I’m writing this at 6:22am in my hotel room in Seoul, which is in a hotel that is right next to the conference centre, to the point where you don’t have to go out of doors to get from one to the other. I’ve just had a good night’s sleep, even though in French time (which is what I was used to until the day before yesterday — if that concept still means anything) my entire night has been during the day time, and now is about the time I’d be thinking of going to bed. I feel a bit strange, and I may have trouble staying awake during an opening ceremony that lasts several hours and then a pretty full programme of talks later in the day. But during the latter I’ll be taking notes in order to be able to blog about them in reasonable detail, so at least I’ll have something to keep my brain from relaxing too much.
The flight over was not exactly fun — a night flight never is — but I watched two passable films, got a little bit of work done, missed out on the hot towels (which was good news because it meant I must have been properly asleep), and had possibly the best inflight meal of my life. The last was probably a well-known dish but it happened not to be known to me. I had a choice between beef, chicken, and bibimbap, with the first two being western and the third Korean. That was a no-brainer, but when I asked for the bibimbap I was given not just the bibimbap itself but a leaflet explaining how to assemble it. The steps were as follows.
1. Please put the steamed rice into the “Bibimbap” bowl.
2. Add gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste).
Spicy level 1. (Mild): 1/2 of tube.
Spicy level 2. (Hot): Full tube.
3. Add sesame oil.
4. Mix the “Bibimbap” together.
5. Enjoy the “Bibimbap” with side dish and soup.
I squeezed out almost all the tube of hot pepper sauce and the result was pleasantly hot without threatening to be painful. It was also delicious and substantial. The soup, which I think may have been seaweed soup, was also very good.
I now regret choosing omelette for breakfast when I could have had something called rice porridge, which also looked interesting. (The omelette wasn’t.)
The one other notable thing about the flight was that the plane was so vast that it took off before it felt as though it had picked up enough speed to do so. It also satisfied the “law of turbulence”: that no matter how big a plane is, it gets buffeted about just as much as any other plane. I wonder if there is some scaling law there: for instance, the faster you go, the more dramatic the changes in pressure and wind direction, or something like that.
Seoul was fairly similar to what I expected, though a bit more spread out perhaps. My impression of the place is gleaned from just one bus journey (over an hour) from airport to hotel. Maybe I’ll have more to say about it later.
When I arrived, I immediately went to register. That was quick and efficient, and I picked up my unusually tasteful conference bag, which resembles a large handbag. I had a choice between black and brown, and went daringly for the latter. It had the usual kinds of things in it, with one exception: no notepad. (For the younger generation out there, that means a number of sheets of paper conveniently joined together, rather than some kind of tablet computer.) That will make my note-taking work slightly harder, but I’ll think of something.
The first event of the ICM was an opening reception, which took place in a huge room in the conference centre. There was an extraordinary amount of food there, and also beer, which was very welcome. The food was good, and some of it interestingly Korean, but it didn’t quite reach the heights of the bibimbap (or should that be “Bibimbap”?).
Although I’m not strictly forced to leave the hotel, I’m not sure I’m ready to pay $40 for breakfast, so I’m going to nip out quickly and try to find some coffee and a bun or something like that. I noticed from the bus that there were lots of quite promising looking coffee places: it will certainly be a bonus if, as looks as though will be the case, Korea is a country where one can get a good cup of coffee. And then it’s off to the opening ceremony. More later.
Actually, more sooner, because I’ve just remembered that I was going to mention an amusing story that I was told at the reception yesterday. Apparently the Pope is visiting Korea, and asked for an audience with the president today. And the president told him that he would have to wait till tomorrow, because today she was otherwise occupied. It’s heartening to know that mathematics takes precedence over the Catholic church.
And slightly more again: I have a bit of battery left on my laptop, which I was allowed to bring into the opening ceremony. As was advised, I got here very much earlier than the start time, which makes an already long ceremony a significant chunk longer. We’ve been treated to Beatles songs arranged for some Korean instrument that I don’t know the name of — it looks a bit like a lyre but sits horizontally on the lap. Meanwhile, it seems that the names of the Fields Medallists have, disappointingly, been leaked. Despite that, I’ve managed to maintain my ignorance. (To be more accurate, I am now certain about three of the names but still don’t know who the fourth person is. We’ll see whether I can avoid learning that before it is announced.)