Whew! The U.S. Embassy’s July 4th event went off without a hitch. I don’t know how many people hours went into the planning of the party at the Grand Hyatt for 1500 people, but I was on the planning committee, so a lot of those hours were mine. We began months before: lining up donors, designing invitations, drawing up invitation lists, finding photos for a slideshow celebrating the 60th anniversary of post-Armistice U.S.-South Korea cooperation, finding photos for a green screen in front of which people would be photographed together with lifesize cut-outs of President and Mrs. Obama, setting the menu, planning decorations, etc.
The corporate donors were crucial because the Embassy isn’t allowed to pay for the celebration. In addition to monetary donations, Sunkist donated soju lemonade made from fresh-squeezed lemons (soju is a flavorless Korean alcohol that packs a a big wallop), and Walt Disney donated Mickey Mouse-shaped donuts (a new partnership with Crispy Crème), and specialty cakes themed on the Iron Man and Cars movie franchises. We decided on red, white and blue mini cupcakes instead of a large cake that needed to be cut. The problem was that few people ate the cupcakes, so at the end we grabbed empty donut boxes from under the Disney table, and loaded them up with cupcakes that we brought into work afterwards.
Our biggest coup was the participation of the ROK Air Force band and singers. All Sourh Korean men have to serve in the military for 21 months, including opera singers. Some talented singers and musicians in the Air Force got together and created a short parody of Les Miserables called Les Militaribles, a big hit on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZunEARBb6I). It’s about Air Force cadets being forced to shovel snow under the watchful eye of Duty Officer Javert, and John Valjean, who takes off an hour to visit his girlfriend, and returns a few minutes late. The spoof ends with a rousing number declaring the cadets’ faith that spring will come again. It turned out that the son of one of our employees was serving at the same base where Les Militaribles was filmed, and through connections he lined up three of its stars (two who had since “retired” from the Air Force because their compulsory service was over) to come and sing portions of the parody at our July 4th event. They were great!
For our ice sculpture, we had an eagle soaring above a logo that was designed especially for the 60th anniversary partnership. A 60th year celebration is emphasized in Korea, called “hwangap,” where they traditionally throw a big party for someone who has lived that long. A little later I attended the National Day for Colombia, and had to stare at its ice sculpture a while to figure it out. Could it be? Yes, it was carved in the shape of an accordion, in honor of a famous accordion player and his band from Colombia who performed at the event.
We attended the wedding of the son of one of my co-workers. The couple was married on stage in a ballroom at the Hilton Hotel; she wore a long white gown, and he wore a tuxedo. The audience sat at round tables, and after the ceremony we were served an expensive, delicious dinner. The bride’s guests were on one side of a raised runway, the groom’s guests on the other. There wasn’t much opportunity for the two sides to mingle, and after dessert was finished, exactly two hours from the beginning, everyone got up and left. I think this traditionally occurs because guests know the hotel needs to set up for another wedding. The bride and groom both attended dental schools in the U.S. and have now begun practicing there, then plan to move back to Korea after acquiring some experience. Call it a coincidence, but I helped host a baby shower (for a different couple!) at our home a few weeks later.
Our housekeeper scattered lettuce seeds in our backyard, and loads of lettuce plants sprang up. We had so much lettuce that I gave bags of it away to about forty people in my office. When I see lettuce, I think: Salad. So I was surprised when I gave lettuce to Korean people and their response was, "Thanks! Now I'll go grill some meat." When Koreans see lettuce, they think of using it to wrap bulgogi beef in. In fact, it's difficult to find a restaurant that serves salad for lunch.
We visited the Trickeye Museum in downtown Seoul. Its specialty is optical illusion paintings that allow people to pose as if they were actually part of the picture. You can be lounging on a striped chair in the Georges Seurat painting that inspired the musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” or pretending to mop the wood floor of a Van Gogh painting that features a single bed and blue walls. B y using mirrors to hide a box you’re sitting in, they can even make it look as if your head is being served up to a witch.