Tuesday, October 17, 2006
SEOUL â€” The official residence and executive office of the President of South Korea is affectionately referred to as the Blue House. The stunning structure sits against a green hillside surrounded by broad, inviting gardens, which in turn are surrounded by very uninviting stone walls. While not particularly blue, the Blue House is nonetheless a magnificent example of traditional Korean architecture. It is beautiful, elegant, and very impressive. I was delighted to join Governor Gregoire for an official visit with President Roh Moo-hyun. Given the seriousness of events in Korea, I was surprised, but pleased, that President Roh would meet with us. More than simply make time for us, the President was well briefed about the issues of the state of Washington and the programs of the University of Washington.
It was great fun to watch Governor Gregoire discuss agricultural trade issues with President Roh like a seasoned diplomat, using every opportunity to turn casual banter back toward issues important to our state. She was simply masterful (clearly the result of her UW education!). I was also impressed by the Presidentâ€™s understanding of our programs in Korean Studies and Asian Law and by his interest in deepening these relationships. It was a thoroughly pleasant and encouraging encounter.
As we left the Presidentâ€™s official meeting room, I was quickly reminded of the seriousness of our time. Coming up the grand staircase in the Blue House was a delegation of Russian diplomats. Then, as we waited in our car, the motorcade of the Russian Prime Minister came roaring into the Blue House driveway. We had been discussing issues of real importance to us: the sale of Washington produce and products and educational exchanges among our universitiesâ€”important and serious issues, to be sure. But the next team coming in the door was there to consider nuclear disarmament and averting another war in Korea, or worse.
Gathering at the Ambassadorâ€™s residence
Tuesday ended with a reception and dinner at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Alexander Vershbow. The evening was a celebration of Washington State and Korean connections. Representatives from major Washington businesses sponsored the standing room only affair. Many Korean academics came to mingle among business leaders and diplomats. I suspect the event was much like many others that occurÂ at the Ambassadorâ€™s residence. But one fact distinguished this gathering from all the others: When Ambassador Vershbow gave his official remarks, a loud cheer rose from the crowd when he welcomed the University of Washington. He and the Governor were very impressed by the huge number of UW alumni that make up the business, political, and academic elite of Korea. For at least one evening, the Ambassadorâ€™s residence was the Dawgâ€™s House.