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

South Korea: Leaving Korea‏

November 22nd, 2010 · No Comments

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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.

Brian

Brian

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Jessica

Jessica

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This Woman Worked So Intently I Didn't Get a Chance to Meet Her

This Woman Worked So Intently I Didn't Get a Chance to Meet Her

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Then my play day began. Alex walked me to the subway station and said goodbye to me there after showing me to my destination.

For play I had decided to visit “Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art.” A Ms. Park at the hotel’s bell desk, who has been extremely helpful to me recommended that I see this museum, since I had asked her earlier for guidance in getting to the National Museum of Korea.

The Samsung Group is South Korea’s largest chaebol, or family-controlled industrial conglomerate, and the world’s largest conglomerate by revenue with an annual revenue of US $173.4 billion in 2008. It  comprises numerous international affiliated businesses, most of them united under the Samsung brand, including Samsung Electronics, the world’s largest technology company by sales. The Samsung Group accounts for more than 20 percent of South Korea’s total exports.

Smsung’s chairman, Kun-hee Lee, and his wife, Ra Hee Hong Lee, the directory general of the Leeum,  have long been viewed as Korea’s “golden couple.” Alex says the museum is named for her.

The architecture and holdings of this museum are stunning. The museum exhibits Buddhist art, Korean ceramics, painting, and calligraphy. Its four stories embrace everything from the prehistory of Korea to the Joseon Dynasty. I also viewed its exhibits of contemporary art from Korean and Western artists.

The museum doesn’t allow photography — which I discovered only after taking a few pictures. So my photography at the museum was limited.

A Celadon Ewer from the 12th Century

A Celadon Ewer from the 12th Century

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I was surprised to see a 1947 painting by Willem de Kooning, the Dutch-American abstract expressionist artist who died in 1997. Since it was  particularly colorful and away from the watchful eyes of the Samsung guides, I managed to snap a shot (without using flash, which theoretically could have damaged the painting).

"Untitled," Possibly Because When de Kooning Painted This Even He Didn't Know What It Was

"Untitled," Possibly Because When de Kooning Painted This Even He Didn't Know What It Was

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I took more photos at the subway station, which impressed me just as much. I was as impressed by what wasn’t there as well as what was. Never did I see any graffiti or any trash. Nor did I hear any noise except for the rumbling of the trains and recorded announcements in Korean and English. I was also surprised that the trains came every five minutes or so and weren’t crowded.

Seoul's Subway

Seoul's Subway

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The people surprised me in other ways. During my whole visit to Korea I saw few people smoking. In fact, I would hazard a guess that fewer Koreans than Americans smoke. In 2000, two-third of Korean men smoked, according to a WHO report. In 1997 about 7 percent of Korean women smoked. But a 2002 survey showed that the number of male smokers had dropped “by a stunning 21 percent,” a figure that is clearly still dropping. Another of my pleasant surprises in Korea is the fact that essentially everyone I tried to communicate with in the cities understands at least a little basic English.

As I prepared to leave Korea I was in a reflective mode. My 17-day visit was been the most completely satisfying short journey ever. I met two friends who I knew previously. One was Margaret Leesong, the director of international business relations for i-SENS. She had visited me in Boulder two years earlier. The other was Ron Raab, the president of Insulin for Life, my favorite diabetes charity. I ran into him at the convention in Busan and had met him at the American Diabetes Association convention in San Francisco about two and one-half years earlier.

I finally met Jennie Brand-Miller, the professor of human nutrition at the University of Sydney with whom I wrote my first book. We had accomplished that by working through email and overseas phone calls, but had never met in person before.

The other person who I knew before only from phone calls was Dr. Stanley Kim. We spent a lot of time together in Busan and I now count him among my friends. Dr. Kim owns a condo in Busan. He showed it to me and extended a serious invitation for me to use it on a forthcoming trip back here.

I made other new friends, especially including Charlie Jean and Alex Leesong, who together took me to Mount Seorak.

I traveled from one end of South Korea to the other, from Incheon Airport on the Yellow Sea to Sokcho on the East Sea, from Seorak National Park north of the 38th parallel to Jeju Island, south of the peninsula’s tip. I took full advantage of Korea’s many efficient modes of transportation, including not only the usual airplanes and taxis but also buses, high-speed trains, subways, private automobiles, and even cable cars.

I experienced two days and one night in an ancient and still thriving Buddhist temple. I climbed to the top of two mountains. I experienced many of the country’s most famous sites and saw how both urban and rural people live, work, and eat.

I am returning home with two exquisite souvenirs of Korea, one a gift from Charlie, plus hundreds of photographs and uncountable warm memories. I saw the country’s long history preserved in ancient temples and palaces and museums as well as one of the world’s most modern countries in terms of its transportation and Internet infrastructure, its advanced educational system, its five-star hotels, conference centers, and manufacturing facilities.

I was truly blown away by this experience. What a surprise to me, since I was still thinking of Korea as a developing country. It was undeveloped when I worked with Korea in the mid-1970s.

At that time I was the desk officer for Indonesia in the the U.S. Agency for International Development’s office of population. Sometimes I filled in as the Korea desk officer when that desk officer was away. Korea’s family planning program became such a success that the country’s total fertility rate is now the second lowest in the world after Belarus. I am proud to have been associated, albeit in a very small way, with that success and stunned by how this country has developed out of the ashes of the Korean War.

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