Yesterday, Monday, was the first full day of the conference. There was an opening ceremony which was quite something. First of all, you need the setting, which is a very large room, with a very high roof, a stage, a large (6mx6m?) screen on either side of the stage. Then, halfway down the room (because by that point the speaker is a smudge in the distance), there were another two large screens for the benefit of the back half of the room.
We started with 12 women in zooty outfits playing the o-go-mu, the 5 drum dance. Here is a youtube video of what it sort of looked like: Ogomu. Very impressive. I was in the second row of this huge room, so close to the action. I forget the order of the speeches which followed, but the drumming was followed by:
a speech by the president of the ICMI (International Commission for Mathematics Instruction)
a speech by the obviously Very Important Person boss of the conference
a speech by the Mayor of Seoul
a speech by the Minister of Education, Science and Tecnology
and a recorded welcoming speech by the President of South Korea.
You hear what I've been saying about big pond? Forget pond, this is an ocean.
The president of S.Korea is very passionate about maths. Apparently he tried to get this conference in Seoul back when he was a mere Mayor of Seoul. He is delighted that it has finally happened, maths is the engine of civilisation, etc. He got quite poetical. He looked quite sweet. He's probably as scary as hell in real life.
Then there were the awards. A whole major thing was made out of this, 4 big time awards were given out: two for "conistent and outstanding lifetime achievement" and 2 for "developing a theoretcially well-conceived and highly coherent research programme which has had a significant impact on the community". I know one of the lifetime achievement winners. I have yet to have my five minutes of NETWORKING with him, though, as there are about 50 million people here and I've only occasionally seen him in the distance. I must, though. My university needs to get its money's worth out of this trip. Each awardee had their praises sung (not literally, although if the organisers had thought of it ...), were presented with medals, certificates and flowers by the Minister of Education, Science and Technology and had their pictures taken by all of Korea's major and minor news outlets. I swear there were 50 photographers at this shindig. Small cameras, big ones, still and moving, on tripods and not, right up to the two huge, probably tv, cameras on platforms at the back of the hall. And if I'd got up and walked across in front of these almost-crown-wearing dignataries, it would have been damn rude. But do it with a camera in your hand, looking official, and it's fine. Like Johnny, of Johnny and the Dead fame, who says you can get in anywhere if you simply say you're doing it for a school project.
Finally, the ceremony ended with four songs, sung by four terribly cute young Korean men in tuxedos. The first was a jolly Christian number (?!), the second a passionate rendition of My Way, the third an equally passionate rendition of O Sole Mio, and the fourth a perky Korean number which was apparently a modern remix of a beloved classic. Altogether it was moderately overwhelming.
After that there was a dull pleanary and then lunch. I adventurously went to a place with not forks (!) only chopsticks (!) and had a spicy pork thing on rice. It was accompanied by strange things, but none of them seemed to have eyes, so that was a relief. (Sorry, I'm a recoverer from Korean-food-induced-anxiety, be patient.) Then there was a choice of talks during the afternoon and then more free beer. Then I went home.
Today there was a really great plenary, in which I learned that the first of this series of conferences (1982? not sure) had as the invited speakers Georg Polya and Jean Piaget. OMG. There's my thesis right there. You know, I'm not sure I'd come to one of these conferences again because they're really stupidly big, but the density of big names is amazing. I had to choose this afternoon between four or five major speakers. It's a very rich conference in that sense, and that is what would bring me back.
Anyway, after the plenary was the bit I was dreading, chairing a specialised group. It was ... okay. Not a disaster, but pretty dull. We had 3 speakers instead of the expected 2 because one appeared out of the woodwork when we thought she'd withdrawn. That was ok, I suppose. Then I had to encourage discussion and the people just would not talk. Blood from a stone. The 2 from Ireland spoke, the one from Germany and a Canadian dude at the front. Oh and 1 Korean person joined in for a bit. The rest of the room (25 people?) sat in silence. 1 dropped off to sleep. It was not so great. Tomorrow in our session we have a panel. I just need to be there and ask at least one intelligent question. I'm sure I'm up to that.
I had lunch with my fellow co-chair! This is extremely exciting. She's a VIP and a really nice one too. I did not fall at her feet and lick her shoes, nor did I cry, nor did I tell her I was not worthy. Instead I did my best to sound capable and intelligent and hope like hell I pulled it off. And! I paid for lunch. Lunch was a seafood buffet where I even ate stuff I could not identify. One roll had gelatinous small spheres inside it, which I'll try not to think about too much.
Then I did that choosing between fabulous speakers thing mentioned above, chose a good one, was one of the two thirds who got a seat, the rest sat on the floor. Then I attended an excruciating talk. Countries could apply to do a national presentation, where their general maths educational system, curriculum, etc. would be explained. There were 5 (Spain, India, USA, Singapore, Korea) and I went to USA. I know a fair bit about US curricula, know they're undergoing some radical changes in their maths Standards right now, and want to keep up. The content was interesting, but oh the delivery. Oh boy. 90 minutes of reading from pieces of paper while my headache got worse and worse. I learned interesting stuff. Sigh.
Then I admitted that my pounding headache was only getting worse and left early (not mising anything vital). I'm getting some serious exercise this week. Perhaps all this walking to and from public transport is what keeps these Korean people so slim. They're an attractive bunch, in general. I've seen a few sour faced old ladies, I think every culture has them, but on the whole they're really lovely people to look at. And the toddlers! Korean toddlers are indescribably cute. I can see why you wanted one, bumpycat!
Oh, there's a Totoro shop here. Full of very cute and expensive things which presumably have a totoro theme of which I am ignorant. If you are one of my friends who likes that sort of thing, let me know and I'll browse and tell you prices. I saw small fluffy toys for >R200 and keyrings for >R100 and wandered out again, but you may draw the line in a different place.
This is a very long post, isn't it? Pity I don't know how to do that "behind the cut" thing. Sorry for swamping your friends page. Soon I'll be back in ZA and this blog will return to its usual state.