The man was sitting in the Airport Express from Seoul airport to the city centre. He was an inconspicuous, earnest gentleman in his mid-fifties, his shirt collar worn, his shoes polished. His hair was jet-black, with traces of rust, as if he’d been leaning on something freshly painted. He was concentrating on the conspicuous book between his thighs, its format rather large for the Airport Express. To my amazement, it was a lavishly illustrated historical survey of Schiele, Klimt, and artistic movements in Vienna at the turn of the century. “I am from Austria, too”, I said, flattered — no, actually, I only thought it.
Unfortunately, the child travelling with us had become restless and had started to whine and then to scream, a situation we could usually handle in public without causing too much noise damage. But in the eerily quiet South-Korean high-speed train, the kid screamed like a banshee for several minutes. Hardly had this wailing died down when the little boy braced himself for an earthshattering howl. We were helpless. We were embarrassed by this unanticipated excess. It seemed to radically expose the failure of a totally misguided Western anti-authoritarian world view.
The South Koreans ignored us as much as possible. Nonetheless, I would have preferred to sink, along with my family, into the floor of the rolling train. Schiele stalwartly kept on reading without batting an eye, like the most patient man in the world, but at some point he snapped the book shut and turned toward our holy terror. He looked dolefully at the little boy, facing down the infernal howling that was only increased by this attention. Then he looked me in the eye.
“I am a doctor”, he said in clear English. “The problem is with his ears. They still hurt from the flight.” I was convinced he was wrong, but I nodded earnestly, respecting his expertise, since apparently he not only respected my culture, but even revered it. “Just put your finger in his ear for a moment”, Schiele said. “Go ahead, a little deeper.” I obliged the South Korean man. I had nothing to lose. The boy immediately fell silent. That was all. It was over. Peace and quiet. I thanked him. Schiele nodded dolefully and returned to Klimt.
Airport Railroad Express(AREX) from Incheon International Airport to Seoul Station, Seoul, South Korea.
From Typisch Welt. 111 Geschichten zum weiter Reisen.Vienna: Picus, 2016.
Translated by Geoffrey C. Howes