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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Entries Tagged as 'Asia'

South Korea: Leaving Korea‏

November 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

Mirroring my visit to South Korea as a whole — which combined work and play — I did both on my last full day in the country.

Alex Leesong, the i-SENS general counsel, met me at my hotel the morning of my last full day in Korea. i-SENS is the company that invited me to Korea. We took a taxi to the i-SENS offices in this same Soengbuk district of Seoul where I have been staying. The Holiday Inn Soengbuk is the closest hotel to the i-SENS offices and the reason why they put me up here. But aside from the convenience, this is perhaps the most pleasant hotel that I have ever stayed at anywhere; a good thing since I spent a full week there.

Earlier in my trip to Korea I visited the i-SENS factory in Wonju, a couple of hours east of Seoul. But I hadn’t been to the company’s offices before. The reason why the offices are in Soengbuk is because the founders of the company, Geun Sig Cha, the CEO, and Hakhyun Nam, the CTO, are professors of chemistry at Kwangwoon University, which is a few steps from the i-SENS offices. Drs. Cha and Nam moonlight at i-SENS from their positions at this prestigious technical university (or maybe it’s the other way around).

They were apparently in class today when Alex took me to the company’s offices. Like many companie’s that have grown fast, the i-SENS offices are crowded and overflowing. In fact, they are now located in three separate buildings that are a few minutes apart from each other.

Alex at the i-SENS Office in Seoul

Alex at the i-SENS Office in Seoul

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I met many of the i-SENS administrative employees today and was glad to see — and say goodbye to — Jeongkwan (Brian) Lee from the planning division, who took me on the bullet train from Seoul to Busan a week or so ago, and Jessica Lee, the head of sales, who I had met in Busan.

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South Korea: The Lives of Royal and Common Koreans‏

November 21st, 2010 · 1 Comment

The National Folk Museum of Korea and Gyeongbok Palace, the first palace compound that the Joseon dynasty built, are right next to each other in the center of Seoul. Building that palace created Seoul as the capital of Korea in 1392, more than 600 years ago  These two attractions in close proximity to each other show how both royalty and the common folk lived in historic Korea. I visited both.

A few days earlier when I met Christine, a Scots woman, at the Haein Temple, she recommended that I visit the Folk Museum upon my return to Seoul. That was what brought me there and was great advice.

The Folk Museum has been on the grounds of Gyeongbok Palace since 1993. I started my visit today by wandering through the museum’s open-air exhibits. I particularly enjoyed the stone figures that reminded me of the “stone grandfathers” that I saw on Jeju Island. Indeed, that’s what they were.

A Stone Grandfather

A Stone Grandfather

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Inside the museum I enjoyed its three exhibits on the history of the Korean people, the Korean way of life, and the life cycle of the Koreans. It  uses replicas of historical objects to illustrate the folk history of the Korean people. Most of the photographs that I took at the museum were of the stages of life, attracted as I was mostly to the colors of those exhibits. I am a sucker for color!

Traditional Korean Clothing

Traditional Korean Clothing

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South Korea: Seoraksan National Park‏

November 20th, 2010 · No Comments

For the past two years I have been looking forward to seeing the fall color in Korea’s most popular national park. When Margaret Leesong visited me in Boulder on November 1, 2008, she told me how beautiful Seoraksan National Park was at this time of the year. Margaret is the director of international business relations for i-Sens Inc. in Seoul, South Korea, one of the world’s leading blood glucose meter and test strip manufacturers. Her company invited me to visit Korea last October, but I had to cancel at the last moment because I couldn’t travel after an emergency hospitalization. But they renewed their invitation this year and near the end of my 17-day visit to Korea I finally got to Seoraksan.

Seoraksan is actually north of the 38th parallel, which from 1945 to 1950 divided North and South Korea. The Korean War began then when North Korean forces crossed than line and invaded South Korea. Now, however the border between the two countries is a few miles north of the 38th parallel on the east. And that is where Seoraksan is. Still, I came closer to North Korea here that any other place that I have visited in Korea.

I went to the park with Cheol Jean, who I met a few days ago at the International Diabetes Federation’s convention in Busan. Cheol, who calls himself Charlie Jean for the convenience of Westerners, invited me to go with him. The only problem was that Charlie speaks little English, so we needed an interpreter. Margaret’s husband, Alex Leesong, volunteered for that assignment.

Charlie is the CEO of Argos Publishers Inc. in Seoul and a writer about diabetes. He leads an active life. After learning in 1981 that he had type 1 diabetes, Charlie has continued to enjoy many activities including Taekwon-do, judo, rock climbing, Taek-kyun, cycling, hiking, weight training, and yoga. And at Seoraksan, Charlie, Alex, and I went hiking and rock climbing together.

Alex is the i-Sens general counsel. He earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from Purdue University in Indiana, where he and Margaret married more than 21 years ago. At that time he legally changed his name from Inkeun Lee. The new family name, Leesong, combines his and Margaret’s original family names, something quite rare in Korea but not unusual in the U.S. Alex then earned a law degree from the University of Sydney in Australia before returning to Korea.

Both Charlie and Alex were extraordinarily generous with me yesterday. Our trip to the mountains took more than 12 hours, including a 3 and 1/2 hour drive each way. Charlie drove his Daewoo automobile. We all like Western classical music, and it played softly in the background until we got out of the range of FM 93.1, the same Seoul station I have been enjoying on the radio in my hotel room.

The severe cold snap in Korea broke as soon as it started. This was a good day to visit Seoraksan National Park to see the beauty of fall.

With a prediction of a 12 degree Celsius high for our destination, Alex commented that it was “not bad.” At 54 degrees Fahrenheit the weather was indeed pleasant.

After an hour and one-quarter on the road we stopped at the Gapyeong tourist stop for Charlie to check his blood glucose. He told me that he checks it 10 times a day, which is being diligent indeed.

Charlie had brought a Thermos of hot water for tea, which we drank from the trunk of his car. At this rest stop Charlie gave me a copy of each of his first three books about diabetes, one of them that he signed with the inscription, “Dear David. I am pleased to have met you. I hope you are always healthy and happy. Charlie.”

All of Charlie’s books are in Korean. While Mongolian editions came out recently, English-language editions are still in the works.

An hour later we made one more rest stop. We had a tailgate snack of dried and cooked lotus root, a popular and tasty chip here.

At this stop Charlie gave me a most exquisite gift. It is an acrylic cube of two inches in each dimension with three reproductions of classic Korean paintings embedded in it and visible from different sides. Shin Yun-bok, born 1758, better known by his pen name Hyewon, painted each of them. I treasure my souvenir of this beautiful and generous country.

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Portrait of a Beauty” Depicts the Standard of Traditional Beauty in the Joseon Era (1392–1897)

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South Korea: National Museum of Korea

November 19th, 2010 · 2 Comments

This was a good day to stay indoors in Korea. While we had bright sun all day, when I went out this morning the temperature was down to 1 degree Celsius, which is 34 degrees Fahrenheit. But instead of staying in my room up on the 10th floor of the Soengbuk Holiday Inn on the north side of Seoul I went underground.

That is the best way to get around the second largest city in the world. I wanted to go all the way across Seoul to the National Museum of Korea. Yesterday I had gone about half that distance in a taxi from Seoul Station, where Korea’s high-speed bullet train from Daegu took me. That taxi ride took more than an hour through the Seoul’s impossible traffic and cost me about $20. Today I took the subway from the hotel past Seoul Station and on to the museum in about one-third of the time and 1/20th of the cost.

Besides being much faster and much less expensive, Seoul’s subway system is simple to use, clean, and punctual. This was the last mode of transportation that I wanted to experience here — subways, trains, taxis, and planes have all served me well in this most efficient country. I didn’t have the opportunity to take a ferry (a good way to get to Jeju Island from some cities) or drive a car or ride a bike or motorcycle (bad ideas with all the traffic here).

While I appreciate the Soengbuk Holiday Inn, after a few hours of leisure in my room and the coffee shop, I had still more of this fabulous country to see. This hotel in several respects is my favorite of all the hotels I have called my home away from home in this country. The service makes a big difference. Within the first few minutes of my arrival back at the hotel the bell captain took care of three problems for me.

One problem was that I couldn’t figure out how to turn on the computer monitor my hotel room. Now, for a moment think about the import of those words “computer monitor in my hotel room.” How many American hotels routinely provide their guests with a room computer? The bell captain immediately diagnosed that problem as a loose cable.

Computer use in Korea is even more common than in the U.S. The Korea Herald had an article reporting on a publication from the statistical office of the European Union on Internet use by citizens of the Group of 20 major economies. Among people aged 16-74, 77 percent of South Koreans were Internet users in 2008. Canada ranked second with 73 percent (2007 data), while the U.S. was third with 72 percent in figures recorded in 2008.

Since I haven’t taken a subway anywhere in the world for about half a century, it was an experience for me. My only other experience today was to visit the National Museum of Korea. You might think, “One whole day at a museum?” Actually, I could have spent a week there.

This is the sixth largest museum in the world and one of the newest, opening just five years ago. The modernity of the building contrasts wonderfully with the history that it displays.

The National Museum of Korea, the Reflecting Pool, and the Pavilion with Celadon Roof Tiles

The National Museum of Korea, the Reflecting Pool, and the Pavilion with Celadon Roof Tiles

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South Korea: Haein Templestay

November 19th, 2010 · No Comments

On my visit to South Korea I set off to Haeinsa — the Haein Temple — for the experience in Korea that I had most looked forward to, albeit with no little trepidation. In the event everything took place with remarkable smoothness, although the logistics of getting there were daunting for a foreigner who knew only two words of Korean — kimchi and what sounds like “nay” but means yes.

First, I had to get to the city closest to the temple, Daegu. With a population of more than 2.5 million people, Daegu has a convenient airport with a direct connection from my previous Korean outing, Jeju Island. I spent the night at the Daegu Grand Hotel, which is indeed grand with a room rate to match (the equivalent of about $170 per night). And this was on my own tab, since i-SENS covered only the first half of my trip expenses plus my flight back home.

Then, from the hotel I took a taxi across town to the Daegu Express Bus Terminal. There I located a bus that took me to a short walk from the temple.

I got to the temple a bit early. That gave me almost an hour to walk around the temple grounds and take photographs in the sun. That was fortunate, because we had rain and fog the next day.

The Maze on the Temple Grounds

The Maze on the Temple Grounds

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I went to the temple with the barest necessities, sort of like the monks do. I left my suitcase at the front desk of Daegu’s Grand Hotel and took only my camera and my laptop case. In the latter I took two bottles of water, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a change of socks, some supplements, and little else.

The Templestay program is the best way to stay in Korea’s ancient temples. After beginning in 2002, this program which gives visitors an authentic taste of Korea’s Buddhist temples, now includes 40 of them. But like my Frommer’s South Korea guidebook says, “as overnight at Haeinsa is truly special.” [Read more →]

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South Korea: Daegu Street Scenes‏

November 18th, 2010 · No Comments

When I left Jeju Island, I flew directly to Daegu in the center of South Korea. This is the country’s fourth largest city, after Seoul, Busan, and Incheon, all of which I had already visited.

In Daegu I stayed in another Grand Hotel, which is also right downtown. As soon as I arrived I walked around the city, snapping pictures wherever I went.

A Row of Vendors

A Row of Vendors

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At the Subway Entrance

At the Subway Entrance

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A Vendor at Rest

A Vendor at Rest

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South Korea: Touring Jeju Island‏

November 18th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Continuing our tour of Jeju Island after visiting the Jeju Stone Park, my guide, Ki Hyung Kim, and I went on to the Bijarim Forest, another great place to visit. Mr. Lee and I walked through its lovely paths. We walked to oldest evergreen tree on the island, the “New Millennium Nutmeg,” which was born in the year 1189, only 821 years ago.

Jeju's Oldest Evergreen

Jeju's Oldest Evergreen

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A Lovely Stone at the Bijarim Forest

A Lovely Stone at the Bijarim Forest

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South Korea: Jeju Island‏

November 17th, 2010 · No Comments

My work in South Korea finished so I went on vacation. I left the convention of the International Diabetes Federation in Busan, walking from the convention center to a bus stop where I caught a bus to to Busan’s airport. From there I checked in at Busan Air’s ticket counter for a flight to Jeju Island.

This is Korea’s biggest island. Just a few years ago it was a backwater but is now a tourist center and honeymoon haven. The phrase “tourist center” may be misleading. I saw only seven Westerners the whole time I was on the island.

This certainly doesn’t mean, however, that the accommodations are primitive. The Jeju Grand Hotel where I stayed is as modern a hotel as anyone would want. I stayed there for two nights.

My first full day there was for touring the island by taxi. At the hotel, people at both the front desk and the bell desk told me it wasn’t possible to get an English-speaking tour taxi. But my good luck held.

They said that all the taxi tour drivers who spoke English were already booked. Japanese tourists probably booked most of them. Jeju is 53 miles off of the tip of the Korean peninsula and an 800-mile flight from Tokyo.

Jeju is much bigger than any American island. An oval 45 miles long and 20 miles wide with more than 30,000 square miles, Jeju dwarfs our biggest island, the Big Island of Hawaii, which has 4,000 square miles. In population too it is much bigger. With 565,000 people living here, it far surpasses the Big Island, where 150,000 people live. Of course, all the islands of Hawaii get thousands of visitors, but Jeju in my experience here gets many more.

An eruption of a huge volcano about two millions years ago created the island. About 90 percent of island is covered in basalt, and until the Asian travel boom in recent years Jeju Island was one of the poorest parts of Korea.

I admit that I had not especially looked forward to seeing basalt and lava. What I failed to factor in was the two million years since the volcano erupted. In fact, today the island is covered with forest and has the largest arboretum in Asia. It’s already on my list to see the next time I am here.

The literal and figurative center of Jeju is Mount Halla, which at 6,400 feet is the highest mountain in South Korea. Since the nine-hour trek would have consumed my entire day of touring Jeju, I opted instead to tour around the island.

But first I had to resolve some niggling problems. Except for finding a tour guide, I took care of all of my problems before breakfast.

I had a big breakfast at the hotel, figuring that I would skip lunch and dinner as I had been doing. Intermittent fasting and travel go well together. While it saves time and money, I also hoped this is the way to finally hold my weight in check while on the road.

The strangest — and therefore most interesting of the many familiar and unusual breakfast buffet offerings was a bright red and hairy fruit. In fact, the hairs are more like needles. I had to ask four people what the fruit is.

Finally, someone told me that the name of the fruit was rambutan, which the restaurant got from Cambodia. When I ate it, I guessed apparently correctly that I had to cut it open to find the fruit inside. It was ivory colored and sweet with a single seed inside the fruit.

Rambutan for Breakfast

Rambutan for Breakfast

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South Korea: Meeting Friends in Busan

November 15th, 2010 · No Comments

When Brian Lee from i-SENS and I arrived in Busan on October 17, we could have gone to the opening reception of the International Diabetes Federation’s Western Pacific Region Congress. Instead, we preferred to live dangerously.

Brian suggested that we go to Korea’s most famous fugu restaurant. It doesn’t just happen to be in Busan. It’s there because Busan is the country’s biggest port.

The fugu fish has to be fresh. But even when it is fresh it is an interesting fish to eat. Fugu is the Japanese word for it; in English we call it pufferfish. By whatever name you call it, this fish is both delicious and possibly deadly.

The most celebrated and notorious dish in Japanese cuisine, fugu is a treat for many — but not all — Koreans. Yet Brian says that none of his friends will dare to eat it.

Almost no Westerners have enjoyed pufferfish. In fact, while the fugu restaurant that Brian took me to was completely full, I was the the only one with a pale face in the whole place.

That restaurant serves only fugu. They prepare it in all the ways that we normally eat fish, except they are extremely careful to remove the internal organs, particularly the liver, which contain most of the toxins. The poison paralyzes the muscles while you stay fully conscious, eventually dying from asphyxiation. No known antidote exists. Brian says that therefore fugu chefs have to pass rigorous government exams before they are allowed to cook fugu.

I watched the other patrons of the restaurant carefully to see any signs that they were dropping. Actually, they all seemed quite cheerful, although few were smiling. But that’s because of the basic Korean reserve where the culture frowns on demonstrations of emotion. I also checked and didn’t see any ambulances outside waiting to take unwary fugu customers to the morgue.

However, as I left the restaurant I started to have a little stomach ache. Not wanting to be over-dramatic, I didn’t mention it to Brian. Anyway, he had told me that the symptoms of fugu poisoning come on suddenly. Fortunately I was soon feeling normal again, having enjoyed some delicious fugu — for the first and last time in my life.

At the IDF convention in Busan I met several friends. Some of them like Stanley I. Kim, M.D., I hadn’t met in person before. Dr. Kim has a practice in hematology, oncology, and internal medicine in Upland, California, where he is also chief of medicine at the Upland hospital. He has quickly become a friend.

Upland was where I lived from the time I was one to the time I was eight. My dad was teaching at Chaffee Community College about five miles south of Upland in Ontario, where my sister and one of her daughters now live. Liz is not quite as mobile or adventurous as I am. In fact, my sister Liz was born in the same hospital where Dr. Kim practices.

But the coincidences are even greater. A few months ago I heard by email from one of my readers about Dr. Kim’s invention of what he calls the “tiniBoy” lancet to draw blood for checking our blood glucose levels. I was surprised that none of the big companies in the lancet business, like Becton, Dickinson had ever introduced a very thin lancet. And the thinner the lancet the less the pain.

So at that time I called up Dr. Kim. He told me that he had invented the tiniBoy because of his sympathy for the pain that children in his hospital have to go through when the get their blood tested as well as because he himself recently learned that he has diabetes.

I asked him for a sample box. He sent it right away and I shared tiniBoy lancets with the people in my diabetes support group. They all thought that they were wonderful. So I wrote a glowing review.

When I talked originally with Dr. Kim, I heard a slight accent and knew that Kim was a common Korean name. In fact, it is the most common one, ahead of Lee and Park, according to Wikipedia. So I just happened to mention that I would be going to Korea in a month or two. I said that I would be going to this IDF congress in Busan.

Well, did his ears ever pick up (as I can only imagine). He told me then that Busan was where he grew up. When I eventually met him in Busan, he told me more. He said that he was immediately overwhelmed by requests after my article came out. In my article I also mentioned the technical paper that he wrote, and he told me that its downloads also went up very quickly.

I introduced Stanley to Charlie Jean, a Korean writer and publisher who also has diabetes. I wanted Charlie to be able to write about the tiniBoy, and he did. I also introduced Stanley to the i-SENS people (Brian Lee from planning and Jessica Lee, the head of sales), since the Stanley’s lancets and i-SENS’s meters seem to be such a natural fit.

Charlie Jean, Korea's Prolific Diabetes Writer (left), Uses One of Dr. Stanley Kim's tiniBoy Lancets

Charlie Jean, Korea's Prolific Diabetes Writer (left), Uses One of Dr. Stanley Kim's tiniBoy Lancets

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South Korea: Bullet Train to Busan

November 13th, 2010 · No Comments

Korea converted me to train travel. After three days in Seoul, which is in the northeast corner of South Korea, I needed to travel to Busan so I could cover the annual convention of the International Diabetes Federation’s Western Pacific Region. Busan is about 250 miles away from Seoul in the southeast corner of the country. I had assumed that i-SENS would send me by air, as we would almost always do in the U.S.

But Korea has a high-speed rail linking its two largest cities. I took the train together with Jeongkwan (Brian) Lee, of the i-SENS planning division, who manned the i-SENS booth at the show. On our ride we reached 184 mph, if not faster. People have good reason to call this high-speed transportation “bullet trains.”

Brian and the Bullet Train

Brian and the Bullet Train

You might think that by traveling at such speed the train would bounce us around a lot. In fact, most plane or auto rides are much bumpier. The train didn’t even have seat belts to strap us in. This was a very smooth ride indeed, one that permitted us unlimited opportunity to get up and move around. [Read more →]

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