Charm Lee, a German-born naturalized Korean, was recently appointed as the President of the Korea Tourism Organization. According to the Korean press, his appointment reflects the Korean Government’s willingness to open up a high level government public office to a foreign born individual who possesses professionalism which is also expected to bring a positive impact on attracting foreign investment to Korea.Since being naturalized in 1986, he has actively been involved in various fields in corporate management and major media- including TV, which has made him a well-known public figure and recently, he has hosted a TV programme regarding tourism and globalization of Korean food. He is known to be very passionate about his adopted home which is obvious through his words and actions. During the appointment press conference, President Lee said “With my extensive understanding and experiences of cross cultures, I will do my best to elevate the Korean tourism industry through strengthening overseas marketing and expansion of tourism infrastructures from the perspective of a consumer.”
I met Mr Charm Lee, on a typically British Autumnal day, at the Korean Cultural Centre in London. I was privileged to accompany him on his business trip between the 7th of November and the 9th of November during his Korean Tourism Campaign in London. At first glance, I must admit that I was overwhelmed by his features and of his elegant use of the Korean language. During his several interviews in London, he was confident about the future of Korean Tourism. Not surprisingly, he was able to share this confidence with a European audience. I believe that this should be the most valuable asset he possesses. Below is an excerpt of how he is trying to project the image of Korea as a special culture:
Why come to Korea?
I would simply reply that ‘to recharge your energy’ because there is more energy in Korea than anyplace else. Korea is a society that recharges and reinvents itself constantly. It’s very Oriental but a unique place where a multicultural society is emerging.It is a very sophisticated and world-class country—you can get anything here.
What is the genuine charm of Korea of Charm Lee?
1. Genuine Taste: Good Food is the Best Medicine
Korean food incorporates philosophy and science, which is well incarnated with the wisdom of our ancestors who always said that ‘good food is the best medicine’. The role of food is not only to provide us with nutrients but also to heal our bodies. This is exactly why Korean food attracts so much attention at a time when eating health food is becoming a global trend. Korean food reflects ‘Yin, Yang, and the Five Elements’, all fundamentals in Oriental philosophy. Take Kimchi for instance. No matter how much we eat Kimchi we do not get tired of it, and that’s because it is based on that perfect Oriental harmony. The ‘Globalization of Korean Food’ is well underway and therefore it is important to maintain excellence and develop Korean food into premium products. Makgeolli, for instance, is traditional liquor that was mostly consumed by older generations within Korea. Recently, it has been rediscovered amid the increasing preference for healthy food, as a delicious, healthy, high quality beverage.
2. Genuine Charm: Peering out from the Daecheonmaru
Hanok are traditional Korean houses that are built with science and philosophy in mind. Their locations are carefully calculated in accordance with Feng-Shui principles, focusing on both practical use and beauty. You can feel the natural energy of Korea in this eco-friendly structure that uses local, natural building materials such as rocks, soil, and wood. When I am in a very old Hanok or a traditional Hanok built by masters, I fall asleep without even noticing it and wake up feeling refreshed and quite happy. The best part is that Hanok has a spacious yet cozy open-air living room called Daecheongmaru which is great to relax in. I like to take in the scenery and even meditate and thinking deeply alone. The world is just so peaceful and beautiful as I lie down on Daecheongmaru gazing at clouds floating in the sky, and listening to the sound of wind.
3. Genuine Sound: 'Sori’, Korean Music That Touches the Soul
Powerful energy hidden inside the virtue of moderation - the sound of Korea is quiet and calm, yet inside it hides powerful energy like an exploding volcano. Although Koreans are peace-loving people, being sandwiched between China and Japan, Korea has often suffered from invasion and war. The sorrow that comes from that sad history is known as ‘Han’. ‘Han’ is what one feels when not able to express feelings of oppression or exploitation because of and unequal power relationship. It is believed that ‘Han’ is the source of the power that is driving Korea to become a successful player in the international sphere, both politically and economically. That energy can be easily felt while listening to a ‘Sori’ performance (a general term for all traditional songs of Korea including Pansori and Minnyo or folk songs). I feel so touched and empathized with the melody as I listen to Sori, the sound of Korea based on ‘Han’ and nostalgia. It is a genuine heart touching sound.
Apart from the above mentioned 3 genuine beauties, Mr Lee, also proposed 3 attitudes (3관: Attention, Observation, Relationship / 관광객에 대한 관심, 관찰, 관계) and 5 Elements (5림: Excitement, Attraction, Harmonisation, Echo, Wave / 떨림, 끌림, 어울림, 울림, 몸부림) on the Tourism Campaign. I believe, not before long, Korean tourism will develop sensationally in the European tourism market and I have no doubt in saying that MR Lee will lead this supportive campaign successfully because he has discovered that the selling point about Korea does not only rely on visual or contemporary consumable factors but also on spiritual and philosophical essences, which the country has beautifully preserved for more than 5,000 years. It is in the immediate future that the World’s 11th largest economy should purposefully develop a strategy to promote its tourism industry.
(Written by Lee Hyung-wook, Editor in Chief)