World Friends Korea is the name of a group of government-run volunteer programs. There used to be overseas volunteer programs run by three government ministries, but they've been combined as "World Friends Korea" to provide a more coherent image of Korean overseas volunteers. It includes some internet volunteer programs, some peace corps volunteer programs, some expert adviser-type programs, and Taekwondo peace corps. (event coverage at Korea.net)
Now, volunteering is great, and volunteering overseas or outside one's home country can be a life-changing, horizon-expanding experience: I'm glad there are Korean programs doing this.
Well, on Monday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Presidential Council on Nation Branding, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency organized an event on the Blue House lawn... because, I suppose, I write about Korea in English, and almost half of my readership is international, I fit into the "branding korea" box, and my buddy Mike, who's on the Presidential Council on Nation Branding recommended me for an invitation.
When I got the invitation, I realized I would have to miss a lecture for me "Introduction to International Economics" class, so I hesitated for about .0032 of a second, and then decided, "I think I can swing it."
I dropped off my bag somewhere (no electronic devices except cellphones: hence my cellphone pics later), and they bussed us into the blue house. This was actually the first time I'd been in the blue house -- visited the area a lot, but never took the tour.
It was nice. Really nice. Volunteers, organization leaders, and a huge number of diplomats, including some high-ranking ones, were here. There were also a half-dozen other foreign bloggers there. (Picture below,) including The Chosun Bimbo and The Marmot.
Click for pictures (it's worth it) and more explanations.
All these pictures are courtesy of Michael Hurt (The Metropolitician)... unless otherwise indicated. You can see more of his photography work here, and his writing here.
They set up tons of tables, without chairs - we all stood and milled about. Which was perfect for shoulder bumping and glad-handing.
The help looked sharp, and brought by enough drinks that nobody got in a bad way, as far as I know.
The lot of us... with Martin Uden, the British Ambassador. He's a great guy. He was wearing the best hat in the entire crowd, by a longshot. He was funny, and he knew me, because he's a blogger himself!
If I get to hang out with people like that, I want to become a diplomat, by gum!
He's also the subject of my first crappy cellphone selca. We're both laughing because I hit the "volume" button on my camera instead of the camera button.
There was a big wall where people could pose for pictures.
and a hole in the wall!
Behind us here is the VIP pavilion: a little house where foreign VIPs sleep: people like heads of state, presidents of other countries, wizards, superheroes, and our reptilian overlords (though they'll officially deny those last three)
A multicultural choir performed, too.
I believe this was the Uzbek Ambassador. He delivered his entire speech in very good Korean. When he started speaking in Korean, that familiar "Ooh! The Foreigner speaks Korean" twitter coursed through the audience. Interestingly, I noticed the exact same response in the Official Olympic Video when IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch spoke Korean (badly) during the Olympic opening ceremony.
President Lee Myung-Bak did a short speech, too, and brought himself a little down from that lofty "presidential" realm, by donning one of the ill-shaped, goofy sun-hats they were handing out, because it was pretty darn bright that day. Later, he had his jacket off, too.
A few people got kind of star-struck from the wattage up on stage during the show.
Some members of the Rwandan embassy.
On the left is Jeffrey, the guy responsible for getting us in the gate. Well done, sir. With this picture, I learned that Asian Poses and suits don't really mix.
She spoke briefly: you may remember that she first came to Korea as a member of the Peace Corps, back in the day, and she talked about how, as volunteers go overseas, they're all ambassadors for their home country. During her speech, she again came across with a human quality - not high and mighty, but more like that one very smart aunt you might have, who always has good advice, but also knows when to stop and listen.
This MC is... Park Sang Heon, I think (please correct me if I'm wrong)... he's been involved in a lot of volunteery stuff, too.
He hosted a little "meet the volunteers" section, and flattered outrageously the volunteers on stage. It was cute.
They each got to talk briefly.
The lady in purple was the other host. I think she's a news anchor, but I didn't catch her name. My bad.
And the president went around a long, long line, shaking hands and greeting people. Mike got close enough to photograph the sweat on his face.
I waited for him to come up to our section of the line... and had my crappy cellphone camera ready.
I said something to him in Korean, and then...
Yes, dear readers. My braces got their picture taken with the President of South Korea.
And I have to admit, I am a rude, ignorant foreigner:
I in the rush of "this is actually happening," I addressed him with "요" instead of "습니다"... I hope it doesn't set back Korea/Canada relations or anything.
(best picture of the day below, courtesy of Jeffrey, the fellow on the right: I don't know who sent it to him, though.)
Then, The President of the Republic of Korea answered me in English.
And what exactly did we say?
Well that'll just have to be a mystery, like the ending of Lost in Translation. I'm not sure which one of us is Bill Murray, and which one is Scarlett Johansson, though. I'll defer to the president and let him pick first. After all, the conversation would go like this:
PREZ: "I want to be Bill Murray."
ME: "No, I want to be Bill Murray."
PREZ: "I'm GONNA be Bill Murray."
ME: "Yeah? You and what army?"
PREZ: "The army of the Republic of Korea. Durr. They're third on my speed dial."
Me: "Oh yeah. So... do I have to dress like a girl?"
PREZ: "You said 요 to me, so yes, Rob, you do."
And then, back to our bus, to take us away, back to where our bags were stored and such. On the way out, we walked through the Blue House garden, and got this picture.
Then we came out right in front of the blue house itself. Remarkable building.
So, sweet. And if that isn't a cause worth getting scads of important people, and also me, on a Blue House lawn for, I don't know what is.
Disclosure: I got a small gratuity for attending this event.