Saturday, November 04, 2006

Asia Culture Forum

Despite what this says above, I'm posting this on 11 Nov., 2006.

So, I made it to Korea and back. It was a great trip. I was worried because in the days before I left a cold front had come through Phoenix and my allergies had really kicked up. So I went into the trip with a sore throat &c, which is usually how I come back from trips. But I ended up feeling great.

I flew United from Phoenix to San Francisco, then San Francisco to Incheon (12 hours: I napped a bit, read some of Donald Norman's book The Invisible Computer and pieces of his Emotional Design book, and tweaked my presentation; watched "Click" on the small screen TV in the seat; drank loads and loads of green tea). My itinerary had me landing at Incheon airport then not just changing planes, or terminals, but entire airports—taking a bus to the old Gimpo airport in Seoul (which is the one we used to fly into and out of when I was a kid). I was told that the bus ride took about 30 minutes, but to allow an hour just in case. Of course, we were late leaving San Francisco, and so late into Incheon, then we taxied for EVER, and then waiting for my bags so I can go through customs. It’s late on a Friday night and I know this is the last plane down to Gwangju. I start playing with ideas of renting a car and driving through the night to get there for my morning plenary talk (though I don’t read Korean and have no idea where I would be going). An hour before my flight is to leave Gimpo I pass through customs and immigration at Incheon, head straight to the transportation desk down in the lobby (which I remember from a previous trip in 2002), get a ticket and the next thing I know I’m in the last seat on a warm, airless bus heading into Seoul. Traffic, surprisingly, is light and before I know it we’re at Gimpo. I get my boarding pass, make my way through security, and end up at the gate 10 minutes before we even start boarding.

On the flight I have a nice conversation with an orthopedic surgeon who has just been to a conference in Seoul and is heading back home. The flight is all of 35 minutes (I keep forgetting how small a country this is). Then I’m in a cab and off to the Hiddink Intercontinental Hotel (recently renamed in honor of the Korean national football team coach). I check in to my suite and the porter shows me how things work. For one thing, I have two front doors, two bathrooms, one bedroom, and a sitting room. One places the key in a slot by the door when you come in and that turns out the lights (take it out to leave and the power goes off to everything). Most of the orientation is to the three remote controls. One is for the heating unit, one is for the A/C unit, and one handles the TV and lights and some other things I never figured out.

I’m supposed to call Shin Dong Kim when I get it, but I can never figure out the phones. So I get the front desk to call him for me; he and others are at a restaurant a ways away. Since it’s quite late and I have to speak in the morning, I excuse myself from joining them, set a time to meet him for breakfast, and head up to the suite to flip through the channels and fall asleep. There is a channel devoted to the game “Go,” another which seems to be just watching someone playing a videogame, another which is dedicated to US reality TV shows, and many many others, including music videos, game shows, dramas, films.

Early the next morning I get ready and head up to the restaurant for breakfast. I thought I was to meet Shin at 7:15 but he doesn’t arrive. I chat with some other folks from the conference. By 7:50 they’re moving people to the bus to take them to the convention center, so I go along. The bus is delayed, though I don’t know why, and we arrive about 10 till 9:00 (my talk is at 9). I meet up with Shin, who says that there was a miscommunication and that he was going to take me to the convention center in a cab. Anyway, apparently the party at the restaurant had gone very late (2am or so) and so people are very slow arriving. We decide to delay my talk until we can get a decent crowd, and so get started at 9:20. I had an hour to talk, now it’s down to 40 minutes (since there’s a panel right at 10). I talk fast, editing on the fly as I try to hit the high points, and most likely frustrated the hell out of the simultaneous translators (my apologies to them, since I know that is hard work in the best of circumstances). It’s quite a pan-Asian crowd. I answered some questions, and then was done. Chatted with folks a bit more in the hall outside, especially a very eager Korean graduate student. And then talked with Shin about mobile visual technologies (he borrows a grad student’s cell phone and shows me how it can play live television). Later I get a chance to look through all the conference materials, purchase the proceedings (several volumes), and then meet up with Keehyeung Lee, who I went to grad school with. Keehyeung, Shin, and I and others get lunch in a great local restaurant housed in the convention center. Apparently Gwangju is known for its food, which was wonderful. There is a local specialty which is a very strong smelling fish, and apparently few outside that region of the country like it. I ate a piece, which took a lot of chewing, and wasn’t, uh, problematic until I was almost done, when it became pretty overpowering. But I finished it nonetheless.

Keehyeung Lee, Me, Shin Dong Kim

That afternoon I went to a couple of panels, drank coffee (since the trip was beginning to hit me), did an interview for a local news website, and then caught a bus to the city center where they had a Youth Culture night with live entertainment and really great food. Run into Kuan-Hsing Chen briefly. Talk with folks doing mobile media research. Then walk back to the hotel where Shin commandeers the dining room for beer and karaoke for conference folk. Late (and no, I didn’t sing), I call it a night and head back to my suite.

The next morning (feeling not a bit of the allergies I arrived with), Sunday, reversed the process. Breakfast in the hotel (a buffet: rice, seaweed, corn, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, seaweed soup, kimchee, green salad, cold cereal, muffins, orange juice, coffee, tea). Then a cab to the airport, plane to Gimpo, bus to Incheon, do some last minute shopping in the airport (picked up T-shirts for the kids, a couple of tea cups for Elise, and two CDs for me: the latest Crying Nut and Rollercoaster), and then it’s a 10-hour flight back. I slept most of the way, and still managed to read Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad is Good for You and watch Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in The Lake House. A Scanner Darkly was also on, but the audio quality of those headsets was such that I promised myself to rent it later since I’d miss too much of the film. The flight back corresponded with Saturday night, and so I woke up and landed early in the morning on Sunday (again) in San Francisco. Then a flight back to Phoenix. And no discernible jet lag.

Of course, then Monday evening I had to give a talk on surveillance to a community group, so little time to rest.

All in all, a quite rewarding trip. It was great to be invited and given the opportunity to present a paper. My thanks, again, to Shin Dong Kim for inviting me. Great to meet new folks, see some old friends. My paper is online at their website.

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