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

South Korea: Touring Seoul‏

November 10th, 2010 · No Comments

Now that I have seen downtown Seoul, I know what real traffic congestion is like. And this was on Saturday afternoon, when presumably I wasn’t witnessing rush hour conditions. The congestion was both automotive and pedestrian, often in the same place and time. Never again will I complain about congestion in Boulder!

Traffic Along the Han River

Traffic Along the Han River

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While automotive congestion is never pretty, I enjoyed the crowds of people. The afternoon tour today took me to three busy places where I was correspondingly busy taking pictures of the people and the surroundings.

I went with a tour led by a young Korean woman who spoke passable English. She took six of us westerners — including a couple from Denver — to a royal palace and two major markets.

In all three places the crowds were overwhelmingly Korean. The places where I went today may be tourist attractions, but they are mainly attractions for the Korean people.

The tour took us first to Changdeok Palace, one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built by the kings of the Joseon dynasty who ruled Korea from 1392 until 1910, when Japan annexed Korea. This was the world’s longest ruling Confucian dynasty. King Taejong began building Changdeok Palace in 1405, and today it is the best preserved of all of Seoul’s palaces. The large palace grounds were packed with people today, but not with vehicles.

To see the traffic congestion for which Seoul is famous all we had to do was to drive in our small tour bus to the next stop, the Insadong cultural art market of Seoul. Essentially a pedestrian mall, crowded to the extent that the merchants of Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall could only dream of, the shops and stalls of this market feature traditional and modern Korean artwork, such as paintings, sculptures, pottery, and calligraphy.

While automotive congestion is never pretty, I enjoyed the crowds of people. The afternoon tour today took me to three busy places where I was correspondingly busy taking pictures of the people and the surroundings.

I went with a tour led by a young Korean woman who spoke passable English. She took six of us westerners — including a couple from Denver — to a royal palace and two major markets.

In all three places the crowds were overwhelmingly Korean. The places where I went today may be tourist attractions, but they are mainly attractions for the Korean people. [Read more →]

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Posted in: Asia

South Korea: At Work in Korea‏

November 9th, 2010 · 4 Comments

On Saturday morning I got back in Seoul at the Holiday Inn Seongbuk after my first full day in Korea. Friday was a “work day” on this trip that seamlessly combines business and pleasure.

The phrase “work day” has to go in quotation marks because I enjoy my work so much that I don’t usually draw a boundary between it and vacation. And yesterday that would have been impossible even if I had tried.

My friend and hostess, Margaret Leesong, came to my hotel in mid-morning to take me to Wonju city, where her company, i-SENS Inc., built its factory to make test strips for its blood glucose monitors.

Margaret is a remarkable woman. Charming and vivacious, she looks much like an attractive young Korean woman, and is the i-SENS director of international business relations. But she is the mother of three children with her husband, Alex Leesong, who also is an i-SENS executive. And legally she is not a Korean — she is an Australian citizen.

Margaret Leesong

Margaret Leesong

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Born in Korea, her name was Minsun Song when she married Inkeun Lee. In the States they changed their first names to Margaret and Alex respectively and combined their family names. Margaret lived in the States from 1973 to 1978 and then again from 1988 to 1996, when she moved to Australia, remaining there until 2005. After her college years at Seoul University in 1996 she earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from Purdue University in Indiana and an LLB (law degree) from the University in Sydney in 2000. She speaks flawless English and even told me that she dreams in English.

Her college and postgraduate education took 13 years to complete. I asked her what drove her to seek her extensive education. [Read more →]

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South Korea: The Land of Morning Calm

November 9th, 2010 · No Comments

October 14 dawned as a bright, clear, still morning in the country know as “The Land of Morning Calm.” The weather is an appropriate greeting to welcome me on my first day in this fascinating country.

I have to admit that I had some trepidation as I set forth on this journey. Probably my main concern was being able to get around without knowing even the alphabet of the Korean language.

But after my contact, Margaret Leesong, met me at Seoul’s Incheon International Airport last night and took me to the bus that goes right to my hotel, my mind is at ease. I had met Margaret in Boulder two years ago. She is the director of international business relations for i-SENS, a large manufacturer of blood glucose meters and test strips.

My Hostess in Korea, Margaret Leesong of i-SENS

My Hostess in Korea, Margaret Leesong of i-SENS

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When she visited me in Boulder, I took her hiking on the Fowler Trail in Eldorado State Park, the very trail that I introduced Diana to a week ago.

Margaret said that she had planned to take me to the hotel herself, but she was running late for a business dinner after arriving at the Seoul airport an hour or so late on a trip to a large city in China that she or I had never heard of before (China has a LOT of cities with populations of millions that few people have ever heard of). [Read more →]

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South Korea: The Kimchi Crisis

November 9th, 2010 · No Comments

My worst fears at breakfast did not come to pass. The hotel’s restaurant had kimchi.

The Really Red Stuff is Kimchi

The Really Red Stuff is Kimchi

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They did tuck it away at the furthest buffet table at the back, but I found it after eating a custom-made omelet, sausages, bacon, shrimp, salmon, and even roasted Patagonian Toothfish, which we in American call by its euphemistic name, Chilean Sea Bass. It was best buffet breakfast I ever had.

Another difference with this hotel is that the free in-room newspaper isn’t the usual USA Today. It’s the International Herald Tribune, the Global Edition of the New York Times. I read today’s issue over breakfast, starting with the front-page article headed, “You said how much for kimchi? South Korea in crisis.”

Kimchi is “the fiery and pungent Korean national dish that typically combines cabbage, radishes, red chili peppers, garlic and salt. The price for one head of long-leafed Napa cabbage grown in South Korea has skyrocketed in the past month, from about $2.50 to as much as $14. Domestic radishes have tripled in price, to more that $5 apiece, and the price of garlic has more than doubled.”

Most of the blame goes to the overly rainy weather this year. The crisis is so bad that President Lee Myung-bak says that until the cost comes down he will take the drastic step of eating only the cheap and inferior kind of cabbage — the round-headed variety that we have in America.

I’m glad he did, leaving some real kimchi for me. I enjoyed my kimchi for breakfast.

The only breakfast disappointment was the liquid refreshment. Always on the lookout for something new, I spotted “pine juice.” While it was tasty, it turned out to be regular old pineapple juice.

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Posted in: Asia