K*Star Road

2016-03-05 11.39.24Korea does loves its K-Pop. And what better way to celebrate your love of your idols than by placing statues of teddies for each band or performer decorated individually to represent them along a road and calling it K*Star Road?

Line Friends or How We Had Fun With What Are Apparently Emoticons

2016-03-04 18.17.48After a busy week of important meetings with officials from other governments, there is nothing like discovering a store filled with Korean/Japanese emoticons called Line Friends in giant photographable sizes. So we did like the locals. This is Brown by the way.

You could buy these things in all shapes and sizes. These was even a bling version of Kony because of course there was.

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There was also a section for the cool kids.

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But the best thing was the giant ones in their houses where you could take photos. Below, Sally, James and Kony. Sometimes I love the kawaii culture of Northern Asia.

The deliciousness of Japan and Korea

2016-03-01 12.16.48I got to do a lot of eating whilst in Japan and Korea, which is a good thing because there are a lot of good things to eat.

2016-02-29 17.26.47I was excited to find in Tokyo a special Spring Edition Cherry Blossom Red Bull.


Beautifully put together bento boxes have always been one of my favourite things: this is what we got for lunch on Monday.

Dinner on Monday was magnificent. At the beautiful Tofuya Ukai restaurant in the shadow of the Tokyo Tower we ate 9 or so courses of delicious Japanese food. One of them was so delicious I ate it all before I remembered to photograph it.

2016-02-29 22.25.30Here is Katherine (our minister counsellor from Beijing and friend) and me outside the restaurant after all that deliciousness.

2016-03-01 07.50.55One of the more spectacular versions of French toast I have ever been served. Appropriate as I was eating in the 33rd floor of our hotel with a similarly spectacular view of Mt Fuji in the distance.

Dinner on Tuesday was not quite as amazing as dinner on Monday, but we did find a lovely little place and eat some delicious Korean-style BBQ, cooked ourselves at the table.

Another amazing lunch with an even more beautiful bento. It is hard to concentrate on business when the food is this good. The sashimi, in particular, was meltingly fresh.

Then off to Korea for Korean Korean BBQ. Fabulous. I missed the first couple of meals we had in Korea which, as usual for Korea, did involve endless, uncountable courses – some of which were of very odd foods.

2016-03-04 12.55.16A glimpse of our final lunch in Seoul. I did turn down the vibrant dark green seaweed soup, and one of our party did count 80 plates on the table at one point in time. Dishwashers in Korea must get a real workout.


A year in the life 2016 #63: protest


South Korea is the land of the proyest. I think I have seen at least one pretty much every time I have been to Seoul. Even torrential rain didn’t stop this protest which, i believe, was about women’s wages. Power to the (soggy) people.

A year in the life 2016 #62: hotel window view


I was staying in my usual hotel in Seoul – the Seoul Plaza. This time in an upgraded room, so it was even more awesome than usual. Thefe is also a different view from the suites – this is from the lounge.

A year in the life 2016 #61: a visit to Sejong City


Sejong City is the administrative capital of Korea (named, I presume, for one of my favouritest monarchs ever, King Sejong). Since I have been visiting Korea, government departments have been being progressively moved there. This was my first visit – 45 minutes from Seoul on the very fast train.

It is still a reasonably empty city and all very new. There was still a bit of snow on the ground, and a lot of cranes in the distance.


The government buildings have been built in the shape of a long snaking dragon through Sejong City. Apparently they are all linked and it is possible to walk from one end (the tail) all the way  to the other (the head) inside – it takes about an hour.

I guess this is what Canberra felt like about 100 years ago (although it wasn’t built as fast).


A wet Saturday in Seoul

2016-03-05 10.39.14It was a gloomy day when we set out, off to the other side of the Han to Cheongdam, Gangnam to check out the shopping. I had forgotten about White Day – March 14th – which in Korea and Japan (and possibly other places as well) is “reverse” Valentines Day when girls give gifts to their boyfriends. There was heart shaped merchandise all over.

The stores were quite impressive, but there was nothing in my size and not a lot in my price range. Which was probably a good thing.

One piece particularly impressed me – the designer face mask. I mean in this age of pandemics and pollution, you want to look stylish while protecting yourself.

2016-03-05 12.27.35We then headed back to the centre of Seoul as the rain really started to come down, and headed to Deoksugung Palace, which I had last seen in the heat of summer. This time it was incredibly wet.¬† Our feet were soaked by the end, but we did feel we’d managed both ends of Korean culture.

2015 weeks! #27: China, Korea then collapse in exhaustion

2015-07-13 20.52.02After all day in flight and transit, here we were in Beijing. Everyone wanted to go out and explore, so we found ourselves wandering the hot hot streets of Beijing at night.

We decided against trying the scorpions – I wasn’t letting anyone eat street food on the first day of a busy four day trip. Also some of those scorpions were still wiggling.

We did find a little place where we tried locals foods from the menu that included such delights as “fuel consumption of lettuce” and “glutinous frog” and “roumo acid cowpea” – whatever that is.

2015-07-13 21.18.12 The next morning it was up early and into the official program, starting with meeting the Chinese Vice Minister for International Education Cooperation and then the Minister opened the forum we had organised with the Chinese Ministry of Education (note my translation headphones for Chinese speakers).

During the night, in the dark, at 5am, I had completely misjudged where the edge of my bed was and fell while getting up hitting my head on the wall. In the morning it was clear I was developing an excellent bruise.

2015-07-14 10.31.49After opening the conference we were off to meet the Vice Minister for Vocational Training at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. Somehow after I mentioned jewellery making we got to the point where Minister Birmingham invited Vice Minister Tang to visit Coober Pedy (hope i can go on this hypothetical visit too – I’ve been interested in visiting Coober Pedy since reading The Fire in the Stone).

2015-07-14 11.35.23From there, it was lunch in the car en route to Huawei.

2015-07-14 11.52.47I loved the visit to Huawei. Such exciting technology and ideas. The whole Internet of Things – billions of internet connections for things, not people. The idea your pot plant might be able to tell you how much water it needs (finally a way that I might be able to keep a pot plant alive) and a fridge that orders food itself. The telepresence we did with students in Shenzen was also super cool. I completely geeked out over the whole thing,

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I really liked their smart watches too.

2015-07-14 13.32.02Afternoon tea there stepped away from the technology into old fashioned elegance.

2015-07-14 13.36.01Because some meetings were rearranged, we had about one free hour, so we went and climbed to the top of the only hill in Beijing in 39 degree heat and looked at the Forbidden City. The Minister offered to take my photo for me but I had to explain I had a whole selfie aesthetic going on.

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2015-07-14 15.21.19Back to the hotel for a quick change and off to the evening function with people from the Forum and alumni and other relevant folk at Capital M.

The location was just off Tienanmen Square so there were some good views from the balcony.

2015-07-14 18.14.24After the official function was over and despite the fact that the Minister had to be at a media interview at 5am and the rest of us had a luggage call at 7am, we decided to do a bit of shopping and ended up eating dumplings and duck pancakes.

Our Chinese colleague told us it would only take 20 minutes or so to walk back to the hotel – it ended up taking nearly an hour, but we did get to walk past a dark Tienanmen Square and join the tourists in front of the Forbidden City.

Here is the compulsory hotel window view.

2015-07-15 07.32.49It was then off to the train station and Shanghai on the very fast train the next morning. It was quite a comfortable ride. Because I wasn’t allowed my work phone with email for security reasons, there really wasn’t much work I could do, so I got to enjoy some time with my book. We took the train (which went up to 300kms an hour) rather than fly because, with airport transit and waiting times it really wasn’t going to take much longer, and you can guarantee the train will be exactly on time, whereas the planes are almost always late in China.

I finished reading The Buried Giant on the train – it is rather a sad, thoughtful story beautifully written.

2015-07-15 13.01.04Finally we arrived in Shanghai.

2015-07-15 14.00.35The traffic was a bit heavy, so we had to race to our industry roundtable as soon as we arrived at the hotel.

2015-07-15 16.03.33There were a few minutes breathing space after this, and then it was off to a dinner event with Australian providers and their Chinese partners. We went to a restaurant run by an Australian called Mr Willis – food was excellent.

Official program over, we got to experience the “wow” of Shanghai by visiting the bar on the 38th floor of the Hyatt.¬† Amazing views.

2015-07-15 22.08.25 2015-07-15 22.26.58Tara who also travelled with me to India last year and I had to take a trip selfie. This was a good location for it.

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We were up early the next morning. I loved the jellyfish tank in the breakfast room at the Westin.

Also had the day time view of the Pearl.

2015-07-16 07.36.59My hotel room window view wasn’t shabby either.

2015-07-15 17.47.00Shanghai, in our extremely brief visit, is rather an impressive city if big exciting buildings impress you (I love them).

2015-07-15 18.12.41We headed off to the Shanghai Pharmaceutical School – they have a collaboration with Box Hill TAFE.

We each had our own guide – mine was Dragon – his name is “Lung” which is the Chinese word for dragon.

2015-07-16 09.12.28From there it was straight off to the airport and take off to Korea. Our plan got delayed on the runway, so we ended up an hour late in Seoul and the traffic didn’t cooperate, so were just under half an hour late for our industry roundtable there. The Minister went for an interview after but I went straight to the dinner function which was in a room at the Grand Hyatt with a spectacular view.

2015-07-16 18.28.48Dinner had all the usual formalities – but being in Seoul meant I got to sit at a table with the Korean folk I have worked with over the last three years and whose company I really enjoy. Even got to catch up with a couple of people we haven’t seen for a while.

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The view got no less spectacular when it got dark.

2015-07-16 20.52.56After the formalities were done, we went for a walk in Itaewon – the local area around the hotel. Ravi, the Deputy Ambassador, decided to take us on something of a death march and when we finally begged to stop for a beer, this was where we ended up.

2015-07-16 21.48.03Drinking this…

2015-07-16 21.55.44We went on to find a bit more Itaewon Street life after that break.

Here is the view from my Seoul hotel window.

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We were out of the hotel by 7.20am to catch the fast train I caught a couple of weeks ago to visit the Korea Polytechnics- Sydney TAFE collaboration.

It was a good visit with hearing about what they do and seeing the classrooms in action.

2015-07-17 09.16.17Back to Seoul for lunch before heading off to the Seoul Robotics High School. Before that, a random street scene in Seoul (that’s the Olympic cauldron).

2015-07-17 13.20.59And now, Seoul Robotics High School. The work done by the students was very impressive. I was completely devastated though – I got caught giving out kangaroo and koala pins to students and lost track of the rest of the party, and missed out on seeing ROBOTS DANCING TO K-POP. Another time, I guess.


We then had two meetings with Vice Ministers  РEmployment and Labour and then Education Рand then it was time to head out of town and to the airport.

2015-07-17 17.56.42It was an action-packed week. On the plane home I decided to decline breakfast to sleep for the extra hour.

2015-07-18 10.17.41Amazing view of the Lake George windfarm as I flew back into Canberra.

2015-07-18 16.36.11I got afternoon tea after an afternoon nap.

2015-07-18 16.50.10My head bruise had coloured up nicely.

2015-07-18 17.33.38Given the timing of my return, it really wasn’t feasible to make it up to Sydney for the final round of 5×5. So instead I watched it on TV (via the internet). We played outstandingly.

2015-07-18 21.27.17George wasn’t keen to let me read.

2015-07-19 12.26.34Carnage training got cancelled due to a high level of non attendance so I got to blow out the travelling cobwebs with a bit of skating with Jude and Sebastian and James and Thuggs.

2015-07-19 14.04.50Zac was meanwhile being transformed into a cheetah at his best friend’s birthday party.

To finish the weekend, some D&D. I was ready for bed though, quite early.

2015 weeks! #24: Seoul, derby and boys

2015-06-22 06.05.20And so, it was off to Korea.

2015-06-22 08.51.23Compulsory bellini at the First Class Lounge in Sydney.

2015-06-22 21.03.39And here is the view on arrival from my hotel room in my second favourite hotel in Seoul – the Plaza. I like the Plaza – it has cute rooms and is incredibly conveniently located.

One of the things I was doing in Seoul was checking out arrangements and visit sites for the Minister’s visit the following month. So we got to visit the Seoul Robotics High School. It is an interesting place

2015-06-23 14.53.32One of the things that always feels a little dystopian future about Korea is that the towers in blocks of apartments always have giant sized numbers on them. I guess it serves to allows people to find apartment buildings or something, but it does have a weird feel to it.

2015-06-23 15.16.54Here’s one of the views from the Australian Embassy – from the Education section meeting room.

2015-06-23 17.34.07I loved the fact that the Koreans decorate the side of their electrical meter boxes with pictures of windfarms – windfarms are aesthetically pleasing.

Got taken out to dinner by the Korean Ministry of Employment and Labour – lovely restaurant on the top of a hill. You can read about the full culinary experience here.

2015-06-24 08.02.58Here is the day time view from my hotel room.

2015-06-24 08.44.38And the breakfast view. The hotel and, indeed, the whole of Seoul, was a lot quieter than usual because of fears about Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome. At the airport all the Immigration officials were wearing facemasks and the traffic was much quieter than usual. The outbreak is only a couple of hundred people in a city of 20 million + and limited really to hospitals but clearly it had inhabited the imagination.

2015-06-24 13.34.10On my second day in Seoul I got the fun of experiencing the KTX – Korea’s very fast train. On our 35 minute journey, the train got up to 284km/hr and was still as smooth a ride as any I have experienced on a train. Wonderful technology.

2015-06-24 14.04.11We went to Chenoan which had its own forest of apartment blocks.

We visited KoreaTech – again a location for a planned Minsiterial visit. They had signs boasting of their employment outcomes and it was a very modern facility. Sydney TAFE are working there to deliver training in teaching and assessment to Korean trainers.

2015-06-24 16.05.12Then it was back to the train.

2015-06-24 17.45.27Once back in Seoul I headed straight out the the airport. Here are views from the taxi of the docks on the way.

2015-06-25 08.23.33Back in Australia again.

2015-06-25 08.44.30I’d had a head cold building up for the two days in Korea, so was super happy to be able to purchase some pseudoephedrine along with the fancy new gin from the Bombay range on the return to the country. I mostly wanted to stop my nose running.

2015-06-25 13.53.19Back in Canberra, George joined me for a nap.

As the boys were banned from screens til sunset, Sebastian decided to engage in some science experimentation. His lemon juice-bicarb soda rocket experiment proved to be a bit of a fizzer, until, like the Mythbusters, he kept pushing the envelope until an explosion resulted.

2015-06-25 17.22.23Jude took the opportunity to practice his viola while waiting for a result.

Saturday was a road trip to Sydney for 5×5. We were playing S2D2 and very frustratingly, despite being slightly ahead for most of the game, they managed to beat us by 8 points at the end. It was a bit disappointing, and not helped by an early dodgy expulsion call and then a few extra penalties toward the end, particularly because we were playing with a short bench. Beating them is definitely in scope – we just have to hold it together for the full hour of the game.

2015-06-27 22.30.50McDonalds selfie on our road trip home.

2015-06-28 12.51.32Jude and I had a walk on Sunday after taking Zac to a choir workshop.

2015-06-28 13.19.25George being taunted by birds. I am pretty sure that while the rosella was clueless, the magpie was being deliberately provocative.

Jude went and did some busking at the Ainslie shops while I sat nearby and read my book. He’d been dying to do it for ages so it was a good opportunity. And lucrative – he took in $43 over 45 minutes. His rendition of the Game of Thrones theme music was a particularly effective earner.

2015-06-28 18.37.39A nice way to finish off the week.

So many dishes! A typical dinner out in Korea

2015-06-23 19.32.07When I go to visit Korea, I usually get taken out to dinner by the Korean government. These dinners usually involve multiple courses of things delicious and also a few weird things. In the bottom right corner here is a cold sesame soup/porridge thing which was rather strange to say the least.

2015-06-23 19.35.59Others of the many dishes are quite delicious – this involving mushrooms and some soy bean thing.

2015-06-23 19.44.23This is a more fancy version of a Korean BBQ favourite, pork with kim chee and wrapped in a garlic leaf. So delicious.

2015-06-23 20.00.27Octopus, and salad, and another cold sesame soup with seaweed based noodles.

2015-06-23 20.09.56Beef bulgogi and the accompanying condiments.

2015-06-23 20.15.25And the main course of mushroom stew. There were a couple of things I didn’t photograph followed by fruit for dessert, but I do enjoy these many dish Korean meals with so many different flavours and textures.