Sea Talk: Superb Wines and Horrid Storms

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Sea Talk: Superb Wines and Horrid Storms

In 1828, a newly published French encyclopedia recorded: "Korea is an unknown peninsula of the Asian continent. Supposedly, there is a king who pays tribute to the Chinese emperor."

The short entry was based on the accounts of a Dutch sailor whose vessel sank near Jeju Island some 40 years before the encyclopedia was released.

"It's an inaccurate account that reflects the total lack of knowledge they had then about the Hermit Kingdom," said the Chilean ambassador, Fernando Schmidt. The encyclopedia is part of his private collection. He stumbled across the entry one day, and now uses it when he describes his views on the transformation of Korea from an obscure place to a well-known country.

In 1963, Chile's per capita income was $300, while Korea's was $100. Now, Chile's is $5,000 and Korea's is $10,000. "It's the miracle of the Han River," Mr. Schmidt said.

In honor of the the visit of the Chilean ship the Esmeralda, the ambassador, who took up his post just over a year ago, spoke with the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition about the grand ship, his current projects and one of the worst storms he ever experienced on a boat.

IHT-JAI: What does the Esmeralda mean to you?

Schmidt: We call her "The White Lady." She is a major symbol that gives the impression of white freshness and open relations. Having her dock here is Chile's way of telling Korea that we exist. We are a society that wants to strengthen our relations with your country. Busan is Korea's gate to Chile. Practically all trade between the two countries - from copper to timber - goes through the port.

IHT-JAI: Will this be the first time you have seen "The White Lady?"

Schmidt: I boarded her once 20 years ago. Before every training crew departs, they request a foreign minister to give a lecture about the countries where the ship will dock. I was with the Columbian desk at the foreign ministry, and I spoke to the crew. The ship was elegant and quite impressive. This time, I board her as an ambassador.

IHT-JAI: Since you have been posted here as the Chilean ambassador, what projects have you worked on?

Schmidt: It's not right to talk about myself, you understand. As a team, our staff has achieved many things. We have solid scientific, cultural and commercial contacts. This is reflected in the state visit of President Kim Dae-jung to Chile planned for next year. Recently, Chileans from Easter Island visited Korea for the Jeju World Festival for Island Culture. A statue reminiscent of the statues on Easter Island will be unveiled on Jeju next month. But it will be made of Jeju stone.

We also import wine. It is amazing how powerful an image-maker wine is. It is risky to make any recommendations, but perhaps some of the most excellent are Almaviva, Montes and Sena.

IHT-JAI: What is the worst storm you have ever weathered on a ship?

Schmidt: I was 32 or 33. I took a ship out near the southern edge of Argentina. The weather turned unpredictable. The ship flew up and down with the waves and I couldn't do anything. I was at the mercy of the forces of nature. There came one moment when I was really very scared. But that was a tiny ship. And the experience has not deterred me from sailing.

by Joe Yong-hee

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