Ambassadors of Slovakia, Chile, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Turkey and Austria, visited the Gwangyang City of Jeollanam-do, mostly accompanied by their spouses, on March 22, 2014 to attend the 17th Gwangyang International Apricot Culture Festival. (List of visitors at the end of this article.)
At the Protocol Office of the airport, barely a few minutes to the boarding time, Co-Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy came and The Korea Post asked him if he would wish to meet with the ambassadors at the main room of the Protocol Office. Ahn gladly accepted the offer and came to Room 5 where he exchanged name cards and briefly exchanged pleasantries. Ahn spoke English like an American or a Briton. The way he spoke with the ambassadors, it was obvious Ahn had strong interest in the promotion of relations with the international community.The Asiana plane with the ambassadors and their spouses on board with other passengers landed at the Yeosu International Airport and moved to the Baegun-dae Guest House of Gwangyang Steel Mill of POSCO where each guest was welcomed by Mayor Lee Sung-Woong of Gwangyang City and presented with welcome flowers.
Welcoming the guests at the luncheon, Mayor Lee said in part: “Gwangyang is known as the ‘City of Steel and Port,’ but Gwangyang is also known as a good region for farming, especially vegetables and fruits, thanks to the warm sunshine and clean water. For this, the vegetables and fruits from Gwangyang enjoy a very high popularity among the people for their excellent quality.” (See excerpts from the speech toward the end of this Article.)
After the welcome ceremony and luncheon, the ambassadors and their spouses moved to the venue of the opening ceremony of the Apricot Festival. The traffic on the way was extremely heavy but the escorting police patrol car made way for the ambassadors as they were among the VVIP guests scheduled to join the tape-cutting ceremony. Following the opening ceremony, the visiting ambassadors and their spouses were personally guided by Mayor Lee who stayed with them much of time.
At the opening ceremony venue, the visiting ambassadors were greeted also by Governor Park Joon-Yung of the Jeollanam-do Province, who shook hands with each of them and expressed his hearty welcome to the Gwangyang City which was located inside his province.
The ambassadors and their spouses were led to an apricot-painting venue where they were invited to color the apricot blossoms.
This was followed by a hands-on experience in glutinous rice cake-making and drinking apricot tea. Mayor Lee praised that the ambassadors did very well, especially when they pounded the glutinous rice dough on a large, thick wooden board with a large wooden mallet in the traditional Korean way of rice cake-making.
The ambassadors and spouses then visited the Green Apricot Fruit Garden where were made a wide variety of plum wine and juices in the traditional Korean way. Proprietress Hong Ssang-ri explained to the visiting mission chiefs on the method of production of many different kinds of plum wine and juices.
After the day’s schedule was over, the visiting ambassadors and their spouses were invited to a dinner at the Baegun-dae Guest House of the POSCO Gwangyang Steel Mill. The table was large enough for a total of up to 30 VVIP guests. It was so large that the guests were asked to guess the size. Seven meters in diameter, which was offered by Ambassador Hernan Brantes of Chile, was closest to the actual size that was 7.8 meters.
Traditional Korean music, including 12-stringed traditional Korean zithers, Gayageum, were played in addition to the unique Korean pipe, Piri, to add to the pleasant atmosphere of the dinner.
Speaking to the guests, Mayor Lee said in part: “From early times, our ancestors considered the apricot blossoms very noble and a valuable source of inspiration for calligraphers and artists. The apricot blossoms resist the cold temperatures of the winter well and therefrom have a name, Sehan Samu, meaning “Three Hardy Trees,” together with pine and bamboo. As the apricot tree thus weathers the adversities well, it is compared to the noble scholars who have unyieldingly noble beliefs and principles.” (See excerpts the dinner speech of Mayor Lee toward the end of this Article.)
In response, Ambassador Dusan Bella of the Slovak Republic said, “Allow me on behalf participating diplomats to convey our sincere thanks for your kind invitation to Gwangyang International Apricot Festival. We are very pleased to visit your city of light and sunshine, which is visible on the map of Korean history from the era of Baekje Kingdom. It is known, that Gwangyang Bay was the location of the Battle of Noryang where, General Yi Sun-sin with support of the Ming Dynasty navy destroyed more than 13,000 Japanese soldiers and 200 battleships.” (See excerpts from his speech at the end of this Article.)
On the second day (Sunday) of the tour, the ambassadors and their spouses were invited to visit the traditional Korean Jangdo Museum where were on display a wide variety of Korean ornamental knives. Jangdo was originally intended to be used by the ladies of the Yangban (Noble) Families in the past in the event of an unexpected encounter with an assailant to protect their chastity. In the feudal society in the ancient monarchies in Korea, a woman’s loss of chastity was redeemable only by honorable suicide.
Excerpts from welcome remarks by Mayor Lee:
His Excellency Ambassador Dusan Bella of the Slovak Republic, Excellencies and Madams!
Welcome to the ‘City of Steel, Port and Light.’
On behalf of the citizens of the Gwangyang City as well as myself, I express my heart-felt gratitude to the Excellencies who have taken time of their busy work schedule to grace the 17th Gwangyang International Apricot Culture Festival. My gratitude goes also to the Madams and President of The Korea Post and his staff.
The warm sunshine today, which makes us forget our memory of the frigid cold winter, seems to share our warm feelings of welcome to the distinguished guests.
As you might have noticed on the way down here from the airport, the southern land of Korea here is already in the middle of spring and spring flowers and blossoms have already started opening. The green young buds are truly adorable. The spring comes here about two weeks earlier than in Seoul.
Gwangyang is known as the ‘City of Steel and Port,’ but Gwangyang is also known as a good region for farming, especially vegetables and fruits, thanks to the warm sunshine and clean water. For this, the vegetables and fruits from Gwangyang enjoy a very high popularity among the people for their excellent quality.
Now that the Excellencies and Madams have taken the trouble of coming all the way down here using your weekend, I hope that you will all enjoy and take home the fond memories of the traditional culture and taste of Korea and the warm atmosphere of Gwangyang.
We will try to do our best so that you will all have a pleasant and comfortable stay. However, if you find any room for improvement or need something, please advise us so that we can attend to your need as soon as possible.
Excerpts from dinner speech by Mayor Lee:
Honorable Ambassadors and Madams, Senior Executive Vice President and Mrs. Baik Sung-Gwan of the Gwangyang Steel Works!
Welcome to the ‘City of Steel, Port and Light.’ I express my deepest gratitude to you for your kindly taking time out of your busy schedule to grace us with your presence here tonight.
I am sure that you all appreciated the beauty of the apricot blossoms that were in full bloom at the time of the opening ceremony of the Festival today. The apricot blossoms herald the coming of the spring as the first blossoms of the season, and represent the culture and symbols of spring.
From early times, our ancestors considered the apricot blossoms very noble and a valuable source of inspiration for calligraphers and artists. The apricot blossoms resist the cold temperatures of the winter well and therefrom have a name, Sehan Samu, meaning “Three Hardy Trees,” together with pine and bamboo. As the apricot tree thus weathers the adversities well, it is compared to the noble scholars who have unyieldingly noble beliefs and principles.
The apricot blossoms have noble ecological characteristics and are called one of the Four Noble Plants of the Orient, or Sagunja in Korean, the three others being orchid, chrysanthemum and bamboo. Thus, apricot blossoms are considered to share the personality and traits of a nobleman.
The Gwangyang apricot fruits, or plums in another name, are widely known for their exceptionally high quality by virtue of their cultivation with the clean water from the Seomjin River and plenty of sunshine and therefore have become the target of admiration from consumers from all parts of the country. The Gwangyang apricot fruits are also exported to Japan where the people have an exceptional love for apricots.
Gwangyang is the home of apricots, and accounts for 25% of the total output of apricots of Korea. Thus, apricots are a major revenue source of the local people and a favorable item of industry of the county.
To bear high-quality plums, the apricot tree must weather the cold winter well and have good beautiful blossoms. The apricot blossoms now in full bloom will yield fruits in a little over 60 days, which will be around the end of May, when harvesting begins in real earnest.
As I mentioned earlier, apricot blossoms stand for integrity and chastity as well as beauty. Apricot blossoms also arrange valuable relations between persons.
Each country has her own National Flower and a flower that brings different peoples into good relations as the Gwangyang apricot blossoms today arrange such important relations between the distinguished guests and the people of Gwangyang City.
Although we were born in different countries, we have this beautiful meeting today and form valuable relationship with one another through the medium of apricot blossoms. I hope that this precious relationship will continue forever as the apricot blossoms are known for fidelity and consistency.
Tomorrow, we will visit the Gwangyang Steel Mill of POSCO, the Gwangyang Container Pier and the Grand Yi Sun-shin Bridge. I wish Your Excellencies and Madams a pleasant time, and hope that you will all take home many fond memories.
Excerpts from a congratulatory speech by Ambassador Bella of Slovakia:
Allow me on behalf participating diplomats to convey our sincere thanks for your kind invitation to Gwangyang International Apricot Festival. We are very pleased to visit your city of light and sunshine, which is visible on the map of Korean history from the era of Baekje Kingdom. It is known, that Gwangyang Bay was the location of the Battle of Noryang where, General Yi Sun-sin with support of the Ming Dynasty navy destroyed more than 13,000 Japanese soldiers and 200 battleships.
But in these early spring days Gwangyang is attracting many people, who want to enjoy a beauty of apricot trees blossoms, called in Korean maehwa. These maehwas are here in Korea one of the first blooming heralds of coming spring. Some poetic soul said that flowers don't need to speak they only show to emit love around. And where the flowers bloom so does hope.
According to famous German poet Heinrich Heine, "Perfumes are the feelings of flowers“. Having taken part in Gwangyang Maehwa Festival already 2 years ago, I still remember this magic spring time of new beginnings in Gwangyang region, when I could smell the sweet scent of maehwas in the air together with the sounds of the birds in these magic moments of spring rebirth of the nature.
But we know that development strategy in the city is focusing on steel and port industries. Gwangyang is also famous as a ‘City of Steel’ with the POSCO steelworks having here probably the largest plant in the world.
Port of Gwangyang is becoming the Northeast Asia´s hub of international deep sea routes, what helps to transform Gwangyang into a global city also in free trade.
But we know that Gwangyang is famous also for its tasty cuisine like Gwangyang Sutbulgui or Mangdeok Jeoneo which go well with maesil wine or liquor.
Having said that allow me to wish Mayor Lee Sung-Woon and people of Gwangyang many good development projects which will transform current city vision into prosperity and happy life for all inhabitants of this vibrant City of Steel, Port and Sunshine.
List of visiting ambassadors and their spouses:
H.E. Ambassador and Mrs. Dusan Bella of the Slovak Republic, dean of the visiting members of the Seoul Diplomatic Corps
H.E. Ambassador and Mrs. Hernan Brantes Glavic of Chile
H.E. Ambassador Vasyl Marzamov of Ukraine
H.E. Ambassador Petar Andonov of Bulgaria,
H.E. Ambassador Elisabeth Bertagnoli of Austria
H.E. Ambassador and Mrs. Pham Huu Chi of Vietnam
H.E. Ambassador and Mrs. Hakan Okcal of Turkey