Old Friends and New Sights

As my time in Korea winds down, I’ve made a point of revisiting old friends while still trying to explore new areas.  Seoul is a wonderfully vibrant city, but there is also an endless list of things to see and people to meet in other regions of this amazing country.  That’s why I decided to make another trip to Busan and Daegu last week.  It is no secret that I have traveled to these cities many times before.  In fact, I visited Busan on 14 separate occasions while serving as the U.S. Ambassador, but this trip was a little different since I also stopped in the city of Tongyeong on my way.

Lunch with students from Pukyong National University

The name Tongyeong means “naval headquarters” and the city is often associated with the famous Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin whose base was located on a nearby island.  In Tongyeong, I went to the Hyangtojib restaurant to have lunch with students from the Fisheries Sciences College at Pukyong National University (PKNU). 

Meeting with Tongyeong Mayor Kim Dong-jin

After lunch I met with Tongyeong Mayor Kim Dong-jin at Tongyeong City Hall before making my way to the Daione Food Company for a tour of its oyster production facilities.  I was joined by the PKNU students and President Jo Pil-gue, an alumnus of PKNU, who gave us a tour.  Afterwards, we were invited to sample some of Daione’s delicious oysters, which were prepared in various ways and even served with Miller beer!  Tasting the fresh oysters reminded me of why one of my favorite foods in Korea is Gul Soondubu (oyster & tofu soup) and it was great to be able to witness the oyster preparation process from the factory to the dining table.

Touring Daione Food Company’s facilities

Next, I traveled to the Republic of Korea Fleet Command (ROKFLT) base where I met with both U.S. and ROK sailors.  It was great to see that the U.S. Naval Forces Korea successfully completed their move down to Chinhae, and it is always inspiring for me to see U.S. and ROK sailors working together as a strong component of the U.S.-ROK alliance.  During my visit to ROKFLT, the ROK Navy also appointed me as its 19th honorary member for helping to promote bilateral naval ties between our two countries – my heartfelt thanks to the ROK Navy for this truly special recognition and honor.

Speaking to U.S. and ROK sailors at the ROKFLT base

From the ROKFLT base, I headed to Busan to attend a reception and dinner event with some of my Busan contacts, including some students that I met during my previous trips to the area.  It was really great seeing old friends again, and I am proud of everything that the United States and Busan have accomplished together, including the upgrade from an American Presence Post to a U.S. Consulate in Busan and the strengthening of our economic ties.  It was a night filled with music, food, and memories that I won’t forget.  Thank you to the students who shared their fond memories of our previous trips together while hiking in Igidae Park or discussing current affairs at a jjimjilbang.  All of the creative and intelligent students who have joined me on my trips have helped make them fun and have reinforced my belief that Korea has an incredibly bright future ahead.

Group photo at the reception

After departing Busan, I arrived in Daegu to meet Keimyung University’s top-ranked Taekwondo team.  Watching their taekwondo demonstration, and trying out a few moves myself, really underscored how difficult it is to become a certified Taekwondo master.  

Practicing my board breaking skills with the Keimyung University Taekwondo Team!

After the Taewondo event I traveled to Daegu City Hall to meet with Mayor Kwon Young Jin and to receive an honorary citizenship from the city of Daegu.  I was selected to receive this great honor for my support of the annual Daegu Chimek Festival and the Daegu community as a whole.  The last American to become an honorary citizen of Daegu was former MLB baseball home run record holder Hank Aaron in 1982.  The honorary citizenship from Daegu holds special meaning for me as Mr. Aaron is one of my personal heroes, not only for his impressive feats on the field, but also his work in breaking down racial barriers and supporting civil rights activism throughout and after his career.  I was also deeply humbled to be the first person to receive an honorary citizenship from Mayor Kwon and very thankful to all of the people of Daegu.  I hope that I will be able to join in the festivities and visit the U.S. Embassy booth again at the Daegu Chimek Festival in the near future.

Receiving an honorary Daegu Citizenship from Mayor Kwon

Good memories of setting up a U.S. booth at the 2016 Daegu Chimek Festival! 

Toasting with Mayor Kwon at the 2016 Daegu Chimek Festival

One of my last stops on my trip was Suseong Lake.  I met with local activists there and discussed important issues regarding women’s rights.  We had a very productive discussion about the kinds of work that the women’s rights activists are doing in their local communities, as well as what the U.S. government and our U.S. Embassy could do to aid them in their work.

Learning about the important work of the women’s rights activists in the area

Finally, before I left, I had an interview with local Daegu TV station, TBC.  We discussed a variety of topics and, if you are interested, you can watch the full interview here: http://www.tbc.co.kr/tbc_news/n14_newsview.html?p_no=170110028

These trips to Daegu and Busan have been great experiences and also provided me with invaluable opportunities to learn about Korea and its people.  I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped make my regional visits so special over the past two and a half years, and I look forward to seeing you all again in the future.  Katchi kapshida!

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