Mrs. Sung Kim (nee Jaeun Chung), wife of the ambassador of the United States, has obviously made many good friends in Korean society as well as among the spouses of the ambassadors in Korea?in less than three years since she came to Korea in November 2011 with her husband.
After successful completion of his tour of duty in Korea, Ambassador and Mrs. Kim are scheduled to leave late this year and a farewell luncheon was hosted by Mrs. Kim Chong-sook, chairperson of the Seoul Garden Club, at the Ninth Gate of The Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul on Aug. 8, 2014.
Attending the luncheon were Founder Honorary Chairperson Im Wha-kong of the Seoul Garden Club and other leaders and key members of the Club, namely incumbent President Mrs. Anne Wightman (wife of the British ambassador), 1915 President Mrs. Helen Paterson (wife of the Australian ambassador), Mrs. Alexandra Miksar Prasetio (wife of the Indonesian ambassador), Mrs. Datin Siti Aishah Abrullah (wife of the ambassador of Brunei Darussalam, concurrently dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Korea), Mrs. Alexandra Miksa Prasetio (wife of the Indonesian ambassador) and Mrs. Park Ha-soon (wife of Chairman Hahn Kwang-Ho of Hankook Samgong).
There was one guest out of uniform and he was Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post who has covered almost all the live flower arrangement exhibitions of the Whakong-hoe (Seoul Garden Club) Live Flower Arrangement Association led by Mrs. Im for the past 40 years since the mid-1970s when Lee was the Cultural Editor of The Korea Herald. Mrs. Im had chaired the Seoul Garden Club all these years in addition to Whakong-hoe until a few years ago.
Chairperson Kim presented a traditional Korean folding fan to Mrs. Kim and to each guest, and then passed Mrs. Kim’s fan around to each guest to write down their good wishes on the fan for Mrs. Kim.
They all said they would be missing her and wrote down their best wishes for her health and success in the future.
Chairman Lee of The Korea Post gave his farewell remarks on the folding fan. He wrote: “Ambassador and Mrs. Kim please help Korea and the US keep bound together forever.” Lee said this from his wish that the Kims will stay on in Korea after their tenure?for a good reason. In the diplomatic history of the Republic of Korea, there have been only two ethnic Korean ambassadors. The first one was Ambassador Vitali V. Fen of Uzbekistan and the other was Ambassador Sung Kim of the United States.
The ethnic Korean ambassadors do a great deal in the promotion of interests, cooperation and friendship between Korea and the country they represent.
Ambassador Fen of Uzbekistan stayed in Korea for 17 years and literally made Korea and Uzbekistan ‘brothers’ achieving the unprecedented feat of arranging, summit meetings between the Presidents of the two countries and making Uzbekistan Korea’s gateway to Europe as well as to Central Asia. The volume of bilateral trade and economic cooperation between Korea and Uzbekistan jumped by 600 (repeat 600) times from mere US$3 million in 1992 when Korea and Uzbekistan established diplomatic relations to US$2 billion today.
The geopolitical situation in Asia is changing fast with China looming larger every year in various areas with its economic influence continuously expanding on the region. South Korea wants North Korea to give up its nukes and improve its economy with assistance from the South and in cooperation with the outside the world and, in doing this, Seoul desperately needs China’s influence on the North Korean regime.
South Korea, President Park Geun-hye in particular, has been approaching China with this in mind but, in the process, could give a wrong impression that Seoul is getting closer to China at the expense of the US, which is not true.
Ambassador and Mrs. Sung Kim, knowing the situation in South Korea and the US better than anyone else, could do a great deal of good to the two close allies if they could stay long in Korea, perhaps as long as Ambassador and Mrs. Vitali Fen of Uzbekistan.
Then the conversation, naturally, centered around Mrs. Im Wha-kong who founded the Whakong-hoe Live Flower Arrangement Association in 1960 but who had already had her live flower arrangement exhibition at the United States Information Service (USIS) in Seoul in 1958.
‘Wha’ (華) part of her name, Im Wha-kong, means ‘Flower’ which was given to her by her grandfather who wished her to be as beautiful as a flower when she was born in 1924 in Pyeonggang County of Gangwon Province. Would her grandfather have known that she would live the life of flowers sharing them with all the important ladies of Korea and the world?
Beginning in 1961, Mrs. Im gave live flower arrangement lessons at Cheong Wa Dae for the First Lady Madam Yook Young-sook (mother of President Park Geun-hye and wife of President Park Chung-Hee) and Mrs. Park Young-ok (wife of former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil and daughter of the elder brother Park Sang-hee of President Park Chung-Hee). She also made flower arrangement works at various important places of Cheong Wa Dae as well as the Presidential office.
Since her first exhibition at the USIS of the Embassy in Seoul and her first live flower arrangement class at Korea’s most prestigious women’s magazine Yeowon in Seoul in 1958, she continued to host the live flower arrangement exhibitions once every year at The Westin Chosun Hotel in Seoul until 2009. Since the following year, the live flower arrangement exhibitions were held at other exhibition halls such as Raemian of Samsung in Seoul as of this year with the support of the Seoul Garden Club currently headed by Mrs. Kim Chong-sook, spouse of the Honorary Consul General Kim Young-il of Pakistan in Seoul.
Mrs. Im insists on the use of white porcelain for the plates and bowls for the flowers, and finally she acquired her own white porcelain kiln in Songchu on the northern outskirts of Seoul in 1974.
In 1979, Shufuno Tomo (a Japanese counterpart of Korea’s prestigious women’s magazine Yeowon) published Kagei (Hwaye meaning Art of Flowers) in English in series and was introduced to the world at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which resulted in reprinting it seven times.
To further develop a Korean-style live flower arrangement from Ikebana of Japan, Mrs. Kim studied Oriental painting from Korea’s noted Oriental Artist Cheongjeon Lee Sang-beom, Korea’s doyen among noted Oriental artists of Korea.
In 2004, Mrs. Im received a Gyokujitsu Sokosho Order (literally, Rising Sun Double-Ray) from the Japanese government and in the preceding year of 1999 she won a Korea-Japan Cultural Exchange Foundation Award.
In 2006, Mrs. Im received the Order of Diplomatic Service Merit, Sungye Medal, offered by the President of the Republic of Korea.
She started studying live flower arrangement during her fifth-year graduating class at Korea’s most prestigious Kyunggi Girls’ High School (which was originally established by Queen Sunjeong (Queen of King Sunjong of the Joseon Dynasty) in 1908 then in the name of Hanseong (Seoul) Girls’ High School, and among her classmates are the wives of Korea’s leading figures such as prime ministers, university presidents, big-business group CEOs and publication organizations presidents. Graduates of girls’ high school in those days were very rare, even fewer than the doctorate holders of today.
Mrs. Im also insists on wearing traditional Korean Hanbok dresses which she makes by herself even from the stage preparation of the clothing material when she used Dadeumjil.
To do Dadeumjil, you put starched cloth on a stone block with smooth surface and pound the cloth with two wooden Bangmangi bats, one in each hand, to full and smooth the cloth. She never uses pressing irons.
Normally, two ladies do this sitting facing each other with the stone block in their front between them. They sometimes do it throughout the night. However, in the past this did not disturb other people’s sleeping because they did it presenting rhythmical beats that were like a lullaby.
Korean guests tried to explain Dadeumjil to the wives of the ambassadors but, obviously with not much success. Hence the details presented above.
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