsory, and one of his uncles was killed by the authorities for resisting. Wanting him to avoid the same fate, Skye’s grandmother urged Skye’s father to flee to South Korea. He did, and shortly after met and married Skye’s mother, a lifelong Seoul resident. They had two children and Skye’s father never saw his siblings or parents again. These days all anyone wants to talk about in Seoul is the upcoming talks between the two

Koreas and the Donald. Many South Koreans frame these talks, and politics generally, as a battle of wills between pro-America and pro-China camps. The pattern of protesting, which is practically a national pastime, seemed to bear this out. I saw large groups led by enthusiastic American and Chinese flag-bearers marching towards Gyeongbokgung Palace. The South Korean perspective on these tense times results in what to a westerner is a scrambling of conventional political affiliations. One woman I met who worked for the national tourism organisation saw President Trump’s ascendancy as a net positive for achieving peace because, she said, he had enforced sanctions on the North more effectively than his predecessors.

South Korea had been calling the North twice a day for two years. She was pro-America, and by extension anti-China, yet not a “progressive”; if anything, her views were seen as conservative. I came away feeling more hopeful about peace, not least because South Koreans seem so committed to that outcome. Recall that these talks came about in part because South Korea had been calling the North on a designated border hotline twice a day for two years, and that in January, North Korea picked up – which led to their appearance at the PyeongChang Olympics and then its announcement that denuclearisation is on the table for discussion. Skye, too, is cautiously optimistic. In the miraculous event of reunification, would she try to find her father’s family? “How could I?” she said. “My father has passed away and there would be no way of finding them.” We finished our tea and the conversation flowed on. ■

GoodWeekend 13

Tatyanaleonov goodweekend dreamdestinationsonevajani 28april18  
Tatyanaleonov goodweekend dreamdestinationsonevajani 28april18  
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