Ambassador and Mrs. Arslan Hakan Okcal of Turkey and the ambassadors and other senior diplomats of more than 10 other countries visited the Yeongju City of the Gyeongsangbuk-do Province some 229 miles southeast of Seoul on Oct. 15, 2016 at the invitation of Mayor and Mrs. Jang Wook-hyeong of the City and organized by The Korea Post media group led by Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik. In a rare example of strong interest in the event also on the part of the international media, a good number of senior journalists from the Seoul Correspondents' Club (SCC) also joined the tour, including German Wirtscharts Woeche Seoul Bureau Chief Birnjark Ahn.
Why all the fuss?
There was a good reason. The Punggi Red Ginseng of the Yeongju County claims double the health-promoting efficacy compared with regular ginseng. Speaking at a luncheon Mayor Jang hosted for the visiting ambassadors and the leading members of the foreign press corps, Jang declared, “The Punggi Red Ginseng has double the medicinal efficacy and health promoting ingredients compared with other ginseng cultivated and produced in any other part of the country and, for that matter, in any other country of the world.”
Speaking at a luncheon he hosted on that day for the visiting ambassadors and senior international journalists, Mayor Jang said, “The Punggi County has exceptional geographical and climatic features that are best fit for the growth and production of ginseng with such a rare quality.”
He explained that the temperature differences ranged widely in the Punggi Region which also provided optimal conditions best fit for the growth of the top-quality ginseng in Korea.
The luncheon was preceded by presentation of a Plaque of Appreciation to Mayor Jang by Ambassador Okcal, most senior among all the visiting members of the SDC that day and therefore performing the role of the dean of the visiting diplomat group.
The Plaque said in part: “I present this Plaque of Appreciation to Honorable Mayor Jang Wook-hyeong on behalf of the visiting members of the Seoul Diplomatic Corps as well as for myself for the kind invitation extended to us to the 19th Punggi Ginseng Festival on this day. I trust that the Festival will greatly contribute to our understanding of the Korean culture as well as promotion of friendship and cooperation between Korea and our countries.”
In return, Mayor Jang presented Ambassador Okcal with a similar plaque, where he cited: “I present this Plaque of Appreciation to His Excellency Ambassador Arslan Hakan Okcal of the Republic of Turkey above-mentioned on behalf of the citizens of the Yeongju City of Gyeongsangbuk-do as well as for myself in our heartfelt gratitude for the kind attendance at the 19th Punggi Ginseng Festival. I trust that representation of the esteemed country by the recipient at this Festival will greatly contribute to the promotion of understanding, friendship and cooperation between Korea and the country represented by the recipient.”
Mayor Jang, in fact, had an identical Plaque of Appreciation for the diplomat of each country represented by his/her participation in the tour, to be presented on a later occasion.
The visiting ambassadors, their spouses and the senior journalists from the SCC then were invited to personally dig up ginseng roots from the straw shelter-covered ginseng farm together with Mayor Jang ‘for keeps’ under the straw shelters. There was not much room for all the visitors to take part in the ginseng picking nor the time out of the tight schedule of the day, a substantial portion of which was wasted on the way from Seoul due to extreme traffic congestion.
Finally, they settled for a few minutes of ‘digging ginseng’ where the ‘harvest’ was so small and Mayor Jang got some money out of his own pocket and bought some from the ginseng farmers to make sure each distinguished guest got a good-sized one from the ginseng farmers. Some of the visitors purchased a bag full each from the farmers for 35,000 won for a bag.
The visiting ambassadors, senior diplomats and international journalist leaders then toured the ancient Sosu Confucian School and inspected the houses of the old dynasty nobilities and historical sites.
There were popular location sites for the major Korean TV companies for use in the production of their TV dramas, especially the ones covering the ancient periods of Korea.
The ambassadors and the senior international journalists had their supper at the same buffet restaurant where the foods and beverages were in good quality, a substantial part of which were prepared using Punggi Red Ginseng. They included a well-sized ginseng root deep-fried in whole inside the dough cover. Many guests, especially the Koreans, had their fill of the health promoting fried ginseng.
The opening ceremony was colorful and exciting and attracted enthusiastic applauses from the estimated 10,000 audience as well as from visitors from other localities and countries, including the ambassadors and senior international journalists.
The drum performances were among the most exciting judging from the audience responses and were requited with frequent wild applauses from the audience, especially the young people in the rear portion of the crowd.