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

South Korea: Meeting Friends in Busan

November 15th, 2010 · No Comments

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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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Those were not the only meetings that I have had with Stanley. He invited me to have breakfast with him one morning at the Westin Chosun Hotel, which I could see from my room just a 20-minute walk away. The breakfast buffet was exceptional and filled me up for all the rest of the day so I could skip lunch and dinner.

Then I went to the conference hall where the poster presentations take place. Stanley had arranged just in time to get his poster presented at the IDF meeting. Afterwards we went back to the Starbucks in the lobby of the exhibition center for tea. Then I went with Stanley and his childhood friend and now business representative in Korea, Hyung Joon “J” Kim, to Stanley’s condo in Busan.

Dr. Stanley Kim (left), at his tiniBoy Poster with Hyung Joon Kim of Sogang University

Dr. Stanley Kim (left), at his tiniBoy Poster with Hyung Joon Kim of Sogang University

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Stanley’s condo is just 10 minutes from the Hanwha Resort where I stayed. His condo is only 20 floors up, but has a much better view than I have from where I stayed on the 31st floor. From his condo I took a lot of pictures, including these.

The Skyscrapers Across the Street from Stanley's Condo

The Skyscrapers Across the Street from Stanley's Condo

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Busan's Small Boat Harbor

Busan's Small Boat Harbor

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His four-bedroom condo in the building called the Hyperion is on Korea’s most famous beach, Haeundae. The condo is modern in a clean Western style. But it has some Korean touches, like a special refrigerator for making kimchi. Stanley actually didn’t know that, but J confirmed that Stanley does indeed have one.

Stanley and J in the Kitchen

Stanley and J in the Kitchen

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Stanley doesn’t visit his condo in Busan very much, which is not surprising because he is a busy doctor. So he can be excused for not knowing about his kimchi refrigerator.

His daughter, Esther Kim, is now studying at Northwestern University (where my mother when to school). Esther is a classical violinist who graduated from Julliard and who has played at the Aspen festival, and Stanley promised to let me know when she would next appear there. When we got back home, he sent me a copy of his daughter’s first CD.

Stanley says that he has a dream of starting his own charity hospital for homeless people. That is the sort of kind-hearted man he is.

The other person whom I most wanted to get together with in Busan was Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller. Jennie is professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney in Australia and the world’s leading expert on the glycemic index. Jennie and I have been corresponding for 15 years, and together with her I wrote my first book, The New Glucose Revolution: What Makes My Blood Glucose Go Up . . . and Down?. We had exchanged hundreds of emails and talked on the telephone, but we had never met in person until we were in Busan at the same time.

We almost didn’t connect. Finally, just as the conference was winding down, and Jennie was leaving to tour the town with Dr. Robert Moses of Australia’s University of Wollongong, Jennie and I met in person.

Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller and I Meet in Busan (photo by Dr. Robert Moses)

Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller and I Meet in Busan (photo by Dr. Robert Moses)

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My meetings with Jennie, Stanley, and Charlie in Busan were the high points of my trip to that city. That and eating my first and last pufferfish.

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