Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Placing the Korean War Children's Memorial sculpture, in Seoul or the Metropolitan City of Gwangju, South Korea?

I just got back from Korea where I spent 8 days looking for the appropriate place for the Korean War Children's Memorial sculpture that is being donated by my frie
nd SEBASTIAN of Mexico. On its base it is a bit over 21 feet tall and, given his world-wide fame, has a market value of over $700,000. He is the creator of the large blue steel sculpture in Big Rock Garden Park in Bellingham near the US Korean War Children's Memorial Pavilion.

On 23 October I hosted a breakfast meeting with His Excellency Leandro Arellano, Ambassador of Mexico to Korea. The Cultural Affairs Officer of the Mexican Embassy also attended as well as three Korean associates of mine, one from Seoul and two from Gwangju who flew up to Seoul for the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the
donation of Sebastian's sculpture. Sebastian offered it to me to support my project of honoring American servicemen and women for their aid to the children of Korea during the Korean War. Ambassador Arellano said he would host a reception for SEBASTIAN and wife Gabriela when they arrive for the dedication and would also call SEBASTIAN to inquire if the embassy could sponsor a showing of macquettes of his larger works in an art gallery in Seoul at the time he and Gabriela are visiting Korea. He is of the opinion that the sculpture should be placed in Seoul rather than in Gwangju where I have promised it. He also agreed that the sculpture should be given by the artist to the government of Mexico and then sent to Korea in "diplomatic pouch" status to avoid any taxes. It would then be given as a gift of the artist and the government of Mexico to the entity that ultimately receives the sculpture. Ambassador Arellano was delighted that SEBASTIAN would have a sculpture placed in Korea and would cooperate with my project to ensure that it gets wide visibility in the Korean media. He agreed to attend the dedication ceremony if at all possible. As we have no date nor location yet all of this is just a commitment on his part to help with the project.

From the breakfast with the Mexican Ambassador I rushed with Hong SungChang, my Korean associate, friend and interpreter who has helped me since 2003 on this project, to the U.S. Embassy which was located only about 15 minutes away from the Lotte Hotel where we had breakfast. Her Excellency Ambassador Kathleen Stephens was generous and gave me about a half hour of her time. She is newly appointed to the post and, interestingly, served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea years ago and consequently speaks good Korean. Ambassador Stephens liked my Korean War Children's Memorial project and agreed to attend the dedication of the SEBASTIAN sculpture "Las Palomas" (The Doves) if at all possible. She had some advice for me about how the event is to be advertised and what to be sensitive about when soliciting letters from former Korean War orphans. Two of her staff were in the meeting with me and SungChang. They will work with me as the project progresses. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet our Ambassador to Korea and told her that every Korean I met since her appointment speaks well of her.

The next day I took a trip to Ilsan to meet with Molly Holt. She came to Korea in 1957 to help her mother and father with their project of sending Korean orphans to the USA and other countries for adoption and has lived in Korea ever since. She is now Chairman of the Holt Foundation in Korea which has over 300 employees in numerous institutions around the country. She came to Bellingham for the dedication of the Korean War Children's Memorial in Big Rock Garden Park in July of 2003. I brought her up-to-date on the progress of the KWCM project in the USA and in Korea. She agreed to help me with the Korean part of the project and would definitely plan to attend the dedication ceremony. She is probably one of the best known Americans in Korea today.

I took the fast train the next morning to the Metropolitan City of Gwangju arriving about 1:30 p.m. My host was the Rev. Haeryang Yoo Kim who is trying to get the old orphanage buildings on property she and her husband own in the center of Gwangju restored to their original condition. One of them is probably one of the oldest structures left in the center of the city. Their heavily wooded 2-1/2 acres is very similar to BRG Park in Bellingham except it is on a steep hillside. When I was in Gwangju in December, 2008, at a dinner following the ceremony when Mayor Park Gwang-tae made me "honorary citizen" he promised to fund the restoration of the old Korean War orphanage buildings so they could serve as a museum, archive and also as a hostel for returning Korean adoptees world-wide who want to visit Korea. It seems that bureaucratic squabbles and turf-wars in the City Hall has delayed any appropriation for almost two years. Rev. Yoo used my visit to try to get the money to start the restoration of the buildings. An article had already appeared in the local paper about my visit along with a photo of the Sebastian sculpture "Las Palomas."

The afternoon of my arrival to Gwangju a member of the Korean National Assembly who had previously served as Mayor of Gwangju came to the house and assured me that he would 'pressure' the current city administration to release the money for the restoration of the buildings. Several newspaper reporters visited for interviews and photos. Leadership in the local Korean War Veterans Association came and at the end of a delightful dinner presented me with a Korean War Veteran's 'Ambassador of Peace' medal. [Something else to hang on my 'ego wall' in my office.]

Sunday was spent visiting a famous Korean artist, the one who did the calligraphy on the wooden board hanging on the Korean War Children's Memorial Pavilion in Big Rock Garden Park.

On Monday we all had lunch with the Mayor of Nam-gu, the district of Gwangju in which the orphanage is located. He actually flew home from Japan one day early to have this meeting as I would be leaving for Seoul early on Tuesday and would not be able to meet him them. He agreed to a shift of a fire lane off the property so it would not cut the property in half. He also agreed to support the reconstruction of the buildings and the development of the museum, archive and hostel. Then, after a bit of a rest, we went to meet the Vice Mayor for A
dministration for Gwangju (a city of 1.4 million persons). There were some strong words exchanged between Rev. Yoo and one of the city staff persons who claimed that she was the one responsible for the delay in funding the project. After a lot of loud exchanges in Korean I spoke and informed the Vice Mayor that the Korean War Children's Memorial sculpture would NOT go to Gwangju if the money is not released by 1 January, 2009 and work begun by 1 February of 2009. I informed him that Samsung Corporation would like to have it in front of their children's museum in Seoul and that the City of Seoul itself would like to have it in a city park.

After further discussions in Korean the Vice Mayor assured me that the city would release $1,300,000 US dollars (equivalent in Korean funds) by 1 January 2009 and that the work would begin immediately following the release of the money. After discussing some more details of the sculpture and the dedication ceremony we left the office. Those in our group were delighted. I assured Rev. Kim that I was not kidding, that if the money does not come across by 1 January, for any reason at all, and if the work does not commence by 1 February I will not send the sculpture to Gwangju. It will go to Seoul. The story of my visit to Gwangju appeared in at lease six Korean newspapers. This puts a lot of pressure on the Mayor of Gwangju to put up the 1.3 million dollars as he promised. I give it a sixty percent chance of happening. Afterwards we all went out for a light Chinese meal. If work goes as hoped the dedication would probably be a year from now, i.e., late October or early November of 2009. Here is one of the newspaper articles showing a photo of the sculpture, over 21ft. high on its base.


The next day I took the fast train back to Seoul, met with friends, did some shopping and on Wednesday caught the 6 p.m. flight back to Seattle.

Now I am trying to catch up on all the tasks that I let slide while preparing for the time I spent in Japan and Korea. In addition to the 'office' tasks there is a mountain of leaves to rake, rearrange the furniture in the living room, paint one wall before putting things back together again, set up the new surround sound audio-TV system This troglodyte is having troubles getting the FM system working. I will have to post a note on the university "Help Wanted" board looking for someone who can help me. Probably just another button to push in a given order.

'nuf for now. gfd

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