34 Years of Service Has Its Due: She Gets Award From Queen

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34 Years of Service Has Its Due: She Gets Award From Queen

Surrounded mainly by strangers, her itinerary gone slightly awry, Bae Sue-ja shook her head. Mrs. Bae, who was overseeing a tour of the Hadong Tea Festival in South Kyongsang province, swiftly rearranged the sightseeing plans and herded her tour group through Plan B.

Despite the kink in the schedule, Mrs. Bae maintained a happy smile that competed for attention with her bright red shirt. After all, her role as general manager of the Royal Asiatic Society has honed her on-the-spot problem-solving skills.

Mrs. Bae has been trotting across Korea for 34 years. The excursion to Hadong was one weekend in more than 1,600 that she has dedicated to the Royal Asiatic Society, a British organization that celebrates the arts, customs, history and literature of its host country. If Mrs. Bae is not supervising cultural tours, she is managing the society office or maintaining ties to a dizzying number of cultural figures, government officials and society members.

The Korean branch of the society celebrated its 101th birthday on Saturday with a garden party at the home of the British ambassador. After opening remarks by the society's president, Horace Underwood, the ambassador, Charles Humfrey, gave Mrs. Bae a Member of the British Empire medal (MBE) to the applause of 250 people. Award winners are announced once a year on Queen Elizabeth II's birthday honor list.

Mr. Underewood called Mrs. Bae the "engine" of the Royal Asiatic Society. Upon receiving the award, Mrs. Bae modestly wondered why she should have been selected ."It's a mystery to me," she said.

More than a century ago, 17 men from Germany, Great Britain and the United States formed the Korea branch. Quite possibly the oldest expatriate community organization in Korea, its members range from scholars to ambassadors to tourists to bankers. Mrs. Bae, who is not a British citizen, is the binding link between them.

The Royal Asiatic Society has branches in more than 20 countries. The society, headquartered in London, was founded in 1823 to promote Asian studies. The Korea branch has more than 800 members and 450 overseas. Besides cultural tours all around Korea, the society organizes lectures at the Goethe Institute twice a month.

Mrs. Bae joined the society after surprise circumstances forced her to bid goodbye to plans to study abroad. She took a job at the Royal Asiatic Society as an assistant to the manager. Two months later, the manager quit and the job became hers. While she never did get to study abroad, she has met people from all nations through the society. "I have many, many stories," Mrs. Bae said.

by Joe Yong-hee

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