Greetings from the bottom of my heart and the top of Seoul. I am writing you from South Korea where I am for two weeks at the invitation of one of the largest blood glucose meter and test strip manufacturers in the world.
People from i-SENS Inc., a company headquartered in Seoul that designs and manufacturers blood glucose monitoring systems, asked me to visit them this fall. In fact, they originally invited me to come last October. But I had to postpone my visit because I had an emergency operation for twisted small intestines at the beginning of that month, and my surgeon said I couldn't travel.
For the first few days of my trip I am staying on the top floor of a hotel in the Seongbuk district of Seoul, near the company's headquarters. With 24.5 million inhabitants Seoul is the world's second largest metropolitan areas in population (after Tokyo and ahead of Mexico City, New York City, and Mumbai, in that order). Seoul has been Korea's capital for more than 600 years.
On Friday I left Seoul for the day to visit the new factory that i-SENS built in Wonju city four years ago to make test strips for its blood glucose meters. I went with my friend and hostess, Margaret Leesong. The i-SENS director of international business relations, Margaret visited me in Boulder a couple of years ago, when we had a great hike together in the foothills of the Rockies.
Margaret lived in the States from 1973 to 1978 and then again from 1988 to 1996, when she moved to Australia, remaining there until 2005. After her college years at Seoul National University, she earned a Ph.D. in biophysics from Purdue University in Indiana and then an LLB (law degree) from the University of Sydney. She speaks flawless English.
When Margaret met me at the hotel on Friday morning, we took a taxi to the bus station, where we took a two-hour ride to Wonju, a much smaller city of about 300,000 people in northeastern Korea. From there a staff member who helped us as driver and tour guide from the company picked us up and took us to the factory.
This factory makes all of the test strips for the two dozen or so blood glucose meters that i-SENS sells around the world under both its brand name and that of many other companies as an OEM. In the U.S. its best selling meter is the CareSens N (the "N" stands for no-coding). The factory has a capacity of producing one billion test strips per year, making it one of the largest such factories in the world.
We started our visit by meeting the two founders of the company for lunch in the company cafeteria. We had the standard lunch of the day except the cafeteria staff added a salad for me and for the chief technology officer, who explained to me that salad isn't typical lunch fare in Korea. Of course, lunch also included kimchi, a staple of the Korean diet, which so far I have had at every meal in Korea.
Lunch at the i-SENS Factory (Margaret, Dr. Nam, Four Visiting Professors, Dr. Cha, Me)
About 200 people work in production and QA at the Wonju factory. Another 80 or so people work in administration, sales, marketing, R&D, and other departments of the company in the Seongbuk district of Seoul.