Seoul '14

Setting off for Seoul!

As I'm sure all of you know by now, I've been working on campus for a start-up called Sense & Sustainability since last spring. This April, S&S has the great honor of being invited to co-host the K.E.Y. Platform 2014 conference in Seoul, Korea on Business Innovation and Sustainability.
So tomorrow, our team is setting off for Seoul to present on how sustainability can not only be a source of cost-savings, but also a major driver of future profits at this event, which will convene business leaders from across East Asia. In attendance will be 1000+ senior-level management from major corporations including Samsung, LG, Hyundai, KIA, Baidu, Sharp, etc, as well as representatives from the city government of Seoul, and various Korean Ministries. I couldn't be more excited!

I hope you all will follow along with my travels as always, and take a second to like the Facebook page for the conference, where my colleagues and I will be posting articles we write reporting on conference events, as well as check out the page for our company.

Thanks so much, and wish me safe travels!

Day 1: Safe in Seoul

I won't write much as jet lag has begun it's stealthy attack on my colleagues and me, but I will say that I'm settled in the gorgeous Conrad Hotel in Seoul, amazed by the comfort of the place and the generosity of our hosts. 

Our journey began Saturday morning in Cambridge, from where Jisung, Juan, and I flew out and met up with James in New York. 

We all took off together on our 14-hour (FOURTEEN-HOUR) flight on a beautiful Dreamliner plane complete with Bibimpap + instructions and a Duty Free mall in the rear of the aircraft. (Yes, the photo below was taken behind the bathrooms on this plane...)

We've received a warm welcome from MoneyToday here, and made it to our hotel in time for dinner at the adjoining IFC Mall. Juan and I went extra creative and got butter chicken and chicken curry respectively for dinner -- but we know there's plenty of traditional Korean in store for us!

The team's getting rest now before our first big business meeting tomorrow. This is my first time traveling on work and my first time visiting an Asian country outside of India -- so I'm even more exuberant about globetrotting than usual. 

Wish me luck and sweet dreams!

Day 2: Somnolent in Seoul

My eyes water with jet lagged fatigue as I type this post, and I've an entire essay in front of me tonight, so this'll be another brief one.

We awoke this morning (some at more normal times than others) to a breakfast buffet unlike any other. At Zest on the 8th floor of our hotel is what looks like a small marketplace but is actually just the array of food options available to start one's day at the Conrad.

After several courses each, we settled down in the lobby to settle some logistics, not without frequent interruptions of "but first, let me take a selfie!"

I put together a quick conference timetable for our team before finding myself in Nirvana, otherwise known as the gym in our hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed a few hours there to avoid beginning the essay I'm supposed to have been writing these past few days. I eventually did start the paper while the rest of the S&S team explored a local fish market.

In the evening, we met up for dinner with Mr. Hwang and Junha Kim, our gracious hosts from MoneyToday. We enjoyed a delicious meal of bulgogi and paused for a photoshoot afterwards of our coincidentally highly lavender team.

Wonderfully stuffed and with cheerful bellies, Juan and I headed home after supper to get to work on our respective assignments, but not before a stealthy trip to H&M.

It's been a relaxed but successful day, and the night will hopefully prove even more productive. Wish my disoriented mind luck and eloquence for this paper!

Day 3: Sightseeing in Seoul

Breakfast today was all abuzz with the news...that we had made the news! MoneyToday Media did a special on S&S earlier this week, and we all were excited to see it this morning.

After feasting to our heart's delight on the lavish spread of breakfast options, Juan and I trotted off to Kinko's to see if we could manage to print a few copies of our updated brochure. What followed was an amusing series of conversations (mainly gesticulations) that proved definitively that between the two of us, we know eight different languages and not one of them is Korean. Nevertheless, we were able to print a handful of adorable pamphlets and load up on snacks before heading back to the hotel. We snuck in a quick workout before lunch, and then briefly met the Chairman of MoneyToday, with whom Jisung, James, and Patrick had a meeting.

In the afternoon, the team set out to explore old Seoul. Our sights were set on Gyeongbok Palace, but the royal palace was unfortunately closed to visitors for the day. So we chose instead to meander around historic parts of the city, paying the president's residence a visit and snapping photos (including selfies) along the way.

We ended up on the lovely street where the prime minister lives, surrounded by lots of cute cafes serving shaved ice and waffles. We settled in Cafe Dal and I watched the others indulge in cold and creamy treats as I soothed my throat with tea.

Next, we walked through Seoul Bukchon Hanok Village, the city's last village with a high concentration of unrestored traditional hanok homes. It was beautiful to observe the intricate old houses immediately surrounding us, with the city's modern skyscrapers providing them a silent backdrop.

After a lovely and long day exploring the town, we're excited and ready to jump into official conference activities tomorrow. Please wish us luck!

Day 4: Sick in Seoul

Today, Juan and I donned our rapporteur hats and dove into the first day of the KEY Platform 2014 conference! He scribbled notes at this morning's Plenary Session while I snapped pictures for the Facebook page I manage for the event.

This morning's session featured speakers from a variety of countries and sectors describing what "innovation" means to them. A highlight for us undergrads was when Heather Henriksen, Director of the Harvard Office for Sustainability, connected to the conference via webcam to describe Harvard's innovation efforts within the sustainability space.

Also exciting to me was the vibe of the session as a whole -- the event has a very futuristic feel, with dramatic lighting and an interesting backdrop setting the scene for the TED-style talks. High-quality, fast-paced videos were interspersed throughout the presentations of the morning, making the event really interesting and different from other conferences I've attended.

After a colorful lunch, Juan and I returned to the action, each attending and reporting on a different Breakout Session with speakers from S&S presenting. I headed to the session on Finance, and got to hear Andrew Park, a Sustainability Manager in Bloomberg's Global Sustainability group, give a great talk on ESG (E
nvironmental, Social, and Governance) Criteria for investment.

Since the afternoon's sessions, I've just been resting, working on articles about conference speakers, and eating pho! I'm really looking forward to tomorrow's "Plug In and Talk" session, where our team of S&S speakers will have a prominent role in moderating, presenting, and discussing.

Until then, a belated happy birthday to Rome, and a very happy Earth Day to everyone who lives on this planet!

Day 5: Singing in Seoul

Today was the second day of the KEY Platform 2014 conference, which featured a series of modules on business innovation through sustainability. Our S&S speakers were prominent moderators and discussants at today's three panels -- on Big Data, Ecosystem Thinking, and Hyperconnectivity. It was super fun to see all of our colleagues and new friends present, and Juan, Eric, and I were busy at work all day reporting on the conference, snapping dramatic footage of our team members, and conducting video interviews of speakers.

After a long day of presenting and reporting, the team was ready to celebrate! We set out for Gangnam (as made famous by the song) in the evening, which is full of lights and energy, and even has selfie machines on the sidewalks! (Although we couldn't get ours to work long enough to email me our photo...)

We enjoyed a traditional dinner of Galbi (Korean barbecue) and Soju before delving into another Korean favorite -- karaoke.

Ten of us colleagues piled into our own personal room at a local karaoke place, blasted background music, and belted to a slew of songs, varying significantly in both language and genre. Jisung and I had trouble not hogging the microphones as the group jammed along to its favorite tunes.

Once we had showed off enough, Juan got to display his dance skills at a club just a cab ride away.

We enjoyed the beats at Ho Bar for a while before hailing more taxis and miraculously making it back to the hotel without being able to say its address in Korean.

It was great to be able to spend this time with the whole team and we can't wait to be reunited all together again!

Day 6: Sunshine in Seoul

We rewarded ourselves for a job well done at the conference by sleeping in till assorted hours of the afternoon today. When we rolled out of bed, it was right up the street to a typical Korean restaurant for lunch, followed by a brief trip on my part to the ethereal hotel gym.

The group then set out for an exciting afternoon of exploring the city. We started at Gyeongbokgung Palace, which we hadn't been able to enter on Tuesday because it was closed. We spent a couple of hours admiring its vivid colors and uplifting courtyards, all under the sunny but not overbearing Seoul sky.

We paid a brief visit to the National Folk Museum of Korea before meeting up with Jen to head to Myeong-dong, a bright and bustling tourist area full of light and tempting street snacks.

We meandered about for quite a while searching for a dinner restaurant upon which everyone could agree. Our #1 criterion was that our meal choice be typical Korean fare, followed by specifications about location, variety, and ostensible popularity of restaurant. After winding in and out of dizzying streets for upwards of an hour, we finally had to settle for a promising joint. It was only midway through ordering that we realized the spot we had selected was Japanese!

Nevertheless, our dinner was delicious and left us ready for a long digestive walk, which we chose to take to Cheonggyecheon Creek. This six-kilometer stream runs through downtown Seoul, providing a beautiful route to walk, sunken below the skyscrapers, through the city.

The theme of the rest of the night was not being able to catch the feel of anything on camera: from the dreamlike stream to the majestic Dongdaemun Gate, these streets must be walked to be sensed. I can't wait to be back soon.

Day 7: Streets of Seoul 

We spent today wandering in and out of markets and winding through subway stations and green spaces.

After a hearty breakfast, we patronized Insa-dong, a large market for Korean handicrafts and artwork.

Our group took its time finding souvenirs for those we love and admiring the colors, sounds, and tastes of the city.

When we had run our wallets' supply low and went to the bank to withdraw more, we stumbled upon a Buddhist temple called Jogyesa, which is the chief temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddism.

With Buddha's birthday coming up on May 6th, we took some time to celebrate, looking up at the colorful lanterns covering the place and sitting down for a brief meditation.

At the grand Seoul Subway Station, we stopped for refreshment at a lovely spot called Beans & Berries, where the gang stocked up on smoothies and pastries.

It was back to the bustle of the city then, with a visit to Namdaemun Market, the oldest and largest market in Korea.

We soon felt smothered by the crowd, and required a retreat to nature.

So we took the train to the area where Jisung grew up and took a peak at his old middle school. Nearby lies Yangjaecheon, a stream that flows through the city and has main road bridges crossing above it and walking and bike paths on either side.

Juan and I retired early, rounding out our time in Seoul with a commemorative visit to the food court for chicken curry, just as we started the trip.

We leave tomorrow, and I couldn't be more appreciative for the opportunity to have visited this country with this company.

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