[REPORTER’S DIARY]Did you hear the one about...?President Roh Moo-hyun’s sense of humor is the talk of the Blue House these days. The president has been slowly gaining a reputation for his ability to make people laugh, even at formal meetings with high-ranking military officers and senior officials from various ministries.
The president recently had a luncheon meeting with the heads of naval forces who were to participate in a graduation ceremony at the Korea Naval Academy.
The atmosphere of the luncheon was a solemn and serious affair because the president, as Korea’s commander in chief, was present. But the president suddenly brought up his own army experience.
“When I was a soldier, I always liked to have around a food plate imported from the United States. I used to iron my uniform with the plate, on which hot and steamy rice was placed. And it worked great.”
Those at the meeting burst into laughter.
“I sensed that I would lead a comfortable military life if I was assigned to be an accountant,” he went on. “So, I raised my hand when a master sergeant asked who the best man was with an abacus. I never was a good calculator, even though I graduated from a technical high school. Mostly, I mimicked calculating on an abacus with my fingers. But the master sergeant immediately gave me a secure job.”
During his military service, the president served as a guard in charge of music at a flag-lowering ceremony. One day, he said, he made the mistake of playing recorded music even though a military band was performing live. For punishment, he had to run around a drill field several times, carrying a full pack.
The anecdote greatly amused the admirals.
Because the president frequently holds appointment ceremonies for cabinet members, he showed concern for Kim Doo-kwan, the minister of Government Administrations and Home Affairs. “How come you always show up at every ceremony as one of the busiest cabinet members?” the president wondered aloud. “I guess I need to appoint a backup government administration minister who is exclusively in charge of appointment ceremonies.”
More loud laughter rang out.
The reorganization of offices in the Blue House, including the relocation of the president’s office, is not a casual issue because it’s all about how close one is or is not to the president. To save money, the president decided to move his office from the main building to one adjacent to the secretariat. The president joked that only his office was relocated, leaving the first lady and her secretaries in the main building.
The crack broke up the meeting.
The president needs to ease people’s fears, just as he does with his sense of humor. Doing so helps us know that he is a flexible and friendly politician. But more than that, he needs to show his ability to lead the nation with confidence.
by Choi Hoon
The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.