China tours beeline for Blue House

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China tours beeline for Blue House

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Chinese tourists visiting Korea over their Golden Week holiday take group photos in front of the Blue House last Thursday. By Kim Seong-ryong

It’s an ordinary Thursday afternoon at the Blue House, the residence and office of the South Korean president, and a dozen tourists from China follow a guide holding a flag.

They take pictures with their phones, and you can hear many of them talking with excitement about Piao Jinhui, the Chinese pronunciation of the name of President Park Geun-hye.

The Blue House has been a tourist attraction ever since 1996, when it first opened some of its areas to the public. Last year, some 1 million tourists visited the Cheongwadae Sarangchae, a tourist information center at the Blue House with a mock presidential office. That’s a daily average of around 3,000.

And surprisingly, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of those tourists are from China. October is a peak travel season because of China’s Golden Week holiday, which started last Tuesday and finished yesterday.

“Around 6,000 to 8,000 Chinese tourists have been visiting the Blue House during Golden Week,” said a policeman in charge of security there. “Some policemen have even begun learning some phrases in Chinese to answer questions from tourists.”

“Most tour packages for Chinese visit the Blue House and the nearby Gyeongbok Palace,” said a guide who regularly shows Chinese visitors around Seoul. “The Blue House has been very well received.”

One of the main reasons Chinese tourists beeline for the Blue House is that there’s no admission fee. A bus driver for Chinese tourists explained that since many of them buy cheap tour packages costing from 400,000 won to 600,000 won ($373 to $559), the guides concentrate on attractions in the city that are free, like the Blue House and nearby Namsangol Hanok Village.

President Park Geun-hye is also a draw for the Chinese. They are often aware of her official visit to China in June, and her family history is known to many Chinese people, especially if they are older.

“After her visit to China, many elderly tourists are interested in her, especially knowing that she is daughter of former President Park Chung Hee,” said another tour guide. “Some people express regret that they can’t get a chance to glimpse the president in person.”

And presidential houses are of interest to almost everybody, especially Chinese tourists.

“In China you can only see the premier’s palace from a very far distance, but I could feel the confidence of Koreans that allows them to invite people from abroad to the Blue House,” said one Chinese visitor taking pictures of the presidential residence. “It’s such an honor for me to see the place in person where the Korean president lives, someone with huge international influence.”

“Her visit to China led a lot of Chinese people to know President Park of South Korea,” said another Chinese tourist. “As a woman, I hope to cheer on Korea’s first female president.”

“Allowing tourists into places like the Cheongwadae Sarangchae for free is a great way of advertising this country and its culture,” a Blue House official said.

The Korean government will announce new plans to increase tourism at an upcoming meeting. The meeting is a follow up to President Park’s order to make tourism a new growth engine for the country at a previous meeting in July.

BY KANG TAE-HWA AND JEONG WON-YEOB [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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