Ambassador muses on his almost-over term in two Koreas
Mr. Braastad recalled his time in Korea as fantastic and interesting. Since he first came to Seoul in September 2001, he has observed the dynamic World Cup in 2002, visited Pyongyang for the first time in 2003 and also became his country’s envoy to North Korea in 2004.
He said he has found the political changes in Korea during his time here “interesting.” Mr. Braastad said he initially held a picture of Korea in his mind as “conservative,” but had observed progressive elements come more to the surface of Korean society during the 2003 presidential election. “It was quite interesting to see how the change affects the society,” he added.
Asked about relations between the Koreas, Mr. Braastad chose his words carefully. “There’s no obvious solution, unless the six parties have a dialogue,” he said, adding that the North’s purported attempt to test launch a long run missile would make the new context of the six-party talk more complicated.
Over the last five years, the Norwegian envoy has tried to promote Norway to Koreans, through contemporary Norwegian ceramic and glass exhibitions, a “Norwegian Woods” concert in collaboration with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and a staging of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghost.” The number of Korean tourists in Norway is increasing, he said, but as yet, not many Koreans know about Norway.
“I wish we had more money,” Mr. Braastad said. “We’d like to make Norway known in Korea, but in order to do that, Korea has to be known in Norway.” As Korea is not well known in his home country, it’s hard for him to argue for a greater budget to promote Norway in Korea, he explained. In that sense, the Norwegian ambassador to Seoul and the Korean ambassador to Oslo share a common task of selling each country to the other nation, he added.
“You’ve made many efforts, by hosting the APEC meeting and the World Cup, events that focused on the nation,” said Mr. Braastad, adding that more effort is needed. It’s important to enhance knowledge about Korea in the rest of the world, and Korea should find a way to reach the level of China and Japan, he added.
“You have a beautiful country,” Mr. Braastad said. “I really enjoyed mountain hiking.” His favorite mountain is Mount Bukhan and he has visited Mount Kumgang three times.
He has also stayed at temples several times. In addition to the attraction of many temples being located in beautiful mountains, “I could find how life in a temple is,” said Mr. Braastad.
He also enjoyed driving in Korea, around Seoul and to the east coast with his wife Nina Braastad. He said he wished he had the chance to drive toward the south coast and a little more west. “I will probably come back for that.”
Mr. Braastad said there were no difficulties in navigating the nation because he could read hangul, although understanding the language was another story.
“The language is a gateway to Korean culture,” he continued, “But, unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to understand the language.”
The envoy said that his successor should be open and patient.
“He should try to understand opinions and decisions made in Korea,” he said, adding, “It takes time.”
by Park Sung-ha