Monday, 16 June 2008

A little bit of Seoul

Three months later, and where did I land - in KOREA! Here for the OECD ministerial meeting on Internet Economy, and what a blast! Working half for press, half for the bookstore, there were two days of high life, touring the Seoul markets, getting lost near city hall and wandering through the anti-American-beef protests, zenning out in a calm temple complex nestled among shiny skyscrapers. and then gearing up to meet the rest of my colleagues.

Tonight after the preliminary NGO forum, I'm all sore feet, sleepy eyes, sore back from standing all day, but it is all worth it. What a blast chatting with people about IT and development, politics and culture, with everyone who stopped by the OECD booth. Wild, a woman who organises a yearly World Women's Forum here who reads Adrian Leed's Paris newsletter; the Pakistani guy who co-founded the project to get cheap computers to developing countries; a rep from AT&T talking about the American strategy of getting kids into computers instead of to war.

Working with a sharp volunteer student, Yeon-su Kim, who is guiding me through the intricacies of dealing with the locals, and keeping me from any more faux pas - apparently Koreans do not say "excuse me", they just indicate it with a smile, she says. When they want to excuse themselves they say "I'm sorry". Too bad, I was getting pretty good at that phrase, easy to remember: "silly amida". Now I understand the grins.

And tonight the Seoul mayor, the OECD sec gen, and a number of ministers, including the Australian minister of communications - no, of broadband - who showed up at the conference earlier in a t-shirt and shorts, hosted a huge dinner for everyone. The drinks were Korean - rice wine, plum liqueur, a sake-type drink and a lovely rice-and-hawthorn-berry wine (a bottle of which I carried away with me), but the meal was western. The entertainment was just as yin/yang - started with a quintet of young Korean girls playing a traditional harp-like instrument, seguing into a couple of Beatles' tunes (Let it be and Obladi-Oblada), and then backing up the B-beat boys, a rap/hip-hop dance team. The suits found it hard to jam, but a few of us were having a GREAT time.

What else? Tomorrow is an early day, have to be downstairs by 7:30am for a 9:30am gala opening because the riot police are screening the guests. Korea's prez is supposed to attend and the same protestors who've been upset about American beef are expected to come and beef at the head of state. It may be exciting! Unlike this early evening - I'm off to my lovely bath and bed, hope I make it. Carol and Sabrina, y'all take care of Fred Hoffman who's teaching body-sculpt tonight, will ya?