With celebrations continuing in honour of The Queen’s 90th birthday, the South Korean ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hwang Joon-kook, was reminded of a previous celebration that took place to celebrate Her Majesty’s birthday within his own homeland.
The United Kingdom and the Republic of South Korea have long enjoyed a fairly healthy relationship ever since the Republic achieved independence from the Empire of Japan after the Second World War, with 10,000 British troops serving alongside South Korean forces during the Korean War. Relations warmed up quickly from the 70’s onward, and finally culminated in a state visit from Queen Elizabeth II during the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. The Queen’s visit was met enthusiastically by the citizens of South Korea, and it just so happened that Her Majesty’s visit coincided with the official celebrations of her 73rd birthday.
As she visited a walled village called Hahoe on the outskirts of the city of Andong, she was welcomed by a crowd of several thousand drawn from nearby villages waving paper paper British and South Korea flags. Her Majesty was then entertained by nine dancers who performed a traditional dance with wooden masks, believed to be nearly 800 years old. The Queen was then presented with a traditional feast composing of 47 Korean dishes of the type that would have been presented to ancient Korean kings, although it was reported that Her Majesty did not sample any of the dishes herself. Also celebrating their birthdays alongside her were five local residents, one of whom offered her a toast using a traditional Korean rice wine called chongju.
Nearly two decades on, and The Queen still has fond memories of her Korean birthday celebration, remarking as such to the South Korean ambassador as she presented her credentials to him this past Wednesday. As well as cherishing her memories of her 1997 visit to South Korea, Joon-kook also reported that The Queen expressed her satisfaction that relations between the UK and South Korea have only improved since her state visit nineteen years ago. She also offered her thanks to South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, for wishing her a happy birthday.
Mr Hwang also commented that The Queen expressed an interest in the novel published by South Korean author Han Kang, “The Vegetarian”, which has just won the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. The book, first published in 2007, depicts the life of a young South Korean woman having a dream that convinced her to become a vegetarian and the impacts it has on her and her family.