Day One has Begun!

We have now officially started our Smarter Cities Challenge!! Today was jam-packed starting with departure from our hotel at Phoenix Park at 8:50 AM and ending with our return to the “Big Blue Condo” at 9:30 PM. As we now sit in our team room I am reflecting back on our amazing first day….

Day 1 started like all the others thus far…I went to bed late (I did move bedtime up to 2 AM so I am at least making some progress) waking 3 minutes before my alarm went off. 🙂 Much to my dismay (and only 5 hours of sleep on a VERY hard bed) I swiftly showered and was on my way. Unfortunately no time for a workout as the gym opens at 9 AM in the off season. Breakfast was uneventful and was followed by a short glimpse of the sun…which was unfortunately the only time we saw it all day.

Fortunately these two slight nuances were not enough to put a damper on things. All I can say is DAY 1 WAS AMAZING!!!

Upon our departure from Phoenix Park we headed to the Pyeongchang County office in Pyeongchang Town, located in the southern part of the County. The drive gave us a real glimpse into the agricultural focus of the area. After many windy roads I was quickly reminded of my propensity for getting car sick. Fortunately I survived with no major issue and we arrived safely at the Pyeongchang County office for our first meeting with the Mayor and his team.

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I must say we received the most spectacular welcome! We felt like celebrities as our names were in lights and the paparazzi were out in full force.

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We experienced traditional Korean tea made with ginger and ginseng (one of the local roots of the region). The flavor was like nothing I’ve ever had before…and I think I’m hooked!

Following our meeting with the Mayor, we were escorted to our office and were pleased to find such a warm welcome. I even have my own desk, with my name written in Korean. Oh, and I’m now referred to as “Jo-ey”.  It’s a bit different but I could get used to this as it’s very cute the way it’s said. 🙂

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Lunch was an experience unto itself! We ventured to the Korea Traditional Food Culture Experience Center. We were greeted by the locals and were taken on a thorough tour of the food fermenting facilities and the beautiful surrounding buildings and gardens. I must say, working on an engagement where driving tourism is the focus certainly presents a nice opportunity to sample the local activities.

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One of the processes the Center follows is the fermenting of foods. The fermentation process turns foods into pickles, kimchi, soy sauce and red pepper paste…to name a few. Luckily for us, the tour ended with a lunch where we made bibimbap and dined on traditional Korean foods. I was even complimented again on my use of chop-sticks.  That’s the 2nd time this has happened since my arrival.  I guess it must be odd for an American to have mad chop-stick skills.  I suppose that’s what living in NYC and eating all different kinds of food for 12 years will do for you.  Ha!  What a spectacular experience!! We toasted with sparkling rice wine…yummy!

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Lunch was followed by a tour of two areas of the County that are being developed into rail stations for the new Wonju-Gangneung high speed train that will connect Seoul/Incheon Airport to the Pyeongchang region and the eastern coast. This new train will make the trip possible in 1 hour when it currently takes 5.5 by car or bus.  The biggest adventure of the day was a tour of the 21.7 km Daekwanryong Tunnel. When completed, the tunnel will hold the record as the longest tunnel in South Korea…which is quite an accomplishment and something the South Koreans are VERY proud of. It will have 4 escape tunnels, implementation of the highest construction and safety regulations today and will boast significant economic growth for the region, especially during the Olympics.

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With that we donned our hard hats and facemasks and headed into one of the escape tunnels. 5 km later we arrived at the actual train tunnel. At this point we were 400 m below ground. We observed first hand one of the drills boring out the tunnel. The experience was quite eery but I was in complete awe. It was such an incredible opportunity to be a part of something so BIG and life changing for many in this country.

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Upon our exit we had to stop to hose off the vehicle, prompting us to question the name of our sweet black chariot. For now we have settled on the “BatMobile”. I do however think we can be more creative. We have 3 weeks to figure it out. 🙂

Following the tour we headed to Alpensia. This was an exciting spot for me being the “avid” Colorado skier that I am. Alpensia is best known as a ski resort and tourist destination. Unfortunately there was no opportunity for skiing this time.  Alpensia is one of three major areas where the 2018 Olympic games will be held. I have to admit it was quite cool standing at the top of the Alpensia Ski Jumping Station thinking to myself…”When the 2018 Olympics are on TV…and I’m watching from my living room (as I’m sure a return trip will not be on the books)…I can say – I’ve been there, I know exactly where that is!” 🙂 It truly makes me realize how lucky I am to be on this project!

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The Ski Jump Tower is quite a site to see. There’s actually a lookout at the top of it called the Ski Jump Lounge. It kind of reminded me of the Empire State Building lookout, just quite a bit shorter. Unfortunately we couldn’t see a thing as the fog had rolled in. It was totally bizarre standing on top of a mountain, knowing you “should” be able to see for miles and miles…and when you look out the window you can’t see a darn thing. And I do mean nothing! It was like being in an airplane in the clouds and you can’t even see an inch past the window. Our Korean friends said it’s the worst fog they’ve ever seen. It certainly made driving the 40 minutes back to the condos a bit hairy.

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A meeting with the President of Alpensia Resorts ensued, followed by dinner at Teriyaki…a Japanese restaurant with a Korean twist. I always love fresh seafood…and since we’re so close to the coast (31 km or so)…nigiri and rolls were the way to go! I truly enjoyed spending the evening with my new IBM friends! 🙂

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All in all, I can’t say enough about the hospitality and kindness of the South Korean people we have met. We have been welcomed with open arms. It is abundantly clear we are here to help and our endeavors are much appreciated. If days 2-19 are anything like day 1, I will forever be changed for the better.

Last but not least…Cotswold only made a single appearance today.  I came home to find him pouting for having left him all day.  I guess I’ll have to make it up to him over the weekend.

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To close out for the day…I’ll share a few interesting photos that I took along the way. Mind you I did end up taking 322 photos today. I guess that’s what happens when I bust out the 7D as opposed to the iPhone 5. I always love absorbing a new culture…taking in all the idiosyncrasies and unique things that differentiate us from each other. I hope you get at least a glimpse of the experience we are having. I do believe today was only the beginning!!

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