Sunday 09 September 2018
In September last year we visited the new, under construction, Royal Canin factory at Gimje, around 200 kms south of Seoul.
Landing at Incheon airport an hour or so before Sylvia I was met by Jonathon, one of hte RC leaders in Korea. We chatted over a brew until Sylvia arrived from Singapore, after which we jumped a taxi to Seoul, then the train south to Jeonju Station. Arriving at the Ramada hotel Jonathon headed off to a dinner meeting and we settled into the room, then headed to the well-advertised hotel restaurant for an evening meal. For some reason it wasn’t open – we couldn’t establish why so we headed into the local streets to find food. We were just in time to find everything closed or closing, eventually stumbling across a Burger King to satisfy our appetite.
Monday 10 September 2018
Sylvia and the team headed off to the factory and I was picked up at the hotel by Kevin, who had taken me out for a tour on my last visit. Myioung Kevin’s sister and law, and the wife of the RC HR manager, had come along to drive us around, having taken a day off from the bakery she runs. We headed west to Iksan-si to a gem museum, enjoying looking at the many rice fields, towns and surrounding bush clad hills, eventually arriving at the museum to see the “Closed Monday” sign.
Continuing on we headed to the coast and a place called Gunsan-si, bordered to the east by the sea and to the north by the Guem River. At low tide many boats are sitting on the mud waiting for the rising tide to reflect them.
We came across a memorial area with lost of flags and a small display of military aircraft and armoured vehicles, plus a ship which housed a small museum. Here on display was what is believed to be one of the first automatic firearms, firing a series of rockets snd invented around 1448.
We then headed through the very clean and tidy streets to find a restaurant that served marinated raw crabs, a local delicacy. After ending up in the wrong place, same name but no crabs, we checked out their antiques upstairs while waiting to be seated, then headed off down the road to the correct place.
In true Korean style the table was soon full with many dishes including the raw prawns and crabs. The crab tasted good, especially the chilli ones, but the texture was a bit different and a bit hard to describe – sort of jelly-ish.
Lunch over, we headed to the factory, stopping at a small lake on the way. Interestingly here an amphibious kind of tractor, fitted with shears was busy floating along and cutting the weed in the lake. Many blokes looked on with interest from the surrounding boardwalks.
Arriving at the factory just before 4pm, Jimmy, the Korean general manager ,and Mark, the factory manager, took me for a quick tour of the factory. No photos allowed! It is set up in such a way that visitors can view the goings on from a specially built passage way which means the need to get into clean overalls and safety gear is avoided. Even these passageways are stunningly clean as are the floors and plant inside the factory, which we viewed through the clean glass. At the start of the tour there is a lecture room where people are introduced by Video to the factory and its processes. Mark and jimmy allowed a photo here but that was it.
The hygiene in this plant is as good as one gets in any food manufacturing plant as dogs and cats, like humans, have to be protected and deserve the highest quality. The plant is split into two parts: Red where the ingredients are mixed and Blue where the final product comes out of the extruders and is cooled and packaged to seal in the nutrients and quality. Each new product produced here must go to France to be checked and tested before it can be sold in the market.
Tour over we were bused to the station and trained to Seoul.
Jimmy took Sylvia and I for a great Korean BBQ meal near our hotel. It started with raw beef, which was rather nice with several delicious courses following. Jimmy also got me to try the the traditional Korean rice wine Soju. He said he had ordered 6 bottles each of this rocket fuel at 17% alcohol. I was rather pleased to find out he was having me on. He did however give us a good rundown on some of the traditions that go with drinking it. The bottle is held with two hands as is the glass during pouring. When touching the glasses together the junior person holds his glass lower and turns his or her head away from the more senior person when drinking.
Tuesday 11 September 2018
The sky is still clear around Seoul as a recent typhoon blew all the smog away. It’s surprising to see rocky hills surrounding the city as we hadn’t seen them during our previous visits. Apparently they are only visible about a third of the time.
I took a stroll through the underground part of the Coex Mall, which is over 500m long. Arriving on the street at the other end I cane across the Bongeunsa Temple. This place is quite large, containing numerous prayer houses, each with its Buddha and hundreds of little flags or notes hanging from the sealing. There has been a heatwave here recently and lots of little electric fans have been placed around the floor in the temples looking slightly out of place. I popped into a tea house and a friendly old lady took me through the process of making and drinking the tea, no just tossing in a tea bag around here! There was also an open building with a large drum in that I would have loved to bang with the big hammer.
Mid afternoon I met up with Sylvia and Jimmy’s team and we headed off to the Sasfield Mall at Hanam-Si, about 15kms southeast of our hotel. Here we were ushered into Sports Monster, a giant adult (as in for grown ups) playground. Here there were dozens of both interactive and physical challenges to try out, We did laser pistol shooting ,soccer a virtual reality roller coaster ride, Tae Kwan Do and a climbing course where one was harnessed and hooked on before heading off up high and across judder boards, climbing walls, ropes and more.
In the evening Dave and Chrissie, friends from NZ, who were here for Chrissie’s brother’s birthday. He lives out near Incheon near the airport and they made the two-hour journey by train to come and meet us for a drink. During their journey they struck the same helpfulness from the Korean people that I experienced last time I was hear. Juan, one of Sylvia’s colleges from Shanghai also joined us for a great evening of catching up.
Wednesday 12 September 2018
A 15km stroll across town didn’t reveal much I hadn’t seen before so I trained back to the hotel and checked out the Hyundai shopping mall next to the hotel. Back home Hyundai only relates to cars – over there they seem to have their name on all sorts of things including apartments, steel companies and finance. With all the Gucci type names on display plus a few more this place is 10 floors of full on expensive shopping plus two basement floors of mainly food-courts and a further four lower floors for parking. They are certainly good at digging deep here.
It seemed like in no time at all we were on a plane and landing in Tokyo for the next two days of our journey.
Thursday 13 September 2018
The train or MRT system in Tokyo, although reliable, clean and safe to use has got to be one of the most complicated in the world. You can’t just buy a day pass for the trains as there are three or four different rail companies in the city. I brought a day pass for Tokyo rail then headed off to a sword museum situated next to a nice garden and not far down the road from the Sumo wrestling stadium (all sold out today).
I was told at the ticket box when passing that this place has an amazing display of modern swords still made by hand in the traditional way. All the exhibits here are prize winning pieces. There is also a great video on the sword making process and although in Japanese it is still easy to follow and ascertain the labour and skill that goes into turning out these masterpieces.
From there I headed out to look at a karate place but it was on another train company line so another ticket was required. The last time I went to look at a karate place in Tokyo it was no longer there – yep you guessed! it this one was gone to. Back on the train I headed over to Chuo to try out the art of the Japanese sword Iai-do at the HiSui Tokyo.
The directions on the web site almost got me there and with the help of a couple of locals soon I was on the 5th floor of a building and entering the school. The reception has a great display of swords and calligraphy. Money paid I was taken into a Dojo (training hall) and dressed in the top and bottom garments of a swordsman. Soon I was joined by a couple of Canadian guys from Montreal. In comes the teacher who is quick to point out that the practice swords he hands us are not sharp but the real ones we will be using soon will be really sharp. A quick lesson on how to draw the sword, then a few practices at cutting down with the sword and than it is on to the angle cut done by holding the blade above ones head moving it to the right then cutting down to the left. this is what we are going to do to cut the tatami mat. After our practice as a group we were told to sit down and the teacher proceeded to show us how to cut through a tatami mat, which he did with ease. Next it was our turn to cut a thinner mat than the teacher. First a Canadian who managed okay. I was next and really enjoyed the three cuts through the mat, feeling some of the that focus I learned in the years I studied karate come back into my mind. Next the other Canadian successful with the first cut but the next two the sword getting stuck half way through the mat. it’s actually not as easy as it looks. I bet the local mat maker really loves this place.
Friday 14 September 2018
On the train again I headed out to Bunkyo City to the headquarters of Kodokan Judo. Established in Kano Jigoro in 1882 and still going, unlike many other martial arts in Japan, particularly karate – which through poor management and lack of foresight have had splits over the years with students breaking away from their masters and starting their own form or style, the master not leaving a legacy. Kodokan now owns and occupies an 8 storey building with a large number of Dojos (training halls). There is even accommodation for dedicated students. THey also have a Dojo just for international students, some dedicated practitioners live in the accommodation that they also provide. Unfortunately I was unable to visit these areas but enjoyed viewing the Judo museum in the building which displayed many photos of past masters who’s dedication and management has kept the practice going for over 130 years. On the 8th floor is a stadium whcih looks down on a large matted are where competition takes place.
After a train journey back to Shinagawa and a short walk to the hotel I enjoyed a light lunch overlooking a nice garden before heading to the airport with Sylvia for our flight to Singapore.