Friday, July 2, 2010

2010 RAS Garden Party

The Royal Asiatic Society - Korea Branch annually holds a garden party alternatingly at the American and British Ambassador's residence. This year's meet-and-greet at the American residence featured an entertaining yet surprisingly short traditional Korean musical performance from a group whose name I didn't catch as well as the annual RAS book sale. A historical site of its own, Ambassador Stephens' residence, known as the Habib House, is located just behind 덕수궁's back gate.

The original house long demolished, the property that housed that housed the original American legation was purchased in 1884 by Lucius Foote for approximately $2,200 at a time when his annual salary was but only $5,000. The American legation whose famous low ceilings caused understandable discomfort to six foot plus tall Horace Allen. Decades later during the Korean War, the grounds were occupied by North Korean forces in 1950. Despite enemy presence, surprisingly not a single item was reported to have been stolen. Years after the war, due to its age, countless add-ons and general poor upkeep, there was only so much dried mud that could hold up the building. Then current Ambassador Philip Habib insisted that a new building be built in the traditional Korean style. Completed in 1976, the house that stands today was never inhabited by the man who oversaw its inception. The house was dedicated in Habib's honor upon his death in 1992. The plot of land that houses the Habib House has many more stories to tell; some of which that I am butchering now. I encourage those who have access to either visit it one day or research it.

Finding the way-too-nice-to-be-an-ambassador's-residence was painless and after being greeted by the friendly security guards, a serene locale is discovered amongst downtown Seoul's depressingly numerous concrete block buildings. A true oasis in the desert, the Habib House is one of many spectacular views on the premises.

Shaking hands with people that are way out of my league and certainly more distinguished than I felt both surreal and pleasant. Some in atterndence were young ones like myself and others are complete rockstars in my world in terms of books written, lectures taught and decades spent studying and teaching Korea and her history. Makgeolli flowed lightly but steadily as the early evening fortunately moved on rain-free. I regret that I didn't take enough pictures but it was a predictably entertaining get-together. Other than buying way too many books from the book sale as I did, the event was free of charge to members; nice considering the locale, catering and spirits. If you didn't go, you missed out.


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