Venezuelans Here a Proud Few

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Venezuelans Here a Proud Few

General Simon Bolivar paved the way for Venezuela to declare its independence from Spain. The South American country now honors him annually on Independence Day, which falls on Thursday this year.

The Venezuelan Embassy is hosting a reception at the Hyatt hotel for the nation's 190th Independence Day. About 200 diplomats and community members are expected to attend.

Most of the people attending, however, will not be Venezuelan. Only about 17 Venezuelans live in Seoul. They are embassy staff members, U.S. military personnel, Spanish instructors, scholars and students, spouses of Koreans and their family members.

Another concentration of Venezuelans lives in Ulsan; in August, 1999, about 21 Venezuelans moved to the port city. Most are military personnel who are supervising the construction of ships being built at Hyundai Heavy Industries.

On Sept. 24 the ships will be handed over to Venezuela. Most of those expatriates will leave shortly thereafter.

When asked where in Korea one can experience Venezuelan culture, Eleonora Pulido de Salas, the embassy's press attache, squinted and pursed her lips. After some silence, her eyes lit up. "Macondo!" she declared. The salsa club near Hongik University is run by an Argentine, but specializes in all types of South American culture.

Since many South and Central American countries have only a few citizens in Korea, and those countries share a deep history, the Latin Americans in Korea have created a tight community.

One binding force is the Latin American Culture Center and Museum, run by a former Korean diplomat who served in Mexico. The cultural center, in Kyonggi province, is getting ready for an outdoor exhibition in October. Of the many Latin American works that will be displayed, "Solar Archangel," a steel sculpture by the Venezuelan artist Victor Salas, promises to be the most prominent.

Dankook University also plays a prominent role in the Latin American community. Last year, the school hosted an event on Latin American literature. In September, there will be a seminar on the song and dance of Venezuela as part of a series on Latin American culture.

As for sampling Venezuelan food in Korea, unless you are invited to someone's home, it is not possible. About all you can find is the Italian restaurant, Arancio, in Yeoksam-dong, Seoul, which offers a cocktail made with Venezuelan rum. Also called Arancio, the restaurant's trademark drink is made of orange juice, orange rum and ground ice.

But alcohol by no means tops the list of Venezuelan imports. Korea mostly brings in raw materials for industrial purposes, and exports electronics, ships, automobiles, electrical equipment and textiles.

The embassy's biggest prize came earlier this month when Ssangyong Corp. said it would be importing 250,000 tons of Orimulsion, an environmentally-friendly substitute fuel. The energy source is already used in United States, Japan and Canada. For now, though, Korea has a trade surplus with Venezuela.


with an ambassador and an artist

Guillermo Quintero, ambassador of Venezuela

The first time Guillermo Quintero laid eyes on Korea was in 1999. As the chief of a delegation visiting Korea, Mr. Quintero arrived here with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

"I go to the heart of the city when I travel," Mr. Quintero said. While seeing regal architecture, eating at good restaurants and experiencing cultural attractions may sound like the ideal trip to some, Mr. Quintero prefers to go to the streets "to know the city in its entirety."

He returned as ambassador on Oct. 18, 2000, to a memory of "a city by the river." Mr. Quintero compared the geography of Korea to his homeland, simply saying, "I was born in the mountains."

Venezuela is famed for the Andes mountains to its west. Mr. Quintero was born on the highest peak, Merida. And in Korea, he has already hiked up Mount Bukhan.

Mr. Quintero will be spending Independence Day at the reception.

Victor Salas, sculptor

Victor Salas knows that his most memorable Independence Day will be this year. "I'm working on what could be my biggest sculpture," he said with excitement. For the reception at the Hyatt hotel, Mr. Salas is creating a flag made of plasticized fabric that is 350 meters high and 510 meters wide.

His first exhibition in Korea will be in October at the Latin American Cultural Center and Museum, where he will unveil his new sculpture "Solar Archangel." The steel sculpture overlooks the park, like a guardian angel protecting the people below.

Mr. Salas is a prominent sculptor famous for his work in kinetic art, which centers on real or apparent movement. Venezuela has long been a hotbed of kinetic art, and Mr. Salas has been an important part of that community.

As a kinetic metal sculptor, he has only dreamed about creating with steel. Steel is significantly cheaper and easier to find in Korea, and with Korea's futuristic cutting and shaping technologies, it is easier to use, too.

The unexpected move to Korea last July allowed him to explore this new material. Before taking up steel, he worked in bronze, aluminum and iron.

"Seoul is like an urban gallery," Mr. Salas said with a touch of envy. The works may not be placed in the most ideal settings, but he finds the number of sculptures in Seoul amazing.

"I would be happy leaving a piece of me in Seoul," he said.

by Joe Yong-hee

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