Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Lee Myung-Bak, Blue House Lawn, World Friends Korea... SELCA!

SELCA is when people take a picture of themselves, while holding the camera. It's a Konglish contraction of self-camera.  I took two pretty legendary selcas on Monday... but you have to read the post to find out with whom.

OK then.

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

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 weather was bright. Matt, another invited blogger, doing his Barack Obama impersonation. Or maybe squinting from the sun.
 Volunteers - either outgoing, or returning from overseas experiences, were invited, including a bunch of kids who were taking notes, and generally on their best behavior.

The food was... there. But nobody was there for the food, and it was so bright and warm, that as long as fluids were in good supply, the food didn't matter much, anyway.
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!
He even made British Humour for us. It was self-deprecating and everything!

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.
even us.

and a hole in the wall!
but we preferred the garden. The garden was really really pretty, but we weren't allowed to walk in, or take pictures of it. One unique feature of the foliage there was all the human heads poking out of the shrubbery, and each of those human heads had little earpieces. I wonder who their gardener is.

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.
 Oh yeah I also got a picture (this is one of my crappy cellphone pics) with U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens.  She's a lovely human being: we chatted about the difficulty of learning Korean (it's a lifelong effort), and how it always seems to vanish just when we need it. (In-laws coming over? BLANK!) My impression of her?  She's very smart, but also very easy to talk to, and approachable (as were many of the other diplomats... I suppose that comes of a job path where you're paid to be likable (or recruited/advanced because you're likable), but meeting these people was still a good experience.
 Mike also got a picture of her.

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.
 After the ceremony, there was some mingling.  I met New Zealand's ambassador as well... but was too busy chatting to get a picture.  Lee Charm was there. I didn't speak to him or get a picture, but I did give him "the nod" as we passed in opposite directions.

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.
 Matt put together a really awesome panorama of it:
And that was the day. I had a great time, and more importantly, the idea of overseas volunteering was promoted: Korea, formerly a recipient of foreign aid, is in a unique position now that it's a foreign aid donor, and it's awesome to see South Korea taking ownership of that position, by lending Korean knowledge, experience, and expertise to other countries that would benefit from the efforts of overseas volunteers.

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.


Unknown said...

Enjoyed your post! Love how you use the word selca, and the hats, hats!

Anonymous said...

The Blue House is big. Speaking as an American and comparing it to the White House, it's freaking huge.

The grounds around it are lovely as well.

The Student's Guide To Nail Polish said...

You got a selca with the PRESIDENT?


Cari Nelson said...

Wow... I was nervous enough when I went through the graduation ceremony at the University of Michigan and met the University President... but the President of Korea?! That's nuts... i'd probably pee my pants.

chiam said...

great post!

Roboseyo said...

Thanks, Chiam. I took down the comments, but I'd also like to openly thank you for sticking up for me when those trolls were stinking up my Steve Earle post.

PD said...

come on, man. don't leave your readers hangin'. what did the prez say?!

Rebecca said...

Hey Rob!
I loved this post -- you and the president, eh? I'd better hurry up and get my masters degree or I won't be important enough to hang out with you anymore, right? ;-)
So about the braces, should I get them for my kids now, or let them wait until they're big like you?