Around the World, 2004:

South Korea

I think most people are aware that Samsung sponsor at Crufts and probably find it a little strange that a company that, as far as we’re concerned, makes home electronics specifically televisions, videos and mobile phones etc would sponsor probably the most well known and biggest dog show in the world.  So we did find it intriguing when at Crufts 2003 Samsung approached Mary to ask her if she would be prepared to go to South Korea to do some dog training at their canine centre.  Of course we have all heard and seen the bad press about dogs in South Korea, but we were assured by not only Samsung but other people as well that they were trying to change the South Korean outlook to dogs and we now realise they have done it on a magnificent scale.

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All this of course has been driven by the chairman of Samsung, Mr Kun-Hee Lee.  He has dogs himself and he is behid the sponsorship at Crufts.  He firmly believes that having a better understanding and love of dogs will make the South Koreans better people.  Over ten years ago he decided that he was going to build a canine centre and also an equine centre.  We didn’t see the equine centre as we didn’t have time but I can tell you that we were absolutely astounded when they took us to the canine centre.  It is the most magnificent facility we have ever seen and I think are ever likely to see.  The facilities are to die for.  We were told what the budget was, which I won’t repeat, but I’m a cynical devil and Mary says I get more cynical as I get older but in the six days that we were there I was looking to see if there was a profit in it anywhere for Samsung and there just isn’t.  In this day and age, it is heart-warming to realise that profit doesn’t drive everything and the motives behind this operation were purely the love and promotion of dogs.

Although we did try to make it in 2003, none of our dates would come together with Samsung so at Crufts 2004 Samsung asked Mary to go to see them, to see if they could make a firm arrangement for this year.  And we had already booked a two-week trip to Australia followed by a week in New Zealand so perhaps with a little reluctance, Mary agreed that when we left New Zealand we would call into South Korea (if you can call it that), and spend a few days there.  Our reluctance was obviously only because we would be away from home for four weeks in total and of course this meant that we wouldn’t be seeing our dogs for four weeks.  This is probably a good time to mention that if we had to leave our dogs in kennels commercially, we would not even be going away for three weeks and that’s not just about the cost of the kennels it’s about the fact that we wouldn’t want our dogs to be in kennels for that length of time.  But for the last five or six years we have been very very fortunate in having someone come into the house to live while we were away.  That person is Shirley Turner who owns Tina, the little Sheltie that Mary won the Agility Championships with at Crufts last year.  Plus to make things even better, when we moved house last year the house we bought had a small one-bedroom annex attached to it so Mary’s sister moved in and rented it from us.  So we had two house/pet sitters.

It was an overnight flight from Auckland to Seoul and we arrived at around 5:00 am.  We always like flying on Asian airlines and in this instance Samsung had booked Korean Air but all the Asian airlines are the same and the service is absolutely second-to-none.  The stewards and stewardesses seem so pleased to see you and cater to your every whim.  And although we received good service on the outward journey with BA, it’s still just not the same as the Asian airlines.

We were collected at the airport by Bruce and Jennifer, both senior trainers at the canine centre and taken straight through the manic rush hour traffic of Seoul to the Novotel in the city centre.  A little bit grander than the Novotels we see in this country; in fact it was more like a five star hotel than the ones we’re used to, so we did get the idea that the hospitality was going to be good, which turned out to be an understatement.  We had a restful morning before they came to collect us to go shopping in the afternoon and this is the part of Asia we both love, down the side streets, into the markets, shopping with the locals.  We hadn’t changed any money into the local currency yet which is called the Won, so we borrowed some from Jennifer and we did feel like millionaires – I think we spent something like 90,000 Won which in Sterling came to around £50.  As they say, we could have spent a lot more as everything was as “cheap as chips” and the quality of some of the handicrafts was excellent.  Seoul itself is an extremely busy city with a mixture of traditional Asian and modern city buildings with an abundance of street vendors, which makes shopping more like an expedition of discovery!

That evening, a dinner had been arranged and hosting the dinner at what we were told was the best Italian restaurant in Seoul was the director of the whole canine centre, George Choi, along with Jennifer and Bruce, and after the meal I can understand why they call it the best Italian restaurant in Seoul .  Mary perhaps didn’t get the full benefit as she had a bit of a funny tummy on the first day but I certainly appreciated it although we did have a fairly early night because on the Thursday morning we were due to visit the canine centre for the first time.

Mary’s role whilst she was in South Korea was going to be training the trainers, mainly Heelwork to Music because they had the canine centre homecoming day on the Sunday which I will explain more about later where Mary was to be guest of honour and the trainers were going to give an HTM demonstration.  We were collected from the hotel early and went straight to the canine centre which is about 45 minutes from the centre of Seoul .  On the journey to the centre with Bruce who had collected us, I did make the mistake of asking if Samsung was a very large company in South Korea and was absolutely amazed at the answer I got – as a company they represent something like 25% of the South Korean economy and apart from all the goods that we’re used to seeing with a Samsung name on, their businesses include the fact that they are one of the biggest semi conductor manufacturers in the world, they have a fashion shop chain, hotels, museum, car racing circuit, golf club, building company, agricultural company, landscaping business and the seventh largest theme park in the world which is called Everland which alone gets seven million visitors a year and is the biggest outdoor attraction in South Korea.  And just to emphasise that fact, we drove past Everland on the way to the canine centre which is, relatively speaking, next door.

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We had a very specific programme which had been printed out for each day and on arrival at the centre, which is set in thousands of acres of forest, we were introduced to Mr John Kim, Vice President of International Relations, who gave us an introductory talk and we watched a video of the centre.  I think for most of the first day we were absolutely stuck for words; although we had been told what a magnificent place it was, whatever you said would have been an understatement.

After our introductory video, we set off on our walking tour.  Every separate area of the centre is set in its own grounds with its own offices in modern low-rise buildings with its own brand new kennels for any dogs that are attached to that centre.  And every facility we looked at had what looked like brand new infrastructure.  The first stop was the Veterinary Centre.  They have several full-time vets and nurses, fully equipped operating rooms, laboratory, scanners, x-rays, in fact everything your local vet would probably like to have was here.

Next stop was the Guide Dog Centre and we were given a personal tour by the director of the centre,.  He has spent some time in the UK but has had most of his training, along with the rest of the staff, in New Zealand where they have an extremely successful organisation on a par with our own organisation in the UK .  The centre has its own kennelling attached and they cover the complete spectrum, from breeding the puppies, puppy walking and training to an extremely high standard.  They even have their own training area just like we see at the demonstrations at Crufts with all the obstacles set up in it and they are the only organisation in South Korea to provide guide dogs.  To date, they have placed 56 guide dogs in homes and there are in excess of one hundred people on the waiting list.  And not only do the staff look after the initial training, they also have a team who provide a full aftercare service once the dogs are homed.

The next stop was the Search and Rescue facility.  As we know, Asia has more than its fair share of earthquakes and disasters and in 1998 Samsung decided that they would add a full time search and rescue centre to the facility and as usual no expense was spared.  They now have the finest disaster simulated training area in Asia and a crack team ready to fly anywhere in the world at a moments notice to assist in rescues and of course unlike the organisations in the UK they do not have the problems of quarantine.  The team was a major part of the rescue missions in the recent earthquakes in Japan .  Closer to home, since the team was set up, Samsung have persuaded the South Korean Government to make the inclusion of search and rescue dogs mandatory in each of the provinces of South Korea under the auspices of the regional fire service.  And of course they have trained all the handlers in the use of the dogs as well as training the dogs for them.

It was a little difficult to take in everything that was going on but we didn’t get a chance to rest and think about it because it was on to our next centre which was the Quarantine and Detection Dog Centre.  Here they train dogs for mainly airport/customs use to detect drugs and illegal foodstuffs and although at the moment they are not allowed the real thing in drugs, so use pretend ones, they are hoping this will change as they get a closer working relationship with the customs service to whom they supply some dogs for use at Korean airports.  They are also hoping to move on to explosives detection as well.  Again, the building that housed this section was a smart new detached premises in its own grounds with what looked like brand new indoor/outdoor kennelling attached and we were met by the manager of the centre.  The downstairs of the building consisted of two large training halls and the kennels.  The first hall was empty apart from quite a number of suitcases and they then put on a demonstration such as we sometimes see the customs people do at Crufts, with the dogs searching through the suitcases to find, in this case, foodstuffs.  We then progressed into the next section and were more than a little surprised to find a fully working airport baggage conveyor belt, so they switched it on for us then set a Labrador to work to sniff out the suitcase that had food in it.  Well, it was quite an amazing sight and of course the dog found what he was looking for.

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The next stop on our whistle stop tour was the PAT Dogs and Hearing Dogs for the Deaf People Centre.  Again, the manager met us and I won’t go into the details of the centre itself but you probably have a good idea by now and they have a busy programme of homing trained dogs with deaf people in South Korea with a waiting list and also support a PAT dog programme similar to the one in the UK although I believe they are not allowed to actually call it PAT dog.  We were given a demonstration of their hearing dogs and went upstairs and walked through a door to a large balcony and below us was a fully fitted South Korean apartment with everything you would expect including front door, back door, kitchen area, bathroom, lounge and bedroom. We were then treated to a live demonstration of one of the trainers being woken by the alarm, telephone, front door etc.

We were now beginning to wonder what on earth we were going to see next and we hadn’t even reached the training centre at this stage.  And that was our next stop.  This was housed again in a large detached building with superb facilities for the dogs and not only was this the general dog training centre for Obedience, Agility, Heelwork to Music and Flyball but also it was the breeding centre.  Samsung have a very busy breeding programme and use the very best dogs they can obtain to ensure they only breed the very best puppies and these puppies are available free of charge to any Samsung employee who wants one.  To say the conditions are luxurious would be something of an understatement and as with any of us, there are natural questions you ask one of which is ‘what happens to the dogs?’ and they do limit the puppies to homes in Samsung employee homes.  Also they have a very thorough follow-up programme with home visits, firstly to check that the facilities are good enough to have a dog and secondly to make sure that once a home has taken a dog from the centre he receives the on-going care which we would all expect and part of that process is the homecoming day which I will cover later.  Nearly all the dogs bred are smaller breeds because as with a lot of Asian countries, the majority of the population live in flats and apartments so large breeds are not an option for most people and the trainers who look after the training are also the kennel staff.  And I’m told they have a waiting list of people who actually want to go to work there.  If you’re into dogs, it is a bit of a Utopia.

In the larger breeds, they have quite a few Border Collies most of which have been imported from the UK .  They also breed Jindo dogs which are native dog of South Korea and they actually do some Obedience and Agility with them.

Immediately behind the kennel was a large picturesque paddock.  I presume it used to have grass on it but that had actually been levelled and a tarmac or concrete surface put down then artificial grass on top.  It looked the type of thing used in the main ring at Crufts; non-slip and obviously all weather.  And that was the Obedience and general training area.  Well of course, Mary’s eyes rolled round in her head.  We had never actually seen such a good facility for training anywhere and in such a picturesque setting in the forest.  One hundred yards down a little lane from the side of this paddock there was another lawned paddock which contained two sets of almost brand new Premier (English) dog agility equipment.

The plan was for Mary to be based in the all-weather training area for the next three days although she did have a couple of hours of agility training with them in their outdoor field as well, but the whole three days was structured towards training for the Homecoming Day which was to take place on the Sunday.  The Homecoming Day is named as such because it is the yearly open day for the canine centre where an invitation is extended to all the families who have been given a dog by the canine centre as a pet and once a year part of the aftercare offered is that they are invited to this event and Mary was to be the guest of honour for 2004.

The team of trainers were going to put on various demonstrations at the Homecoming Day, one of which was to be Heelwork to Music so Mary had three days to train them the moves and put together a routine to music of sufficient standard to impress several hundred spectators.  Fortunately, some weeks prior to Mary’s visit, they had requested a list of the moves which she thought they should train and aided by just about every training video it is possible to imagine in their library they had done really well and trained a lot of the basic before she got there.  I won’t go into a blow-by-blow account into their training but they had some real good fun putting all the moves together and they managed to put a routine together which Mary was part of with a dog she borrowed from them called Ken, Mary chose the stars and stripes music by Sousa and this started with a pairs routine with Mary and Sally with her dog Ken then about two-thirds of the way through another four handlers joined them, so it finished with six of them in the routine and I have to say that considering they had never done a routine before they  made an excellent job of it and they had such fun while they were at it.

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In between this, Mary did an agility training session with them and also quite a lot of work on clicker training.  But the biggest problem she had was that there just wasn’t enough time and she did put a full day in with them on each of the three days and the fact that she achieved such a lot was really down to the enthusiasm of what they lovingly called “the kids” who were all the trainers.  Sometimes it is difficult in foreign countries because the people there just do not have it in their make-up to have the same kind of relationship with a dog that perhaps we have here, but this was not the case in South Korea .  The dogs that the handlers were using were their own dogs at the kennels and they had such a good relationship with them, it was as though they were their own dogs at home.  And you also have to admire them because not only were they taking part in the training all day but they also had their usual duties to do in the kennels and although there were junior kennel staff looking after the day-to-day needs of the other dogs, they still had to go back in to help out as required.

I have seen Mary training in a lot of countries and in a lot of places but she really did enjoy this appointment and it’s a treat to watch her when she has a bunch of eager people and some decent dogs as she then gets so much out of it herself, so strictly speaking she was supposed to be just training the HTM routine but she couldn’t do that without going into clicker then they moved on to Obedience and then “the kids” complained that they would like to have done more in Agility so I’m afraid that three days just wasn’t enough for what Mary would like to have done and what they would have liked her to have done.

It was pretty exhausting and we could have had a five star meal every night but two of the evenings whilst Mary was working we had room service and on the other evening we had a takeaway southern fried chicken and chips at the centre with all the kids.  One lunch time Julie said that perhaps we could go down and eat in the Samsung canteen, but not your normal type of canteen you understand as it was off-site and the one used by the staff from Everland and was situated on the ground floor of what looked like a large hotel and what looked like a hotel was in actual fact staff accommodation.  It appears that the workers have a choice: they can either stop on site in a modern room and use the catering facilities or stay off site at home (cradle to the grave!)   For the other two lunch times, we spent one of them looking round the Everland theme park and for the other Julie took us to a traditional South Korean restaurant where we sat cross-legged on the floor round a little wooden table with a barbecue in the middle and cooking our own meat for lunch.  And I do recall thinking then what a hard life we were having!

On Sunday, the big day arrived – the Homecoming Day – when all the families who had had a dog from the canine centre were invited to come along with their dog.  A few hundred yards from the canine centre there was a big events field, the perimeter had been decked out in bunting and a main ring had been set up in the middle.  When we got there, the finishing touches were being put to the event.  On three sides of the main arena  were literally hundreds of picnic tables and each one had its own red, blue or green parasol with chairs around a table.  It was quite a stunning sight with the sea of parasols.  On the fourth side of the arena there was a huge television screen similar to the ones they use in the main ring at Crufts, also a full disco/pa unit and a very well-known television and radio personality from South Korea was to be master of ceremonies for the afternoon.  He would be the commentator for lots of games for the children with their dogs, an Agility Knockout competition, the Heelwork to Music display and a Good Citizen demonstration.  It is probably worth mentioning at this point that the centre has just taken on the whole of the Kennel Club Good Citizen Scheme and I think this is the only country in the world to be actually running our Kennel Club’s scheme in its entirety as most of the countries which have taken it on have taken the idea then modelled their own schemes on it. 

As the guests arrived, on the right-hand side as they came through the gateway was a registration point where they collected their name badges and one had been produced for every guest and their families and a free raffle with lots of electrical goods as prizes, plus they could pick up their free engraved dog tags.  On the left-hand side of the gateway was another covered area containing the vets and veterinary nurses who would check over the dogs, administer boosters and deal with any problems that the dogs or handlers had or the vets found and, of course, this was voluntary and not mandatory.  Situated next to the veterinary area was the grooming and nail clipping area where visitors could take their dogs and the team of expert groomers based at the canine centre would look after the dogs’ cosmetics and clip their nails.

At lunch time all the visitors started to arrive and there were literally hundreds upon hundreds of them.  Virtually every family  brought their dog with them.  As can be imagined in an Asian country, they were mostly small breeds but it was very obvious that all the dogs were loved members of the family.  There were a lot of children with the families as well.  There were probably almost two hours spent with families wandering round the various areas and the one memorable thing about a lot of the dogs was that the Koreans liked putting little coats on them and if its sunny a little hat.  And although it’s not a thing we do in this country it didn’t really look out of place there and just seemed to fit in with the way they felt about their dogs, as a member of the family.  There were some little dogs with flowery coats or wearing a shirt but over here we would probably find it an object of ridicule but for them it seems to be an indication that the dog is a member of the family.

Then of course it was time for the afternoon to start proper.  In 2003, the Samsung film crew had been to our house to film Mary training with her dogs and also in 2004 they had done a lot of filming at Crufts.  Some of this footage went out on a Korean television programme and a lot more of it was now shown on the large screen, so Mary had a big build-up after they had shown this amazing ten minute film of a lot of the happenings at Crufts, Mary at Crufts and Mary at home with the dogs.  After this, they interviewed her out in the middle of the arena.   We then had the very expert demonstration type competition of Agility Knockout which was extremely exciting, and I have to say of a high standard, then the Good Citizen handlers gave a demonstration of both the scheme and a team obedience display, followed by Mary and the trainers with their Heelwork to Music display.  For this they had been over to the theme park to borrow lots of uniforms from the props department so they were all dressed in bright red military style band outfits.  There then followed lots of games for both the children and adults with their dogs.  We couldn’t understand what the compère was saying a lot of the time but he certainly had a big reaction and they obviously loved it. 

Early in the afternoon, whilst all this was happening, there was also a hot lunch on a tray provided to every single visitor at the show free of charge.  It was quite an amazing day and the management team were absolutely delighted with the response they had.  They did take pleasure in telling us that as always with this type of event they do suffer from a drift away of the audience during the afternoon but this was one of the first years they could remember when everyone seemed to stay right to the very end and Mary was pleased that she may have helped to make it a very successful day.

I think this final night was the earliest we got back to the hotel but there was a reason for this as we were going out for a final dinner with John Kim, George Choi, Julie Lee and Jennifer.  They did give us a choice – at the Samsung hotel in Seoul were we told they had the finest French restaurant in South Korea or we could go to the best Korean restaurant in Seoul , and it was the latter that we chose where we had a superb meal in a traditional Korean building.  The meal itself consisted of I don’t know how many different dishes but there was just a constant stream of small dishes put onto the table to try everything which did give us the opportunity to leave what we didn’t want and still have lots of choice.  The restaurant was built around a courtyard and afterwards we sat outside to carry on talking.  It really was a very pleasant evening and John Kim presented Mary with, dare I say, a very expensive present which was a reproduction vase modelled on a famous piece exhibited in a South Korean museum.  It is a lovely vase  which Mary will treasure forever and the evening was to prove a fitting end to an amazing week.

On the Monday, it was time for the flight home.  Julie came to collect us and take us to the airport to join our Korean Air flight back to Heathrow and I think this was the first time that the ‘can’t wait to get back home’ feeling hit us, although now we are in the time of electronic communications, I had kept abreast of everything going on at home via the internet access at the hotels we had stayed in.  This really had been a trip of a lifetime but it was an awful lot of time to be away from home, and as I said earlier, only acceptable because our dogs were being well looked after, I have a good secretary who can look after all the office work and with whom I kept in touch daily to ensure the office work carried on smoothly.  And although I say this was the trip of a life time perhaps that will happen a bit quicker as Mary has already been booked to return to Australia and New Zealand in 2006 and also she has been invited to return to the Samsung centre in October 2005.  And she didn’t have to give it much thought before replying – “I don’t mind if I do!”

And don’t forget, the next time you see a Samsung product or have a look at their trade stand at Crufts, remember that not all multi-national companies are faceless and uncaring, there is much more to Samsung than meets the eye.

Dave Ray, 2004