Life is an HSR

Life is an HSR. (click on the link to view whole text)

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by | April 30, 2015 · 2:56 am

Life is an HSR

When I reached a point 69.375 meters away from the top, I felt like licking the sweat which soaked me. I was thirsty but the snow around me looked dirty. Soil under my feet was slippery and the oxygen bit less than what my lungs expected. My muscles denied any more climbing because the path in front looked steeper than they were agreeable to. But the thoughts of the CEO of Herbnara in Pyeongchang kept me going. A founding member of Samsung, he decided to settle in the small county of Pyeongchang and do farming. But his immensely beautiful farm was devastated twice by the otherwise timid Pyeongchang river and on every occasion he came back stronger than before. We witnessed the Herbnara farm in its current form – a potpourri of the brightest flowers and herbs I have seen for long. The colourful facade of the farm hides the painful history behind it. Besides the flamboyance of the flora, a hidden trove within the Herbnara farm was the gallery dedicated to the memories of how Turkey helped Korea during the Korean war. He also paid his respect to Japan, where he learnt the virtues of profitable community work. Ask the government for support, but get it done yourself … we felt infected by his motto. He also acknowledged the power of Ayurveda, which made me feel proud.

The following photos try to capture the beauty of Herbnara farm. If they fail, it’s a failure of myself as a photographer and not of Herbnara.

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When I dragged my body to the top, I ran out of my breath, but felt happy my fragile body could do something, which seemed impossible minutes back. When I got back my breath, I was so relieved that my troubles seemed so far away. As I started climbing down, I realized that the troubles had just begun. The melting snow made the descent real tricky. I slipped, tumbled, fumbled – the same fate I experienced whenever I tried to converse in Korean. Then there was this uncompromising thorn which marched right through my thick shoe and woollen socks and struck my toe forcing a loud ouch. I climbed the height on two other days after that too, but this time following a more amicable path through a greener turf.

The photo was taken when I was breathless on top of Pyeonghang!

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But this trip to Korea put my ever aching body to more tests. I crouched through narrow openings created by standing stalagmites and hanging stalactites inside a natural limestone cave. Crouching would be an understatement. Literally I pulled my torso on my elbows through those slits like many of the Westerns where the thespian struggles along the ground after being shot. During several such Indiana Jones moments, my back remained obedient and ensured that the low hanging cave roof did not bruise my spine. Can’t extol the obedience of my head, though. It hit the low ceiling several times and left red marks on the pointed edges of the stalactites. Before you start thinking that this blog is getting bloody gory, let me admit that the red marks belonged to my red helmet and not to the liquid that flows through my veins and arteries. Our guide showed that many of my predecessor explorers signed the edges with their red letter too.

The team with one of the iconic stalagmites inside the cave:

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The trip to the sheep farm, or should I say the wind farm, was bit testing too. The windiest place I have ever visited after Cape of Good Hope.

A sheep at the sheep farm (did you expect a tiger?). The picture does not show the wind, of course.

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But the most difficult test was the Korean breakfast, lunch and dinner. A supreme exercise of the mandibles. A wave of food items would go on hitting you one after another and you would be left guessing when did the course start and when it ended. A variety of Kimchis, sashimis, meat, soups, salads, leaves, garlic, pepper, rice or noddles or both would be served with utmost care. The Korean cuisine combined with the courtesy deserves thousand bows. But I would not put my body to that suicidal test. When we finished off such a sumptuous dinner in Seoul, I was sure of left snoring at the theatre, which was planned as our last team activity. But the traditional Korean opera combined with modern narrative and extravagance was such entertaining, that there was not a single dull moment to allow me snoring. The colourful dresses, the enviable exuberance of youthful actors and the mind blowing drumbeats was a perfect parting gift from Ji-Hyun and Sunny.

50% of a typical Korean meal.

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At the end of the three weeks at Pyeongchang, I can only say that life is an HSR. I did not know what the acronym stood for before joining this project. Many of my friends, who have an HSR in their country were not aware of the acronym too. So I can be forgiven. So as readers of this blog, who are still guessing what an HSR is. HSR stands for High Speed Rail, the sharp-nosed iron reptile that has changed the fortunes of many countries either way. Seven of us started as strangers on a mission to help seventeen (?) other strangers to solve an enigma. Now, after three weeks of running together, we are a team of ten good friends – India, US, Korea, Canada, Spain all under an umbrella of camaraderie. The three weeks took us from one station to another like an HSR, till we all parted on 24th evening leaving some drops of tears on all eyes. Let’s accept the reality. Life is like hopping stations, some strangers would become friends, some friends would remain strangers, some friends would stay longer, some till the end, some would say goodbye even before time permits for a hallo … the Korean sojourn reminded me the story of life. Stepaaaani, Joyee Row, Mr. Natural in Nature, Mr. Mayor of Spain, Sunny, the Lady Boss, Mr. GinSeng-in-Alcohol-for-10-years, Mr. Drummer, Jangya Mr. Jang, “Mr Kim-Mr Park- Mr Lee” … we might never meet again … but your stories would remain with my family for generations.

One of the many moments that built the team.

11174972_910251052371767_5573758817901725736_nV2The Pyeongchang county marquee summarised the secret recipe of the team.

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D-Day

It’s Wednesday night…our final presentation with the Mayor is tomorrow. Our presentation is done…our report is submitted for review…now we just have to deliver our presentation and go through all the formalities of the day…and boy are there a lot.

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We will be up bright and early for a 7:45 AM departure. I think the group consensus is we all feel pretty good. We’re very pleased with our presentation and we feel very good about our recommendations.

It’s going to be a very packed day and more of the apprehension for me is that we’re nearing the end of our journey.

It’s amazing how fast it’s flown by. The first week actually seemed like it went on forever. We were in interviews constantly. We were stressed about getting it all done in three weeks time. We were still getting to know one another and things weren’t quite jelling just yet.

As we moved into week 2 we were getting into our stride…although we were stressing quite a bit about running out of time. Once we put a stake in the ground we started to make progress and things seemed to ease up a bit.

This past weekend was when we knew we had it under control. There was a lot of work to do and we knew we would get it done. And we did!

But that means we only have 2 more nights together as a team…and that makes me sad! I packed up my things in the teamroom tonight thinking this may be the last time I’ll be in there working. We’ll be at the County offices all day tomorrow and we leave for Seoul on Friday morning. I’m also wondering when I’m going to pack??!!

The relationships I’ve built the last three weeks will stay with me forever. We have all extended a warm welcome to each other for visits…I’m not sure if they will all happen but we will try.

I guess I’m going to have to figure out a way to do a whirlwind tour to Kolkata, Madrid, Vancouver, New Jersey and back to Korea in the future. I’m sure I can work something out…

I took a stroll with the girls yesterday…me, Stephanie and Sunny. It was so nice…just us…hiking up a forest trail, chatting and huffing and puffing along the way. Relaxing…taking a short break from the craziness of sitting in the teamroom writing, updating, re-writing, updating…again and again.

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The trees are starting to get their spring buds and the flowers are in bloom. It really is beautiful here!

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We were lucky enough to have a break to enjoy a nice massage. Whoa what a difference 90 minutes makes!!! And what better way to finish after the massage…with some yummy “kitty” tea. Don’t worry, it really had nothing to do with kitties. :-)

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Ji-Hyun treated us to a nice dinner last night at the Kensington Flora Hotel. As we’ve done a pretty good job of not spending too much money…with several meals cooked in-house and several meals not eaten at all (as we’ve been eating SO much), Ji-Hyun spoiled us with a nice meal out. She even made us sit in these chairs. Haha! :-)

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We had several courses as usual (but not nearly as many as the traditional Korean meals). We dined on several pickled items, some kind of creamy soup, a main of steak, chicken and shrimp, and a trio of yummy desserts. What better way to prep for our final presentation that to fill our bellies. :-)

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We even had a visit from a local ladybug. Don’t worry…we didn’t eat him! :-)

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The gift shop even had Happy700 and Pyeongchang merchandised items. It does exist!

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The hotel is beautiful both inside and out.

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We ended our evening meandering around the lake and the pool.

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There’s even “glamping” for the faint of heart!

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And there’s nothing like Christmas in April. Haha! Why not!

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After we got back to Phoenix Park we stopped in the teamroom for one more late night dessert of ice cream and the most amazing strawberries I’ve ever had in my life. Ji-Hyun spoiled us yet again! I am ruined forever. :-)

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And with that, it’s time to crash as we have a BIG day tomorrow! Goodnight all…and wish us luck!!

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No Sleep Til….

Pyeongchang!!

Saturday night and all day Sunday led to not much rest. I think I got about 5 hours of sleep Saturday night and only 2 hours of sleep Sunday night. This is what the Phoenix Park ski hills looked like at 5 AM Monday morning. It really was quite lovely.

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I ended up taking ownership of the charts and worked diligently to pull everything together with the same look and feel in preparation for our dress rehearsal on Monday. Shew! Was it exhausting!

Don’t get me wrong…I was happy to do it! I thrive on this kind of thing…“perfection.” Anyone who knows me well…or even partially…knows I’m a bit anal. Especially when it comes to deliverables…and especially when it comes to the customer.

Sunny translated to Korean and the presentation looked amazing! It was truly a team effort. Everyone brings a unique experience and special touch to their part of the content and it shows through.

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The presentation Monday went really well. The County was very pleased with our recommendations and stated we are on track. All is well! This time Souvik gained his nickname as “The Dictator”.  He looked so well presented. :-)

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After our practice run we had dinner with our new friends Mr. Lee and Mr. Jeon. We are becoming fast friends. They have shown us so much hospitality, respect and appreciation. We are truly grateful for everything they have done and are happy to call them friends.

We all dined together at a local (and I mean WAY off the beaten path) Korean BBQ duck farm.

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In fact it was the “Ducky Duck Farm.” And was the duck yummy!

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I know I keep saying this after most meals, but I have another new favorite food. This time it’s Korean BBQ with duck. OMG!! SO GOOD! We had several plates and we couldn’t get enough.

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You eat it with all sorts of fixin’s…from soy sauce with ginger, to a touch of sea salt, to plain with baby leeks and onions. All of them were amazing and I couldn’t get enough!  I even had the best kimchi I have had yet. Mmm, mmm, good!

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A couple of boilermakers and LOTS of duck later we departed for our hotel. We joked about hitting the karaoke bar but we were all exhausted. Mr. Jeon did take a quick spin on the mini trampoline.

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And Stephanie made a friend.

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And with my 7 hours of sleep in two nights it was time for bed…I passed out around 10:15 PM Monday and got up around 8:30 AM Tuesday morning. What a difference a day makes…er rather a good night of sleep.

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A Coastal Adventure!

It’s the weekend!!! I can’t tell you how excited I am that it’s Saturday. We all decided to play hooky today and get a much needed break from work and have a little fun. And boy did we have fun!!!

As Sunny’s birthday was Thursday, and we were so swamped with work, we didn’t get to celebrate much so we celebrated again today. We hit some of Sunny’s favorite spots and it was just fine by me.

We started the day bright and early with an 8 AM departure from Phoenix Park. We began our journey towards the east with the ultimate destination being Gangneung (the eastern coast of Korea).

We stopped for an amazing Korean brunch along the way. Fish…kimchi…the traditional fixin’s and “hangover soup.” No hangover to cure but it was still yummy!

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The rare collection of random fermenting alcohol greeted us on our way out. I’m not really sure if you drink it…and I wasn’t quite up for finding out.

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The restaurant was located on a quaint little street corner across from one of the many beautiful rivers that flow through Pyeongchang. It truly amazes me how much water and how many mountains there are here. You really do feel like you’re in a fairy land.

The bridges are also spectacular. Everywhere you look there’s one…hovering over a meandering stream. It’s majestic!

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And there’s always the local store selling some sort of dried fish. We actually had this in the “hangover soup.” It was quite good.

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Our next stop took us to the Daegwallyeong Samyang Ranch. Located on the hills of Daegwallyeong 850 to 1,470 meters above sea level, Samyang Ranch is the largest highlands farm in Asia.

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There are so many attractions at this place, it was hard to keep track. Such an amazing experience as there was something new to enjoy every time you turned around.

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We got to get up close and personal with some very LARGE windmills. And boy were they spectacular. I’ve only ever seen them from far away and to be up close to them made me feel so small.

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The sound as the wind “whooshes” by you as the huge blades pushes through the air was amazing! I really can’t describe the sound or how it felt to be near them.

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Cotswold was actually a little scared but braved the “blow you over” breeze and the “bitter” cold for a quick photo shoot. I totally get why these things are located on the top of tall mountains!!

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There are lots of different animals at the Ranch, including a special area for the sheep, known as the Daegwallyeong Sheep Farm. This is the only sheep farm in Korea, so we were pretty lucky to have visited.

Apparently 200 sheep graze leisurely on vibrant green pastures spanning over 204,960 square meters…but they weren’t out today. Just the little buggers who greeted us with warm “bleets” and a smile.

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We also ran into some ostriches who greeted us in anticipation of being fed. Alas, we had nothing so they lost interest pretty quickly.

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I have to say, the cow was the biggest hit of them all! Ji-Hyun was lucky enough to ride shotgun. Now two members of our team have ridden cows during our journey.

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Throughout our visit to the farm we strolled the trails enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. We’re all really starting to get close…it still amazes me how close we’ve become in just 2 short weeks.

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We ended our glorious adventure at the Ranch with one last photo. Moo!

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Our next stop took us to all the way east to Gangneung. This is the site of the Coastal Cluster for the 2018 Winter Olympics. You can certainly tell the Olympics are coming! There are signs and Olympic rings everywhere.

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Oh and there are cherry blossoms too!!! YIPPEE!! We were so excited! The past few days we’ve seen several blossoms starting to come out but we hadn’t seen any this full yet. And this was pushing the end of the blooming season.

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It was truly beautiful!

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Our visit to Gangneung also provided a visit to the beach. I honestly have never thought about a beach in Korea, but considering a darn good amount of the country is surrounded by water it makes sense. I’m hardly good at geography in my own country let alone 7,000 miles away. :-)

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The beach was stunning! I see why people come here in the summertime. The sand is pristine and the beaches are surrounded by the most beautiful evergreen trees. No palm trees here.

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Of course there are evergreen trees, and then the random “large metal tree” of the steel variety.

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The group took a group shot to prove we were there. Notice Justin is missing. He decided to abandon us for his bike ride and a trip around Pyeongchang town. We did send him on his way with his letter in tow. Fortunately he had no issues and joined us back at the hotel later in the afternoon.

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We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. Again, the food was fantastic! There’s just so much to try…I don’t think I’ll ever get to experience it all.

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Buckwheat noodles in a kimchi broth. Yummy! Honestly I have never been a big fan of kimchi, but I’ve never had kimchi like I have had in Korea. I think I’m hooked. I’m just not quite sure I’ll be able to get anything like it at home.

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Following lunch we made our last stop of the day. Sunny’s favorite…Terarosa Coffee.

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This place was spectacular! The building itself was nestled in the woods…right across the road from the beach. It was made up of mostly windows so everywhere you looked you could see nature outside.

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Besides the view the coffee and snacks were great! Pain au chocolat and a cappuccino. Yummy!

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Oh and a little coffee purchase as well. Rookie mistake on my part. Each bag (which was less than a pound of beans) was KRW 22,000. OYE!! That’s about $22 per bag. Alas. I’m going to enjoy it when I get home. Vince – get ready for some yummy coffee!

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We sat on the 2nd floor balcony and enjoyed our coffee, snacks and good conversation. The laughter was in abundance…as it seems to be much of the time these days.

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We all really do get on very well and I swear I’ve laughed more these past 2 weeks than I have in a long time. Don’t get me wrong…I laugh a lot in my regular life, but we’ve laughed A LOT!!! Antonio enjoyed a little smell of the purchased roast.

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Alas, after our coffee we headed back to our hotel. Time to get to work and get ready for our dress rehearsal with the County. We need to prepare our final presentation for review with them on Monday with our final presentation on Thursday. We also have to write our findings and recommendation report all by Wednesday evening. No pressure! Ha! It was definitely worth it to get out a bit today as we have a ton of work to do. But we all needed the break! And it was well worth it.

Time to sign off for now…lots of work to do before the week starts. Goodnight!

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A Bumpy Ride!

I woke up this morning in a bit of a funk. I actually got 8 hours of sleep, which is more than I’ve gotten any night since we’ve been here. I think the lack of exercise, the overall exhaustion, the stress of the project and missing my family has finally taken it’s toll. Given all of this…the gorgeous sunny day brightened my mood and I was able to take a little bit of “me” time today. :-) We also got out in the afternoon for a quick trip to a local market and then a yummy dinner this evening. It was good to be out of the hotel a bit more today than the past few days.

Check out the beautiful blue sky I woke up to! It’s the prettiest I’ve seen since we’ve been here. It’s supposed to be just as nice on Saturday…and we’re taking a little break from work so I’m really looking forward to enjoying the beauty of the day.

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The trees and plants are also starting to bloom so it’s really starting to feel like spring. Of course I’m missing spring at home right now…although it is currently snowing with 10” of snow in the mountains. Too bad I’m not at home skiing, but regardless of feeling a bit out of sorts…there’s honestly no place else I’d rather be right now.

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The remainder of the morning was full of work…work…work. That is why I’m here after all! Fortunately we were able to get out of the office a bit for a visit to a local market. It takes place once every 5 days and we were lucky enough to visit it today. It was truly amazing. There were so many locals selling grains, buckwheat and other yummies for us to enjoy.

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Vince – I was good and didn’t spend too much money. I did get a few surprises for Olivia. :-) She’s going to love her new goodies.

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We picked up some snacks. They’re called ppeongtwigi in Korean, or puffed grain in English. They’re a little sweet but mostly just plain good! We have lots for the team to enjoy…it just may take us all week to eat them. Oh and the whole bag only cost 5,000 Won. That’s about $5. Not too shabby for a large bag of treats!

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There are always so many interesting things to see at open-air markets. I just love all the colors and flavors. And I love experiencing all the sights, sounds and smells. So much fun!

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The team had a blast wandering through the market.

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We saw fresh omija. This was the five taste fruit we had in our tea the other day. It’s amazing how the color of the fruit is so prevalent in the tea.

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Then there was the fish…

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We even made a friend!

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There were even some interesting purchases. Justin and Antonio were eager for 7 year old ginseng…

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Upon our return to Phoenix Park I took a solo stroll through the beautiful grounds. I needed to get out of the teamroom and what better way to do it than to get outside and enjoy the warmth, the sun and the all around beautiful day. I was the only one out there and it was so peaceful and relaxing. Just what I needed to rejuvenate me!!

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During my walk I came across a Mini driving up a hill…

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And 3 random bears in the middle of the ski slope…I’m not really sure what that’s about!

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And lots of beautiful scenery. This is such a beautiful place!! I may never leave.

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After a little more work we headed out to dinner for Korean BBQ. Ji-Hyun has been promising us Korean BBQ for two weeks…and boy did she deliver!!! It was so good. Usually the meat is the appetizer. The wait staff comes around and asks you what you would like for your main course. We had to politely decline!

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The team thoroughly enjoyed dinner…

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Upon our departure from the restaurant we were intrigued by the incredibly clean elevator. :-)

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At the end of the evening we made our plans for Saturday. We’re all heading to Gangneung to see the coast. Justin has decided to go off on his own to do a long bike ride. Given that he is braving the wilderness all by himself we equipped him with a survival note just in case. It translates to “Hello, I am Justin. I am lost. Ji-Hyun Sunny. Please call to them. Thank you! <heart>“ Justin was much amused!

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It’s a Happy…”Sunny” Day!

Today was Sunny’s birthday! We surprised her first thing this morning when we got to the teamroom. The plan was to have everyone in the teamroom at 8:50 AM to hide. A few of us were here on time, but several of the team ran into Sunny at breakfast and weren’t able to break away. It wouldn’t have worked out well if the team had said “Oh we have to go…uh…we have a prior commitment.”   The good news is it was still a huge surprise.

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Sunny was happily surprised. :-) Cake #1 and flowers gave her a big smile.

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After the birthday celebration we kicked it into high gear doing final preparations for our review meeting this afternoon with the County. We met at a different office from where we have normally been meeting. We were fortunate enough to experience yet another area of Pyeongchang County as met in the village of Daehwa. The cherry blossoms are just starting to bloom in this area and it was beautiful.

During the meeting we positioned our recommendations at a high level. The good news is…we are on the right path. :-)

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Our gracious hosts even presented us with strawberries that were freshly picked this morning. They heard that we like them and they wanted us to enjoy yet another authentic Korean experience. We’re getting spoiled again!!

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Our afternoon meeting was graciously interrupted by a County official who wanted us to join him for tea. And what amazing tea it was! I have to say I’m truly hooked on all the tea. Although I’m sure I won’t be able to get any of the teas back home.

This one was made from jujube, some kind of organism that grows on the branch and something else I can’t remember. Jujube is a red fruit with a crispy texture, edible skin and a sweet-tart, apple-like flavor. It has positive medical properties that help lower blood pressure, reverse liver disease, treat anemia and inhibit the growth of tumor cells that can lead to leukemia. I’m SOLD!!

The tea itself was brewed in a kettle on top of a very large metal oven that was literally placed in the middle of the room. It was explained to us that this was the only government office in the County where they are able to make this kind of tea due to the metal oven. I’m realizing now that I should have taken a photo. Shame on me. :-)

After the conclusion of our meeting we departed for yet another amazing dinner!! Tonight’s ingredient of choice was buckwheat. Mmmm!!!!

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We started with drinks (oh boy!)…and in the Korean culture you MUST drink when your host gives you a drink. Fortunately we had buckwheat noodles which helped with the alcoholic intake. :-)

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The end of our meal presented us with the broth that the buckwheat noodles were cooked in. Apparently this is quite a treat as this kind of buckwheat noodles are only found here and in Nepal. And it was so good! I think I’m going to be in Korean cuisine withdrawal when I get back to Denver.

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Sunny was also presented with cake #2. Lucky girl! She gets to make 2 wishes today.

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It still amazes me how the food just keeps coming and you really don’t seem to get that full. It’s all about pacing yourself. And we still haven’t had Korean BBQ. I’m told that’s on the agenda for the weekend. :-) It’s definitely one of my favorites, but I can’t complain about anything we’ve had thus far. We have eaten so well and I swear I’ve gained weight. Ha!

This time we even got to sit on the floor!  What fun!!  It truly makes the experience much more enjoyable and relaxed.  It was a great ending to another amazing day!

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After a wonderful dinner we bid adieu to our Korean client who are becoming our friends. Justin made a lovely toast and the emotional person I am got teary eyed.

So goes the amazing experiences in this beautiful country! We are again so fortunate to be here…the friendships we are forming among our team as well as with our new Korean colleagues will stay with us forever.

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