The powers that be, in the company where I while away my working hours, recently decided that it was high time I paid company HQ a visit. My Managing Director put it like this "so, since you have small kids, I suppose you're not interested in visiting Korea?" Swoon. Of course I want to go, and I tell him so in no uncertain terms.
Then the to-ing and fro-ing that always accompanies a business trip by one of us....... I think this is a "Korean thing" and it takes a lot of getting used to.
The Managing Director tells me that I would have to be there between 13th and 15th (inclusive) November, so I had better fly out on Saturday 11th and back on Friday 17th.
My doctor tells me I need hepatitis and typhoid jabs, and that I have to have one lot 4 weeks apart.... I have 3 days before the first one is due. Forking out a small fortune for the drugs I have the first jab.
I book my niece in England (I live in Germany) for one week's babysitting - but decide to book her ticket at the last possible minute.
The General Manager tells me that I should be there between 8th and 10th November.
The Managing Director says, no 13th to 15th is the final date.
This goes on for a while1 - until I decide that I don't want to go after all. But I'm made of sterner stuff than this, and, after all I'm Saggitarian and have to travel to satisfy some bizarre inner need.
Then, oh joy, the dates are set. Back to the original dates, of course, I should have seen that coming.
But now my niece can't babysit. So my Mum2 says she'll come over for a week of indulging the grandchildren.......
The ticket is booked, arms are jabbed, bags are packed (unpacked, re-packed). I'm given a schedule for this Staff-Training visit to Korea. I'm anticipating hours locked in small offices hearing stuff I don't quite understand......... it turns out to be a reward visit for the "best local staff" in the foreign offices. Things are looking good.
And she's off....
My real story starts with the trip to the airport......
Saturday 11th November 2000
Got my ticket, got my passport, got my toothbrush. Everything else is just irreevant. But I take it anyway. Armed with a bottle of water and a packet of asprins3 Mick4 drives me to the Airport..... check-in boring stuff.... and finally he's waving me, boarding card clutched in sweaty fist, through the security checks.
I do a lot of waiting around, I'm used to that, and disguise my ever mounting excitement by reading a news magazine. Finally we're on the propeller job to Amsterdam, where I transfer5 Finally we're boarded, and I'm lucky. I have booked an aisle seat, and in my row only the window seat is occupied. We can spread out a bit. The usual boring stuff, and then we're up up and away, flying into the night courtesy the nice people at KLM.
There now follows boring stuff about how we're stuffed with food (I'm "special" since I appear to be the only one who has booked vegetarian meals). Boring films, boring food, excitingly addictive electronic Yahtzee game (thanks Mum!), ear ache from the Walkman I haven't used in years..... Pot Noodle type things in the middle of the night with chopsticks.... and finally, with a very slight bump I'm in Korea! Yaayyy!
We all do the immigration and money changing shuffle. I love the Won. There are 500 to the Deutsche Mark. I'm rich!!!
I find the only taxi driver in Asia who can't speak English and we're off to the Grand Intercontinental hotel. (The company really does love me!). He takes me to the wrong hotel, and is severely admonished by the door opening guy. We get to the right hotel, where I prepare to be pandered to. There follows a series of pampering, which I'm not going to describe in case you get jealous. Suffice to say, you know when you've been pampered here!
Then its out and about in downtown Seoul in search of food. Which isn't too bad since there's an underground shopping mall right next to the hotel. I'm going to write here about the rock band I saw I find a bookshop which sells books in English (bliss) and clutching my purchase hotfoot it to the nearest Korean restaruant, where I dine like a king for very little money, hardly noticing that the staff, who have previously apologised profusely for the lack of forks 6 are nearly having kittens when I dunk a huge dollop of hot chilli sauce in my dinner...(they're not to know I have been practicing at Korean food). Kimchee makes its first of many appearences this week....
After dinner I wander round the COEX mall, which is a new shopping area underneath the convention centre. I'm struck by how American everything is: Burger King, KFC, Starbucks7, all manner of clothing shops, Body Shop.... the list is endless, and reminds me of home. One thing, which shouldn't surprise me, is that they're really into Miffy, the little Dick Bruna Rabbit (from Holland). Miffy is everywhere, as is Pooh Bear and Mickey Mouse. And everywhere, gaggles of giggling schoolgirls who - the world over - cannot possibly shop alone.
Outside it is cold, but not raining. I'm struck by the amount of neon advertising and posters, banners and signs covering every available square inch. It's back to the hotel for a swim, pack the bags up again - for we're off to Kumi tomorrow, after our visit to company HQ.
The Grand Intercontinental, Seoul
Now, I'm not that much of a stranger to luxury business hotels, but The Grand Intercontinental Hotel, Seoull is really something worth seeing despite the fact that its "corporate identity" makes it pretty anonymous. Outside there are chappies who just open car doors all day. And close them again. There are outside porters (or so it seems) whose sole function is to schlepp baggage inside and then hand you over to the inside porter 8 The check-in process is painless, and the assumption that one requires a non-smoking room is rather refreshing. I'm glad I look like a non-smoker. The porter whizzes through the lobby with my bags so fast that I am forced to break into a half-run to keep up. A zoom up in the speedy lift, and a quick dash through the heavily carpeted corridoors and I am in a giant room. Surely shome mistake? But no: the massive room (with equally massive bathroom) is mine all mine! I'm glad to see there are the makings (complimentary) for tea and coffee, but am somewhat disturbed by the mini stepper in the corner. I left my stepper at home with not a moment's regret. Ah well, I don't have to use it.... After the porter 9 has left, it's time to bounce on the bed, examine the minibar, watch CNN 10, weigh myself (less than usual, how did that happen?!), check out the times for the fitness studio and swimming pool 11.... the usual stuff. I make full use of the "turning down the bed" service etc. and don't feel guilty at all that I'm being waited on hand and foot.......