At summit banquet, cheers and promises
There was food rife with political symbolism (dessert was decorated with the Korean Peninsula), folk music performances and plenty of alcohol to go around. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were accompanied by their spouses as well as an entourage of aides, ministers and other officials.
The attendance of North Korea’s first lady, Ri Sol-ju, was not confirmed until Friday afternoon. When she appeared at the Peace House on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom in a black Mercedes Benz a little after 6:15 p.m., she was warmly greeted by her South Korean counterpart, Kim Jung-sook, who had been waiting for her by the steps outside.
“After he came back from the morning summit, my husband said he held good talks with President Moon and that it went well,” Ri told Moon and his wife upon her arrival. “I was very happy to hear this.”
In a show of courtesy, Ri told Kim Jung-sook that she was briefed on the first lady’s involvement in renovating parts of the Peace House, where the summit was held. “I am a little embarrassed that I came here without doing anything,” Ri said.
There were 32 people from the South Korean side and 26 North Koreans who attended the banquet on the third floor of the Peace House, just one floor above the meeting room where the two leaders held their 100-mintute summit in the morning.
The dinner started a little after 6:30 p.m. The North and South Korean leaders wore stiff expressions, evidently weary after a full day of talks. On stage, performers dressed in traditional attire plucked away at the haegeum and okryugeum, two traditional Korean string instruments.
But it was a number by a young South Korean singer from Jeju Island, Oh Yeon-joon, that appeared to raise the spirits of the North Korean leader, whose sulk turned to a smile as he performed.
Known affectionately as the “Jeju boy,” the 11-year-old Oh caught the world’s attention when he performed the Olympic anthem at the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in February. At the banquet he sang “Spring in my Homeland,” a beloved Korean folk song. Ri and Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of Kim Jong-un, were spotted mouthing the lyrics.
After the performance, Kim Jong-un reportedly asked Im Jong-seok, Moon’s chief of staff, how old the young singer was.
The highlight of the night was an impromptu duet by veteran South Korean singer Cho Yong-pil and Hyon Song-wol, leader of North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra, who performed one of Cho’s songs together. Cho was a part of a delegation of South Korean artists who performed in Pyongyang early this month.
The libations of the night were myeoncheon dugyeonju, a rice wine brewed with azalea flowers, and munbaeju, a traditional distilled liquor. In his toasting remarks, Kim Jong-un said, “Today we bid an eternal farewell to the long-standing frozen relations between the North and the South, which was like a nightmare. We have shown the whole world that a warm spring has begun.”
He added that the inter-Korean summit was just “the tip of the iceberg” and recognized that while the road ahead may not be smooth, “we are the main actors in this historic task and cannot shirk our duty.” He pledged to meet with Moon “frequently” and have phone conversations to this end.
Moon in his banquet remarks said he and Kim had “heart-felt talks” and “paved the way for peace, prosperity and coexistence on the Korean Peninsula, ridding it of the dark clouds of war.”
He then raised his glass and said, “Wihayeo, for a day when the peoples of South and North Korea can freely come and go between the South and the North.” Wihayeo is a common expression used during toasts.
At the end of the three-hour dinner, a farewell ceremony was held outside the Peace House. Images and photos from the inter-Korean summit were projected onto the facade of the building. The two Korean leaders held hands as they watched.
A little before 9:30 p.m., Moon and his wife saw Kim Jong-un and Ri in their Mercedes-Benz as they headed north past the military demarcation line.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]