By Lee Kyung-sik
Publisher, The Korea Post
Mayor Park Won-soon of the Seoul Special City extended a helping hand in globally promoting Korean Kimchi explaining in an impeccable English the health-promoting ingredients of Kimchi to the ambassadors and their spouses at the 21st annual Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival in Gwangju Metropolitan City on Oct. 4, 2014. The Korea Post organized the tour for the ambassadors and spouses to Gwangju to attend the opening ceremony of the Festival and visit the 2014 Gwangju Art Biennale.
Speaking to the ambassadors at a luncheon hosted by Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun of Gwangju Metropolitan City in Gwangju, Mayor Park said that Gwangju was a ‘City of Taste, Art and Democracy’ and disclosed that Mayor Yoon Jang-Hyun of Gwangju City and he were good friends working together as social civic activists in the past. Presently Mayor Park is the front-runner at most of the opinion polls on the next Presidential hopefuls (further details are at the end of this Article).
Mayor Yoon said: “The Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival has become a 20-year-old youth and it now celebrates its 20th anniversary. The Festival has developed Kimchi, the representative food of Korea, into a culture, festival and a brand name of Gwangju. It has also greatly contributed to globalizing the Kimchi culture of Korea and revitalization of the Kimchi industry (further details are toward the end of this Article).
Mayor Yoon’s welcome speech was responded to by a congratulatory speech by Ambassador Mrs. Alba Rosa Florio Legnani of the Republic of Uruguay who performed the role of the dean of the visiting members of the Diplomatic Corps.
She said: “After four years of living in Korea, I could notice how proud Koreans are of Kimchi and that is the reason you are so serious and professionals are convinced at the moment of promoting this typical product of the Korean culture and its benefits. Nowadays Kimchi is well known all over the world as the most naturally fermented food and as one of the healthiest one.” Further details are toward the end of this Article.)
Attending the luncheon from the Diplomatic Corps, besides Ambassador Legnany of Uruguay, were Ambassadors Manuel Lopez Trigo of Costa Rica, Hakan Okcal of Turkey and Tito Saul Pinilla of Colombia with their spouses; Mrs. Zofia Majka of Poland on behalf of the Polish ambassador; Charge d’Affaires and Mrs. Jason Manuel Castro Olivares of El Salvador; Chinese Vice Consul General Mrs. Zhang Xiaomei for Gwangju; Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post; and Xinhua News Agency Sports News Director Xu Jiren.
From the Korean side, besides Mayors Park and Yoon, were Co-Chairman Kim Sung-hoon of the Festival Organizing Committee (former minister of agriculture and forestry of Korea), chairman of the Gwangju City Council and some National Assembly members from the locality.
There was an active exchange of remarks and opinions on the topic of Kimchi and various other subjects between the local representatives and the ambassadors and spouses. Mayor Park spoke very good English and freely conversed with Mrs. Majika (wife of the Polish ambassador), Ambassadors Hakcal of Turkey, Lepez Trigo of Costa Rica and Pinilla of Colombia and their spouses.
When the time was right, Publisher Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post disclosed that Mrs. Majka had Kimchi at every meal and that she could not live without Kimchi like the Korean people, which seemed to deeply impress the Korean representatives, especially Mayor Park of Seoul who gave his account of Poland that he had known. Unlike common belief among Koreans, Park obviously had a much wider exposure to things international.
Mayor Park said that he would give his full support to the Gwangju Kimchi Seoul Event slated for November this year at the Gyeongbok-gung Palace in Seoul. It was held last year and Mayor Park attended the event giving a side support to the Kimchi promotion event. Ultimately, such efforts led to UNESCO’s selection of Korea’s Kimchi as the important world cultural heritage.
Then there was presentation of a gift (a pair of porcelain plates) from Mayor Yoon to each ambassador and a Plaque of Appreciation by Ambassador Legnani of Uruguay to Mayor Yoon.
The plaque read: “I present this Plaque of Appreciation to Honorable Mayor Yoon Jang-hyun of the Gwangju Metropolitan City on behalf of the visiting members of the Diplomatic Corps, as well as for myself, for the invitation of us to the 21st Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival on October 4, 2014. The Festival greatly contributes to our understanding of the Korean culture as well as promotion of friendship and cooperation between Korea and our countries.”
The appetizers came in the form of a nine different kinds of Kimchi neatly placed in Gujeolpan (Platter of Nine Delicacies), which included White Kimchi, Cucumber Kimchi, Ggakddugi (radish Kimchi in cubes), Winter Kimchi and other variety of Kimchi which are not normally served at regular restaurants. Needless to say they were of extremely fine taste (at least to the Korean palate).
Mayor Yoon of Gwangju and Mayor Park of Seoul then led the visiting members of the Diplomatic Corps and the local leaders to the venue of the opening ceremony of the 21st Gwangju Kimchi Culture Festival.
Mayor Yoon declared open the 21st Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival with a chorus of all the participants in the opening ceremony. “Dear citizens,” he spoke loudly, “please repeat after me when I say ‘We declare open!’ and I would appreciate it.” Yoon got a roar of response from the audience.
Speaking to an estimated 1,000 guests, Co-Chairman Kim Sung-hoon said: “This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival and the first anniversary of UNESCO’s designation of Korea’s Kimchi as important world cultural heritage and I am very grateful that many tourists are visiting Gwangju to take part in the Festival this year.”
The performances began with a wild drum beating by young men and women with a woman singer and were followed by woman dancing with large earthen jars and basins symbolizing storing of finished Kimchi in the jars. The women wore what Koreans used to call Mompe which were normally worn by peasant women in the rural areas and working women in urban districts during the Japanese colonial rule of Korea from 1909 to 1945. Then there was a performance by several women dancing with a large imitation cabbage, pepper, garlic and radish
In the case of the Festival, however, the Pansori mostly covered the Gwangju Democratization Movement of 1980 when the Martial Law Command and Special Forces troops fired at the demonstrating Gwangju citizens and caused many casualties. Following the assassination of the late President Park Chung-hee on Oct. 26,1979 by his KCIA director, the people expected the birth of a democratic government after nearly two decades of dictatorial rule by the Park government. But the then Maj. Gen. Chun Doo-hwan took over power by a coup and dealt with all democratization movements with bloody suppression and this was most serious in Gwangju.
One of the highlights was, perhaps, the famed Korean Pansori (a traditional Korean narrative song) presented by famed Korean Pansori Master Im Jin-taek. The Pansori performances normally feature the heroin and hero of the Story of Chaste Woman Chunhyang in praise of her effort to keep her chastity at the risk of her life and the playful boy friend, Yi Mong-yong, who tries to test her degree of faithfulness to him.
The bitter resentment seems to die hard.
This year, the Festival was designed for the maximum participation of the citizens and sharing of the Kimchi and therefore a good number of seats were reserved for the plain citizens and social activists at the opening ceremony. This is why the Kimchi-making event, which had been held inside a building in the past, took place on the open ground for participation by many plain citizens.
Unfortunately, however, the idea obviously failed to ‘win the favor of Heaven’ because the sun sent at ten almost unbearable heat down on the earth making the participants even sweat in spite of the paper shade-hats they wore to keep themselves from the ‘merciless’ sunray that belied the otherwise most comfortable early part of October.
However, braving the heat and the sunray the ambassadors and their spouses became lost in making the best Kimchi they can each wearing the white chef’s hat and red Kimchi apron.
After the opening ceremony and the Kimchi-making, the visiting ambassadors and their spouses were invited to view the exhibits at the Gwangju Biennale. There were many exhibits of many different countries as well as those of Korea,
Here again, a good number of Korean exhibits had smacks of the May-18 Gwangju Democratization Movement. The bloody oppression of the demonstrating students and citizens obviously is not easily forgotten.
Excerpts from the welcome remarks by Mayor Yoon:
I would like to express my sincere welcome to all the distinguished guests who are here today to celebrate the Opening of the 21st Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival. My deep appreciation goes particularly to Her Excellency Ambassador Alba Rosa Florio Legnani of the Republic of Uruguay, other Excellencies and distinguished members of the Diplomatic Corps and their families.
The Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival has already become a 20-year-old youth, and now celebrates its 20th anniversary. The Festival has developed Kimchi, the representative food of Korea, into a culture, festival and a brand name of Gwangju. It has also greatly contributed to globalizing the Kimchi culture of Korea and revitalization of the Kimchi industry. In 2002, the Codex Alimentarius Commission officially recognized Kimchi of Korea, and not Kimuchi of Japan, as the Naturally Fermented Food in distinction from the salted foods of the different countries of the world. And in 2006, the world-famous health magazine, HEALTH, selected Kimchi as one of the five major health foods of the world
Furthermore, in 2012 Washington Post reporter, Tim Carman, visited KORUS Kimchi Festival in Washington DC and published an article entitled “Kimchi: Korea’s Affordable Healthcare” which once again reminded the American people that Kimchi was a world-famous health food.
Ms. Tina Chen, a special assistant to First Lady Michelle Obama of the United States, came to the KORUS Kimchi event site where the organizers gave her a copy of Kimchi recipe with some Kimchi and this led to Mrs. Obama’s posting her Kimchi recipe on her twitter timeline and a message suggesting her twitter friends to try to make Kimchi. This is known to have become very popular among her twitter followers.
Gwangju Kimchi started its export to Japan last year, and this year it is exported to a total of five countries such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and Japan. I would like to extend my warmest welcome to the Kimchi CEOs who are here from overseas. It is my ardent desire that the Gwangju Kimchi Culture Festival will evolve into a global festival where the citizens of Gwangju will enjoy it with all the different peoples of the world.
The Gwangju Metropolitan City will host a “Winter Kimchi Making Event” at the Kimchi Town in Gwangju from November 21st to December 14th with the participation of people from all parts of Korea.
If we work hard pooling our wisdom and ideas together based on our experience and expertise gained for the past 20 years, I am fully convinced that the Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival will become an invaluable asset that will bring the world to Gwangju and, vice versa, Gwangju to the world. Thank you.
Excerpts from the speech by Ambassador Mrs. Florio Legnani of Uruguay:
On behalf of the group of participating diplomats today I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your kind invitation to the Gwagju World Kimchi Culture Festival, on its 21st edition with the theme “Kimchi Embraces the UNESCO,” and the Gwangju Design Biennale.
It is a great pleasure for us to be here at this fantastic city.
With no doubt, after so many editions, this festival is a registered mark of Gwangju Metropolitan City.
After 4 years living in Korea I could notice how proud Koreans are of kimchi and that is the reason you are so serious, professionals and convinced at the moment of promoting this typical product of the Korean culture and its benefits.
Nowadays kimchi is well known all over the world as the most naturally fermented food and as one of the healthiest one.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of the UNESCO designation of the Korea’s Winter Kimchi Culture as an intangible culture heritage of mankind, by sure, the Festival and all its events will be full of success.
One of these prepared events is the Kimchi Bus which, this year, is visiting different South American countries promoting kimchi, its elaboration process and its great benefits as well as, at the same time, the ancient Korean culture, so far for us, at the other side of the world.
Gwangju, known as a city with a very rich culture, is hosting again, at the same time, the Biennale of Design, the most important design event of Asia. Thanks again for your invitation and kind reception and receive you and your people our best wishes of success and prosperity.
About Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul:
Mayor Park Won-soon is the front-runner in most of the opinion surveys on the Presidential hopefuls of the 2017 Presidential election. Here are the latest opinion polls conducted and published by the Real Meter Research Institute on Sept. 29, 2014 on the Presidential hopefuls:
Park Won-soon: 19.3%
Chairman Kim Moo-sung of Saenuri Party: 15.9%
Rep. Moon Jae-in of New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD): 12.1%
Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the NPAD: 8.6%
Former Governor Kim Moon-soo of the Gyeonggi Province: 8.5
Former Chairman Chung Mong-joon of Saenuri Party (owner of Hyundai Heavy Industries): 7.8%
Governor Hong Jun-pyo of Gyeongsangnam-do: 4%
Governor Ahn Hee-jung of Chungcheongnam-do: 2.5%
Governor Nam Kyung-pil of Gyeonggi Province: 2.3%.
Park is fast gaining the support of the people not only in Seoul but also in other parts of the country mainly for his modest, condescending and humble attitude to the plain citizens.
He is known to commute by subway and use the mass transportation means on most occasions except times when he cannot do so in his official capacity.
On the very day of the Gwangju Kimchi Festival on Oct. 4, 2014, The Korea Post had learned that Mayor Park was coming to Gwangju on the same plane of the Asiana Airlines, and sought for a brief meeting with the ambassadors as in the case of a meeting between the most influential Presidential Candidate Ahn Cheol-soo and the ambassadors on a similar tour.
This time, however, the meeting was did not realize due to the fact that Mayor Park was not using the VIP Lounge or the Protocol Office but the ordinary passage used by the common travelers.
On the Asiana plane, Mayor Park was not provided with any special seat but one of those used by the ordinary passengers.
This type of attitude on the part of Park won him many supporters during the short period of time since his victory at the Seoul mayoral by-election on Oct. 26, 2011.
At the time, Park’s popularity rating was the lowest of all the candidates on all opinion polls with around 5% while the front runner (Ahn Cheol-soo) got a whopping 55% and the ruling party candidate Nah Kyung-won winning around 20%. There was literally no chance of winning.
However, Park won the election thanks to Ahn’s withdrawal from the race in support of Park. Ahn was very popular among the people at the time and it was obvious that Ahn wanted to run for the Presidency rather than for Seoul mayorship. Park with only 5% support rating successfully defeated the ruling party candidate, Mrs. Nah Kyung-won, mainly due to Ahn’s support for Park.
From his election on Oct. 26, 2011 to the regular local elections on June 4, 2014, Park obviously worked hard to win the love of the Seoul citizens with the modest and humble attitude toward the citizens when he substantially reduced the debts of the Seoul City. This type of attitude on the part of Park substantially paid off in his winning of the Seoul local election although he also had a very, very good luck while it was a very sad case for the victims. It was the tragic Sewol Ferry Case which made 300-plus students and other passengers drown to death. The Sewol case brought down the popularity rating of President Park Geun-hye and her government and the ruling party to the lowest level it can go down. Ultimately, Park won the election with a 54.5% of the votes defeating the ruling party rival, Chung Mong-joon, who won only 44.7%.
Since then Mayor Park continues to gain the popularity of the people in a striking contrast with the continuously falling approval rating of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), of which he is a leading member.
The opinions polls do change depending on the occasions and the development of different situations and cases.
However, if Park continues to take the attitude of a commoner as he has been doing, there is a good chance of his winning a sufficient support of the people not only of Seoul but also all the other regions of the country to make himself the President of the Republic of Korea in December 2017.
At present, Park only has Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations as a formidable competitor as Ban prevails over Park in opinion polls. However, as of this time there has been no sign of Ban’s announcement as to whether or not to run in the Presidential race.
All the same, Mayor Park has had one disadvantage. Compared with former Presidents Lee Myung-bak and other Presidents from the conservative ruling parties, opposition Presidential candidates do not speak the English language well and are more oriented in the domestic affairs rather than internationally oriented.
Plus, the opposition political leaders are considered to be not very friendly with the United States and other Western World and this is viewed partly to derive from their relative lack of ability to speak English.
Many Koreans remember the time when the late former President Roh Moo-hyun lost his competition with Vladimir Putin in the Guatemalan City on July 3, 2007 when Putin won the right to host the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in Russia while Roh lost it to Putin because Putin advertised Sochi in fluent English while roh spoke in the Korean language nobody understood and consequently failed to win it for Pyeongchang.
Roh’s lack of the English language ability is known also to have adversely affected the relationship between South Korea and the United States. There were times when the Korean-American relations were somewhat strained during the government of President Roh Moo-hyun over a number of matters, including the traffic accident involving US military vehicles in the death of two Korean school girls.
However, the way Mayor Park spoke the English language at the Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival, it is obvious that the Korean people need not worry about the recurrence of such an unfortunate happening with Mayor Park as President. Park proved that he could do as well as Putin if not better if he should face the kind of situation where President Roh failed.
Mayor Yoon won the election during the June-4 gubernatorial and mayoral elections as a candidate hand-picked by Ahn Cheol-soo to run from the NPAD (New Politics Alliance for Democracy). One might wish to say that Mayor Park, by supporting Mayor Yoon, might be repaying Rep. Ahn for the decisive support given him during the 2011 Seoul by-election.
The writer is a former Cultural Editor of The Korea Herald and 1973 winner of the ‘Korean Literature Translation Award’ co-hosted by Korean-language daily Hankook Ilbo and The Korea Times. He is presently publisher-chairman of The Korea Post.