I served as U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim’s “control officer” for the American Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Inaugural Ball. The ball’s theme, “Texas,” was everywhere in evidence. On their way to the ballroom, guests strolled through cactus gardens, passed sunset silhuettes of men on horseback, and posed with human, gold and silver “statues “ of cowboys. We entered through an opening in a longhorn cattle skull. The ballroom stage sported a pair of twelve-foot tall, star-lit cowboy boots, and dining tables featured centerpieces with cowboy hats and desert flora.
Incoming Board of Governors Chairman James Kim greeted us with a hearty “Yeehaw,” as did AmCham Korea’s President Amy Jackson, who embodied the spirit of the occasion in her flouncy black and white frock and her big Texas hair. The Ambassador told audience members to rustle up some grub, wet their whistles, and dance the two-step, which he translated into standard English as “eat, drink, and be merry.”
Attendees dined on BBQ beef brisket tacos, Texas black bean soup, and grilled beef tenderlion with southwestern Béarnaise sauce. The winner of my trophy for best representation of theme, however, was the dessert. A green meringue cactus “wore” a chocolate cowboy hat, flanked by a chocolate pecan pie “wall,” a white chocolate sign that read “Texas,” a scoop of whisky ice cream, grapefruit wedges, peanut brittle “rocks,” and a silver sheriff’s badge that looked suitable for pinning on a leather vest, but was edible, too.
Auctioneer Henry An provided such useful advice as “feel free to bid against yourself” and “hold your bidding paddle in one hand, and a stiff drink in the other” before auctioning off packages, one of which included business-class airline tickets to Texas and hotel stays in Houston, San Antonio and Austin. After dinner, professional dancers taught line dancing to eager participants on a crowded dance floor.
The next day, Tom was out of town and I was feeling antsy, so I visited four museums. I would have preferred to do this on our Presidents Day holiday, but most museums in Korea, as in Japan, are closed Mondays. The first three museums were about Korean history, which has often been tragic. Korea was ruled by the Joseon dynasty that kept society tightly bound in a Confucian straight jacket for five centuries, before a brief period as an Empire, followed by a 35-year annexation to Japan. Then came the Cold-War division of the country and the Korean War, until finally, South Korea burst forth as the economic “Miracle on the Han River.”
Due to the occupation, war, looting, and modernization, not many old artifacts and buildings remain, but the Koreans kept one building for symbolic significance. Koreans designed their new City Hall to resemble a wave crashing over the top of an older building from the Japanese occupation era.
The fourth museum I stumbled on because it was behind the third one. It housed a temporary exhibit of pen and ink drawings and calligraphy. For me, this was a real treat.