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.

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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.

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