Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Learning Something New

Posted in Foreign Service Life, Korea at 11:31 pm by graceandpoise

If you learn something new every day, today has been a particularly productive day for me. Today I had lunch with some diplomats from the Korean embassy, then headed to the Korean embassy itself for some briefings on Korea-U.S. relations from the Korean point of view and a quick Q&A with the Korean ambassador. A few of the highlights:

  • The Korean ambassador to the U.S. is not a political appointee, but a career member of Korea's diplomatic corps (file this under "good things").
  • The Korean-U.S. relationship was at one point likened to a married couple: in the past, Korea was a wife under strict Confucian philosophy wherein she kept her mouth shut and did as she was told; more recently, Korea is a modern wife who has opinions of her own and wants to have them heard.
  • Korean diplomats wear really nice shirts.
  • Inside the Korean embassy, the Korean flag's markings (really everything but the white background) are made of pieces of velveteen sewn onto the white fabric. This is different from the way you typically see it, where the markings are either different colors of the same type of fabric as the backing or they are printed on the backing.
  • The Korean embassy has significantly fewer security procedures for visitors than the State Department has for its own employees.
  • The Korean ambassador wears a lot of cologne.
  • No matter how many big issues are on the table between Korea and the U.S., the foremost issue on the mind of the Korean government is their overwhelming desire to become a part of the U.S.'s Visa Waiver Program (the program that allows tourists from places like western Europe and Japan to come for short stays without having to get an entry visa beforehand). I'm getting the feeling that the pervasiveness of this issue will make my tour in Seoul as a consular officer especially interesting.

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