[Outlook]Breathing space for Ban‘Will Koreans build a shrine to Ban Ki-moon?”
A Chinese journalist asked me this question late last year at a ceremonial event to commemorate Ban’s inauguration as UN secretary general.
I was not sure if he was serious or not so I asked instead what they would do in China. He answered with sincerity that if a Chinese person rises to that level, the Chinese people definitely build a shrine to the person.
China traditionally deifies living people. Confucius and Zhuge Liang went from being people to gods and are now seated in shrines.
But there have been no such cases in modern times. Only shrines to Chiang Kai Sek and Mao Zedong, the country’s founding fathers, have been built.
If the Chinese people would have thought Ban was a god, it is natural for Koreans to be extremely proud of him.
Ban has spread the well-known Korean characteristics of diligence and hardworking to the global stage.
Ban once said half-jokingly that he is not behind anybody in terms of being diligent. Indeed, he has been known for being diligent ever since he worked at the Korean foreign ministry.
Since becoming the UN secretary general, he has worked hard, and that has become common knowledge inside the organization.
He goes to work at eight in the morning and works until late at night without taking a break. He is entirely different from former secretary generals who took their time when working.
Ban did not want to take his summer vacation but was forced to do so. So he took four days off, including a weekend. The staff at the UN used to be quite lax, but now they have become alert after seeing their boss work around the clock.
The secretary general once showed his datebook full of appointments with journalists. It was full of small letters and several extra notes were folded and glued to one day’s page.
At times, he has been to 28 different appointments in one day, he said. When he served as foreign minister, he thought 18 appointments a day was his record but now that seems like the good old days, he said, smiling.
The position of UN secretary general is one of the busiest in the world.
However, Koreans who go to New York try to meet Ban no matter what it takes.
With inappropriate requests, such as asking him to find a missing son, put aside, there are 40 to 50 requests a month to meet Ban from so-called influential figures in the political or economic field.
The staff at the UN said the New York sightseeing package programs for Korean figures include mandatory meetings with Secretary General Ban. That doesn’t sound like an exaggeration.
In October, when the secretary general stayed mostly in New York, countless Koreans visited his office.
They ranged from lawmakers visiting New York to former government officials to cadets and even elementary school students who visited the UN and met with him.
It is good to talk about international affairs with Koreans in the political arena and the government and to nurture the dreams of cadets and children.
But as the top official at the UN, he cannot favor Koreans.
If he meets with children from Korea, he must take time to meet children from Nigeria and Nepal who also visit the UN.
Once, when the secretary general made a tour to Africa, a Korean lawyer in one country leading several Korean CEOs stormed in.
He said that he was close to Ban so he begged to be allowed to meet with him.
I had been waiting along with other foreign journalists for a long time in the hope of getting a 10-minute interview with the secretary general. I blushed to see the scene.
As the honeymoon period of his term is over, foreign media outlets are not always friendly to Ban.
Particularly, foreign media outlets are strongly criticizing Koreans for building a fortress around him. An English newspaper even wrote that too many short Koreans are wandering around Secretary General Ban.
Park Jin-young, a Korean pop singer and producer, maintained that we should not emphasize the nationality of Korean pop stars when they are popular outside the country.
In line with his argument, we should not expect Ban, Korea’s biggest star, to give us special favors just because we are all of the same nationality.
We should not expect him to meet us just because we are from Korea. We should not ask for meetings unless they are truly important.
Otherwise, foreign media outlets who are already eager to criticize will say that Ban only does favors for Koreans.
*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Jeong-ho