Someone exclaimed as Ambassador Mark W. Lippert of the United States in Seoul approached the platform with dozens of other ambassadors for a group photograph at the Omani National Day and Korea-Omani diplomatic anniversary reception at the Crystal Ballroom of Lotte Hotel in Seoul last on Nov. 18, 2014.
“So what?” One might ask.
His presence matters. To many Korean guests and for me, a Korean journalist who has been covering the diplomatic functions for the past 40 years (ten years with The Korea Herald as a cultural editor and 29 years with The Korea Post as a publisher), his presence is a barometer showing how important the function in point is. This is because attendance of an American ambassador at a diplomatic function is so rare.
In addition, the distinguished guests in attendance also included Director Mukhamedov Farrukh Erklievich of the Institute for Monitoring of Current Legislation under the President of Republic of Uzbekistan, whose activities and functions are compared to those of the head of a cabinet ministry in terms of their importance.
Another indicator showing the importance of the Omani reception, which also marked 40th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Oman, was the surprisingly large number of ambassadors and their spouses present at the party. There were a total of some twenty ambassadors. The number is by no means so large considering the 40 to 50 ambassadors who are normally seen at diplomatic functions. However, in the case of the Omani party it was different. The date unfortunately coincided with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) tour of the southern region with the ambassadors with the minister attending in person.
Normally, this type of MOFA tour could cause an all but zero attendance at other diplomatic functions or social events. The unexpectedly large number of attendance of the ambassadors at the Omani party could be construed as an indication of the popularity of Ambassador Mohamed Salim Alharthy of Oman among his colleagues in Seoul as well as the intrinsic importance of the occasion.
There were many more distinctions at the Omani reception from other diplomatic functions. One of them was a revelation so far seldom sung. The Korean-Omani relations date back not to 40 years ago but to a thousand years backward.
According to First Vice Minister Cho Tae-yong of Foreign Affairs present at the reception, the relations between Korea and Oman began as early as during the Goryeo Dynasty of Korea (AD928-AD1392) when trade took place between Goryeo and Oman. Omani traders brought into Korea aromatic resin named frankincense which is used in religious rituals.
Perhaps, the most noteworthy at the party was the Omani kebab where the Omani chefs heated a palm-sized round flat bread on the spot right in front of the guests, made a cone with it and put into it chicken kebab pieces, tomato slices, cabbage pieces and a number of other vegetables together with white, yogurt-like sauce. The chefs then wrapped them all up in a paper which they folded into the shape of a cone. Was it tasty! No one has to say anything about the taste. The long, long queues formed to get it spoke eloquently about the taste. President Abdulkareem Adnam of Adnan Kebab and Adnan Pita Bread restaurant, said, in a brief interview with The Korea Post, he came to Seoul seven years ago and had a kebab restaurant in downtown Namchang-dong, Seoul. Asked how business was, he just beamed and said, “We are doing OK.” He was with his son and staff chefs.
There also was an exhibition of photographs and handicraft items on display along the wall of the banquet room which showed the ancient architectures and attractive tourist destinations of various regions of Oman.
In one corner of the ballroom was a traditional Omani tent pitched with cushions and sitting mattresses and inside where a unique Omani music was presented by a performing artist.
Ambassador Alharthy showed First Vice Minister Cho around to all the exhibits and he examined them attentively sampling Omani tea at the same time.
Then there were speeches by Ambassador Alharthy of Oman and Fist Vice Minister Cho.
Ambassador Alharthy said: “Over the years of the Sultanate’s modern renaissance, the Omani Renaissance continues development of human, natural and economic resources, and providing a broad base of infrastructure and services, and establishing the state of law and institutions.
“This year also marks the 40th anniversary of establishment of the diplomatic relations between the Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Korea, which have witnessed, since its establishment, development in various aspects. The volume of trade has been doubled, increase in the investment and exchange visits between the two friendly countries. In addition to this the Korean companies expanded their contribution in the construction and industrial projects taking place in the Sultanate of Oman.
“The Embassies keen to expand and deepen the prospects of cooperation to include all fields such as energy, technology and extend it to cultural, health, educational and tourism aspects and other fields.”
Among the guests in attendance from the Korean society, besides First Vice Minister Cho, were representatives of the business and various other orgnizations, including the media, who included Publisher-Chairman Lee Kyung-sik of The Korea Post.
From the international community came many distinguished guests including the mission chiefs who, included Ambassadors Hernani Filomena Coelho Da Silva of Timor Leste, Bill Veri of Papua New Guinea, Kaman Singh Lama of Nepal, Mamadou Ndiaye of Senegal, Ramzi Teymurov of Azerbaijan, Khalil Ismai Abdul Sahib Al-Mosawi of Iraq, Mohammed Chraibi of Morocco, Hocine Sahraoui of Algeria, Bessho Koro of Japan, Abdulla Khalfan Alromaithi of the United Arab Emirates, Michel Idiaquez Baradat of Honduras, Mohammed Bin Abdalla Obaid Al-Dohaimi of Qatar, Tito Saul Pinilla Pinilla of Colombia, Zahid Nasrulah Khan of Pakistan, Manuel Lopez Trigo of Costa Rica and, of course, Mark W. Lippert of the United States of America as mentioned earlier. There also was Minister-Counsellor (DHM) Zadran Gulmat Khan of Afghanistan.
Following their group photo session, spouses of the ambassadors went up to the platform for the camera. The ladies included Mrs. Zhanna Baigaziyev(spouse of the ambassador of Kazakhstan), Mrs. Raheela Nasrullah Khan (spouse of the ambassador of Pakistan), Mrs. Amal Lahlou (spouse of the ambassador of Morocco), Mrs. Avazeh Kasrai (spouse of the ambassador of Iraq), Mrs. Azza Alharthy (spouse of the ambassador of Oman), Mrs. Aouatef Sahraoui (spouse of the ambassador of Algeria), Mrs. Ndeye Aissatou Faye Ndiaye (spouse of the ambassador of Senegal), Mrs. Konul Teymurova (spouse of the ambassador of Azerbaijan), Mrs. Indra Maya Tamang (spouse of the ambassador of Nepal)