Envoy's Wife Combines Creativity, Public ServiceShe's Witnessed History in Korea and the Philippines
At t the book launch for "Dinner with Ambassadors" (Hollym) at Seoul's Hyatt hotel last November, Christine Holmes Bosworth, the wife of the U. S. Ambassador to Korea, spoke with such passion that it caught the attention of both foreign and Korean spectators. Mrs. Bosworth was the creative force behind the cookbook, which features contributions from 62 ambassadors and their spouses. This was perhaps the first instance of every embassy in Seoul working on a single issue: to introduce its country's culture through its food. The cookbook, containing over 300 recipes, is available in both English and Korean.
Mrs Bosworth's energy and willingness to dedicate herself to her unofficial but heavy public duties is evident in the activities she has taken part in during her stay in Korea. She helped organize talnted young Korean artists living in the U.S. to exhibit their art here, recognizing the importance of cultural exchanges among local Koreans and Korean-Americans.
She has also been a long-term supporter of reunification along with her husband, who served as the executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) before returning to U.S. government service as ambassador in Seoul.
Mrs. Bosworth spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition at the American ambassador's residence, the Habib House in Jungdong, Seoul. Over the three years of her husband's tenure in Korea, she said, she has developed an enduring attachment to Korea's culture and people. Mrs. Bosworth will soon be leaving Korea with her husband, who will leave the U.S. government to take a position at Tufts University near Boston.
IHT-JAI: Have you started packing?
Bosworth: We've got about a week or two left and yes, there's a lot of packing to do. In fact, we just got back from a trip to Australia. Being in Asia allowed us to travel extensively. We used to enjoy living in Manhattan where dining and going out were part of our everyday life. Actually, this time, we're not taking much because the place we're moving into is in Boston and it's only a two-bedroom apartment. We'll have to store a few Korean antique chests and other acquisitions.
IHT-JAI: Have you been collecting Korean antiques?
Bosworth: I love Korean antiques. I bought several chests you see in the residence at a couple of shops in Insa-dong. Itaewon shops have reproductions, but some Insa-dong stores sell authentic antiques. In fact, the wife of former Ambassador Richard Sneider, Nancy Sneider, who is a good friend of mine, is an avid collector of Korean antiques and a private dealer in New York City. When she came to visit Korea two years ago, she and I went shopping together in Insa-dong. I found a pair of wooden figurines I liked and she encouraged me to buy them. I paid only $350 each for them at the time, but they are worth a lot more than that now. I've noticed that young Korean people do not value Korean antiques and are rather into contemporary furniture. I love Korean antiques because, like other Asian antiques, they are simple and go with anything - new or old! But they are generally very expensive.
IHT-JAI: Before coming to Korea, what were your expectations?
Bosworth: I was genuinely excited about coming to Korea. Stephen was the executive director of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization based in New York. When he was three months into his job, we had a reception at our Manhattan apartment, which was large enough to accommodate about 50 people. Since the people we had invited were North and South Korean delegates, Japanese and Americans, I prepared Korean and Japanese food, and served soju and Japanese beer. I remember the North Koreans were very strict with their schedule, so we were told that they were to arrive exactly at 6:30 p.m. and that they would be staying only for half an hour. As promised, North Koreans showed up on time. Everyone drank and ate. After some soju, beer and scotch, everyone started mingling and talking. An hour passed. And then another. The North Koreans didn't leave until 8:45 p.m.
The North Korean delegation included a well-travelled, sophisticated North Korean named Ho Jung, and at one stage he raised his glass and made a toast, saying "To our South Korean brothers!" I watched people from this separated nation uniting in front of me in my own apartment. That memory is very special and exciting to me.
Then Stephen became the Ambassador to Korea and I was thrilled
although he had wanted to have opportunities to travel Asia but not to live here. I think that there is a world of difference between knowing about a country and actually living in it. I am glad to have had the special experience to really get to know Korea and its people.
IHT-JAI: Do you believe in the Eastern notion of karma?
Bosworth: (laughing) I don't but I was, on several occasions, told by Korean people that I had perhaps been a Korean in a previous life. Maybe this is the way Asians think. All I can tell you is that I've felt very comfortable being with Korean people and living here.
When I was growing up in Southern California, I knew there were Koreans among the large Asian population. Actually, my family were immigrants from Finland. When I was a young girl, I remember my mother and grandmother often talking about the Korean War. They thought that the Korean people were caught between China and Japan, just like Finns. Finland was in a similar situation, caught in the middle between Sweden and Russia. Unlike most Americans who were largely concerned with domestic issues, my family, being immigrants in a new country were constantly discussing international affairs and made me aware and interested in what was going on outside America.
IHT-JAI: Do you consider yourself well-traveled?
Bosworth: Absolutely. I've traveled to South America, Japan, China, and lived for three years in the Philippines in the late '80s. I conducted an interview with the Filipino leader Corazon Aquino for the inaugural issue of Lears Magazine [a women's magazine no longer being published]. Unlike the Marcoses, who were obsessed with power, Mrs. Aquino was a woman of substance, very serious and a hard worker. I did only one interview with a high-profile politician in my life and had a lot of fun doing it.
IHT-JAI: What kind of people did you get to know in Korea and who do you consider your true friends?
Bosworth: There are three main kinds of people here: Koreans and Korean-Americans, people who are in business like journalists and corporate officers and the foreign community. I tried to bring
Korea's foreign community together by working on various projects. I helped to organize an art exhibition titled "Koreamerica Korea" and to create the cook-book "Dinner with Ambassadors." This was a first in Korea and it has contributions from all the foreign diplomats stationed here. The book introduces the ambassadors in the first three paragraphs of each chapter followed by food personally selected by them. My choice of recipe with tortillas and jalapenos showed my Southern Californian background. A mix of international flavors was what I had in mind. I know Chinese and Japanese food is popular in Korea because they are Northeast Asian countries. But these days Koreans are getting into Indian and Southeast Asian foods such as Thai, and want to taste more of an international mix. You know, food is usually a visitor's first experience of a country and its culture. And Korea is opening up to new places.
Personally, I found First Lady Lee Hee-ho very impressive. Stephen and I were invited to their home just before her husband became the President. She has a quiet but strong character, and there was an immediate connection between her and me.
IHT-JAI: What is the highlight of your time in Korea?
Bosworth: To be able to see Korea up close; to see Korea go through such big changes over three years. US-Korea relations are important and as American ambassadors, we were able to play the key role in bringing the two countries closer. During our time here, Kim Dae-jung became the president and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Korea went through an economic crisis and survived it, just like that. I think at the time, the role of media was very important in Korea. The papers told the Korean people that they had a problem and it was "our responsibility to fight, do something about it." Korean people did not blame anyone else; they just got down to work. The rapprochement with North Korea was spectacular; South Koreans went to North and the U. S. secretary of state visited Pyongyang soon afterwards.
Security, of course, is very important in the region but , it's also expanding fast commercially. The speed of economic growth is something Korean people have as an asset. The South Korean economy being ranked 15th in the world means that there will be many more opportunities for the people as it grows.
Things were happening so quickly here, one thing after another. We were able to witness many key historic moments.
IHT-JAI: What are you going to miss most?
Bosworth: I'm going to miss the excitement. In Korea, I was given opportunities where I could take charge of a task and be able to carry it out. Part of my personality is that once I get some-thing started, I must see it right through to the end. Here I could get these projects done, because people supported what I believed in and did. When I return to the U.S., I have a few choices, including getting the cookbook published in America. There is, of course, a personal fear inside me about leaving a place where I've felt so comfortable and I'm wondering what future will hold for me. I've just felt so comfortable in Korea and I'm going to miss everything that it offered me. I hope to work on something to do with Korea.
IHT-JAI: Among love, happiness and success, which is the most important to a woman like yourself with such a great mind and vision?
Bosworth: I was lucky and even privileged to be able to stay with my children and raise them. I didn't have a father while I was growing up because we lost him during the second world war, and so my mother had to work all the time. My children, all four of them, are now grown up. Billy is with Lehmann Brothers in London, Stacey is working on her doctorate at the University of Chicago, Allison is living in Rochester and our youngest son Andrew, 29, is teaching social studies in Mexico City. They are in control of their own destinies and I don't want to be too involved in their lives. I need to work, like all my friends who are working back home. Having children and being with them can mean a successful, happy life for a woman, but as she travels through the different stages of life, priorities change. When my son called to congratulate me on publishing the cook-book, I was really, really happy. When your children get older, they nurture you and these days we nurture each other. You want to have something for yourself to be happy.
I believe that love, happiness and uccess should all come together. While you're out there doing what you really want to do, you should have fun with it, and every once in a while – no, every day – you should laugh too. And that's what I'm going to do before leaving Korea - go out to lunches and dinners and just relax and enjoy!
by Inès Cho