Welcome to President Elect Jacqui and District Governor Tony who tell a little something about their experiences at the 2016 Rotary International Convention in Seoul as our programme for week commencing 16th June, 2016
Seoul is a massive city, with the core population being 10 million, but the Greater Seoul Area is about 40 million. The maps of the city give no idea of the actual size as what appears to be around the corner is 5 kilometres away.
As a modern city the road network has been developed to cope with the volume of traffic with most roads being eight lanes wide. The bus network was immense (Hyundai buses of course) and there is a metro system with about fifteen lines.
Jacqui had done a great deal of research and our hotel was situated within a ten-minute taxi ride from the Convention Centre at Kintex in Goyang City (a suburb of Seoul). Rotarians staying in the Rotary approved hotels had an hour and a quarter bus ride each morning to the Convention Centre. The locals considered where we were staying in Gimpo as rural, as the area had been developed with groups of high-rise apartments with areas of market gardening and agriculture in between.
The people were very friendly, although very few spoke English. We were recognised wherever we went and one day the local developer said good morning to me and invited me in to have a coffee. He had been educated in England and wanted to try his English again. He told me that they were developing the area into a “Little Venice” and there was already a picturesque canal walk behind the row of shops. They were investing in having a light railway system to be in place by 2018 to line with the metro at Gimpo Airport (the older of the two airports in Seoul). The shopkeepers were all keen to do business and it was noticeable that if we went anywhere for a second time they always gave us a little gift. We had been in one restaurant twice and the owner gave us gifts of smoked hard-boiled eggs when we left.
We spent the early days sight seeing and getting to know our way into the city. They have a T card that is equivalent of an Oyster Card in London. These cards were useable on the buses, metros and with some taxis. We went on the open topped bus trip and were dropped off outside Namdemum Market. This is a thriving place with numerous stalls and many places to eat local food. We duly tried one of the stalls and the two dishes cost us the equivalent of £6. We tried valiantly to use chop sticks and a spoon much to the delight of the locals but the owner soon showed me it was quite all right to use the spoon by trying to feed me like a baby.
We also spent an afternoon at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, where we met our first Rotarian also in Seoul for the Rotary Convention. Both Tony and Jacqui are pictured with the Guards who change twice a day similar to Buckingham Palace.
The first Rotary event we attended was the RIBI organised river trip on the Han river on Friday 27th May where 150 Rotarians from around the world came together to enjoy fellowship but also joined a world greatest meal and raised funds for End Polio Now. The evening was a great success and the raffle raised in excess of £3000 for End Polio Now. Guests included RI Past President Frank Devlyn from Mexico and current RI Director Jennifer Jones from Canada, and it was good to meet up with the other five GB District Governors who were attending the Convention.
On the Saturday there was a Welcome Festival held at the Jamsil area, next door to the Olympic stadium organised by the local Korean Rotarians. This included demonstrations of both Taekwondo and traditional Korean dancing as well as performances by the Korean equivalents of One Direction, Girls Aloud and Little Mix. This was an opportunity to connect with Rotarians from around the world and we were in a section with Rotarians from Argentina and Egypt.
The Convention opened on the Sunday with an address from RI President Ravi, together with the parade of flags by Rotoractors representing all the countries where Rotary is represented. It was quite amazing that over 46,000 Rotarians had come together to celebrate Rotary. Clearly there were a great number of Asian attendees, with the Japanese being in large numbers on day one but mainly disappearing for the next three days of the Convention. The Asians were very keen in attending in Districts/Clubs and in many cases seemed to be wearing uniforms.
The Secretary General of the United Nations Ban-ki-Moon praised Rotary for their work worldwide.
Clearly the message for the Convention was the fight against Polio as a key objective for Rotary this year and speakers highlighting the issues of Child Slavery. The good news on Polio is that the Pakistani Government is now fully behind the immunisation programme and that in Pakistan and Afghanistan there have only been sixteen new cases of wild polio this year. We are so close to fulfilling our promise, but we will still need to ensure there are no outbreaks of polio for three years post the last case being announced.
The speakers also spoke about the examples of child slavery worldwide and how to tackle the issues. In some instances the examples were horrifying and we do need to challenge practices in some parts of the world. A particular success has been that thanks to Hope and Homes for Children, the practice of keeping orphans in cots has virtually been eliminated. The current CEO Mark Waddington was a compelling speaker.
Another lasting memory of the Convention was the number of young Rotarians there are in the world from both Asia and Africa. The Europeans, Americans and Japanese are noticeably of an older generation.
We were also able to meet friends from the Rotary E Club of Francophone who although based around Marseilles were sponsored by a New Zealand District. I have had the experience of joining two of their meetings on line, when they were addressed by RI Director Jennifer Jones from Windsor, Ontario, Canada and when t. They use Zoom technology and the Jennifer Jones meeting brought together 65 Rotarians worldwide. You are able to see everyone on screen. The club also broadcast daily from the Convention and I include a picture of Past RI President Gary Huang speaking to a meeting on line from the Convention.
The E Club also had a great party on the Monday evening when all the people we recognised came together. They carry out joint projects worldwide and certainly are not virtual and carry out a great deal of good in the world. This E Club celebrated it’s fifth birthday at the convention where Rotarians including seven District Governors enjoyed a night of fellowship, fun and singing!
The experience has been terrific and I would encourage all Rotarians if they have the opportunity to go to a RI Convention. The next one to be held in Europe will be Hamburg in 2019. Next year’s Convention is in Atlanta 10th – 14th June 2017. The Convention Chairman is Robert Hall who was the RI Representative at the Warwick District Conference in 2015. He sends his regards to Rotarians in District 1100 he met and he hopes that we will make the effort to go to Atlanta. Jacqui and I are already booked. Come and join the party!