The week that was…week 47: death and everything else

2013-11-11 11.50.32 - CopyOn Monday morning we went to the crematorium with Steve. Jill’s funeral was to be in Melbourne on Friday, so it was just us. The coffin kind of whooshed into the furnace, so not a lot of time for contemplation or anything else. But we had lunch with Steve who I think just needed some company. Understandably.

2013-11-11 14.52.06 - CopyIt was that kind of day.

2013-11-12 18.19.19-2 - CopyIn relative normality, off to training. My finger had been declared healed by the plastic surgeon, so nothing stopping me any more.

2013-11-14 08.16.20 - CopyAnd Thursday morning held the usual early walk to school with Zac so he could go to choir.

2013-11-15 15.28.58 - CopyThe funeral was Friday. I must say, the moment I saw the order of service I burst into tears. I guess it is that moment when it all becomes real. Sebastian had some down to Melbourne for the funeral – he wanted a chance to say goodbye. He cried and cried, which of course tended to set me off again. James spoke well. Jill was such a determined person who did what she wanted. Deciding to change careers in your early forties and work your way through a PhD while fighting breast cancer isn’t something we all could do. She was stubborn, but sadly cancer was more stubborn. Goodbye Jill.

We took Sebastian out to a very grown up dinner at the European that night. He was adventurous in his food choices and it was a lovely chance to all talk and enjoy ourselves.

We had time for some breakfast and a little bit of shopping before heading home, via the Qantas Club of course.

2013-11-16 12.09.36 - CopyZac and Jude has spent the night with Ga, and were happy for some quiet activities when we got home.

2013-11-17 10.53.40 - CopyAnd Sunday there was skating. As there usually is.

Snapshot: Comfort

2013-11-06 07.00.42Right near my hotel in Seoul was this statue which I walked past a few times before learning the story. Every time I came past it was dressed slightly differently, with flowers and shoes and, on the day it rained all day, a rain jacket. Then I talked to the local staff from the Embassy. From January 1992, every Wednesday women came to protest here, right in front of the Japanese Embassy, seeking reparations and just drawing attention to the fate of “comfort women” during World War II. Many Korean women were used as sex slaves during the occupation, and often sent all over Japanese occupied territory. These women have still not received reparations, and they still protest. I actually saw a small group of them on the Wednesday I was there. So the statue is there in front of the Japanese Embassy as a constant reminder of the fate of these women.

It is hard to think of what these women endured then, and continue to endure, as they still don’t get real justice. But maybe this is a small symbol.

The week that was…week 46: Seoul and back

2013-11-04 07.25.05 - CopyAnother week begins with a view from a hotel room. This time in downtown Seoul.

2013-11-04 07.18.49 - CopyIt was the beginning of a busy week with two conference, dinners every night and some other meetings as well to fit in.

2013-11-04 12.54.24 - CopyThis was a nice way to refuel though.

2013-11-04 14.48.17 - CopyLots of lots of information about what is happening in the vocational education area across East Asian Summit countries. It is interesting to see how so many of the problems are the same, often just to a greater or lesser degree. And almost all of us seem to be somewhere along the same continuum.

We had a lovely welcome dinner hosted by the Korean Ministry complete with traditional entertainment.

2013-11-04 22.21.27 - CopyAnd we got lovely gifts – our own name stamp with our names in Korean characters.

2013-11-05 15.54.51 - CopyTuesday was an intense day of presentations and discussions followed by a dinner hosted by the Australian government.

2013-11-05 19.17.45 - CopyAfter the dinners we did get a chance to walk home through the nighttime Seoul streets. There was a Lantern Festival on, as well as the Christmas lights coming on, and so many people still out and about.

On Wednesday I headed over to the opening ceremony and keynote speech at the other conference I was attending. I discovered that, as a speaker, I got a personal liaison person who followed me around and carried my bag – not something I am used to, but useful when you are trying to find where you need to be. Ehud Barak was the opening speaker – he gave a very interesting speech on innovation and development of skills. had not really occurred to me before his speech how like Israel and South Korea actually are in terms of history and development. I then saw Francis Fukuyama speak – his analysis about the relationship between education and the rise of the middle class internationally had some good insights, especially around the huge challenges facing the US with its trillion dollars of student loans. But I am not sure I agreed with all his conclusions.

2013-11-06 08.59.45Andrew, one of my colleagues, had arrived for the begining of this conference ad we then heraded off to meet the participants from the other conference at the Kia factory where we got to see the production line. Imagine those cars moving slowly along. Many of the processes have now been automated and the 500 points of spot welding required on every car are actually now done by robots. Impressive robots. Apparently too, the trade unions don’t mince their words.

We also visited my old friend King Sejong, and this time I got to discover the museum under his statue. In addition to creating a whole new alphabet to improve literacy amongst the poorer folk, King Sejong did a lot of scientific research in areas of astronomy, as well as inventing a musical instrument and then writing his own music to go with it. He created maternity leave for bonded women workers, allowing them time off when previously they had been expected back at work in a week. He undertook other reforms to help the poorer in society. This was the 1400s. Why can’t we have political leaders like that now?

it was a very misty, rainy day. Here is the Palace.

2013-11-06 17.04.36

Now I am going to have a short rave about a hotel. If you are a regular visitors to this blog, you’d know I have visited many hotels in the last couple of years. At most of them you learn about the McDonaldisation of hotels – with the curtains drawn, you could be in any hotel anywhere in the world. Most of the hotel experience is the same – sure there are weird things offered at breakfasts in many of the Asian hotels and some minor differences according to locations, but in general there is a familiarity to the way that hotels are and work and look and feel. I am sure this is comforting to many travellers, in the same way we sometimes seek out McDonalds or Starbucks or any of those multinational chains when we are looking for the predictable. There have been a couple of exceptions, and the Imperial in Delhi was one such place. Other hotels have higher levels of service and I must say I loved the Four Seasons in Jakarta for this. But the W Hotel in Seoul was a place that really made me want to skip all my meetings for the next day and just hang out in my room. Look, I know it is a chain and part of the Starwood group and there are a bunch of hotels of the same model in the US, but from the moment I got in the lift (with its fluroescent-lit dangling hand holds) I knew I was in a different hotel. It may have helped that I loved red, and that everything is in red including the awesome robes which were generous fitting and had a hood, but little touches like the cool music playing on the Bose stereo unit when you walk in the room made it the best hotel room I have every stayed in.  I will be looking for W Hotels now when I travel.

On Wednesday night we did a bit of shopping in Insadong – my one opportunity to pick up a few gifts and so forth.

I was with a few of my fellow Australian participants, and once the shopping was done we decided to go for a drink. We wandered down the stairs to a tiny little bar where the choices appeared to be beer or whiskey and we were the only clients other than a couple of older Korean gentlemen and a woman who were, they told us, were there to celebrate a birthday. The birthday boy helped to translate for the bar owner whose English wasn’t great. Clearly as part of their celebrations, they had organised for some traditional Korean music to be played, so we got to enjoy that along with our beers. Then the birthday boy wanted to dance, so the bar owner and one of the traditional performers obliged – and then he decided that one of my companions, Jeanette, should participate, so they danced to a quickly downloaded version of Waltzing Matilda. it was somewhat surreal, but we laughed and laughed.

2013-11-06 21.05.28After another day of zipping between conferences, Andrew and I got taken to the Seoul Tower for dinner. Apparently the fact it reminds me constantly of the Telstra Tower may be because it was designed by the same person, but I am not sure.

A final day of meetings with the Korean government, including a well attended presentation by Andrew on apprenticeships in Australia.

And then home to a weekend which seemed to mostly consist of skating, sleeping and eating. And a bit of helping Zac clean up Sebastian’s old bike ready for his use.

The week that was….week 45: not a great week


2013-10-28 19.58.48 This was never going to be a great week. James and I had slept poorly with Sebby waking in pain in the middle of the night, I was still feeling frustrated about my finger and then, during the day on Monday we found out that our dear friend Jill, and James’ close colleague, Jill had been hospitalised with pneumonia. Jill had been fighting cancer for many years. In and out of remission for number of years, I think she did almost her entire PhD while being treated for cancer. She had started with breast cancer, but over the last year it had moved into her bones. On Tuesday when James and I were at the hospital getting my finger checked, we caught up with Steve, Jill’s husband who told us that Jill was still needing assistance breathing.

So there was a bit of a cloud over the week – James and I were stressed and tired and emotional.

2013-10-30 17.55.40George was in good spirits. But longing for the outside world. Of course, at the moment when he escapes outside, his choice of activity is sitting under a rose bush, making him quite easy to recaputre.

2013-10-31 07.36.59One up side. My big order of derby socks for both James and I arrived. Yay for new socks. I just wanted to find reasons to wear them all.

2013-10-31 12.55.52On Wednesday I made myself feel better by buying these completely frivolous shoes which I had been stalking for months. I was having a particularly bad day on Wednesday – it was all getting on top of me. Work hasn’t exactly been stress free, and I knew that I was off overseas again on Sunday. And everything else.

2013-10-31 14.40.46On Thursday I managed to guilt my staff into giving me cake. As General Manager, I don’t get invited to staff birthday celebrations when sections hold them – so I miss out on all the cake. I needed cake.

2013-10-31 15.01.32One of my Directors thought I needed vitamins too. Pretty sure I wasn’t looking my healthiest.

2013-10-31 17.47.28I did manage cocktails with Bec (largely responsible for dragging me into derby) and who I hadn’t properly caught up with for ages on Thursday which was a nice interlude.

2013-10-31 18.34.50And came home to find Sebastian making crumble, which is always a nice treat.

2013-11-01 21.57.47On Friday the news we had been hoping we wouldn’t hear came – Jill had died. James and I went out with Steve, her husband, to keep him company and talk about what needed to be do0ne. While it is terribly sad to lose a friend, it is devastating to see the grief of someone who has lost the one person in the world they cared about deeply and to see their emptiness. Jill was 51.

2013-11-02 11.59.28But life goes on. The boys play Lego Star Wars games.

2013-11-02 14.44.49And I take the shoe shopping.

2013-11-02 17.30.44Then Saturday night it was off again – to Korea via a night in Sydney.

2013-11-02 20.00.34My finger dressing fell off (the hospital physio was nowhere near as good at dressing it as the nurses) revealing a rather Frakensteinian sight – but healed, mostly. Fortunately I had all the tools to redress it with me.

2013-11-03 07.54.01

And then on Sunday it was off to Seoul.

Once there I went for an eveing walk. Finished my week with bubbles….

2013-11-03 20.16.08And flowers…

Gardening success!

2013-10-31 18.45.19The first radish! Sebastian was very pleased to be able to harvest and eat the first radish he grew in the garden. Nice to have success – and many more radishes to come.