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2017-10-31 17:25
Lee Sun-ho, right, gets a certification of authorization to serve as ambassador of good will from
Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton on Oct. 27, 1989, at the governor’s residence. / Courtesy of Lee Sun-ho



By Lee Sun-ho


I would like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to The Korea Times on its 67th anniversary. Inaugurated on Nov. 1, 1950, amid the raging Korean War, the nation’s oldest independent English-language newspaper has devoted the past 67 years toward the betterment of the country and of mankind as a whole.

I published my first contribution to The Korea Times’ Thoughts of the Times column on Sunday, Oct. 15, 1967, over five months before my wedding day on March 25, 1968. I continued writing for the column for 50 years, and published my latest (316th) article on Oct 14-15 edition. I actually published my first piece in the English-language daily on April 15, 1964, through a short letter to the opinion section.

In my half a century as a columnist for The Korea Times, it is amusing to recollect some topics I have written about that received the most insightful and impressive responses from passionate readers, as well as eventual consequences of topics under consideration.

A memorable topic is my opposition to “the exclusive use of Hangeul (the Korean alphabet)” without using Hanja (Chinese characters), which I wrote about in an article published on (Nov. 23, 1968). The exclusive use had critics and supporters, including then President Park Chung-hee. I supported the combined use of Hangeul and Hanja, as I believed it would help preserve much of our history and ideas, and a majority of Korean readers agreed.

Jeju Island, to which I have a special connection, is another interesting topic. I wrote eight articles about the special autonomous island province (published on Nov. 4, 1969, Nov. 7, 2007, Aug. 23, 2010, July 16-17, 2011, Dec. 1, 2011, April 4, 2012, Aug. 30, 2013, and March 24, 2014), and I am proud of two articles in particular: the article on the votes for Jeju Island to become one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in the World, which occurred at 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2011, and the article about the operation of the Korean naval base on the island’s southern shore.

Manila is also an interesting topic. I wrote about the Southeast Asian city in the article “Korea’s image reflected in Manila,” published on March 11, 1971. I described the inconveniences in mailing communications and entertainment customs between the Philippines and Korea. After the article was published, then Philippine ambassador to Korea G. Tirona sent a letter of complaint to Asian Development Bank, my employer, saying some of my expressions seemed to insult Filipinos. My boss told me to “be careful of some sensitive matters in your writing hereafter (out of respect) for the host country.”

Another memorable topic was my one opportunity to visit black African nations in early April 1984, commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, out of my countless travels to about 80 countries around the world. In an article published on May 5-6, 1984, Sights and sounds experienced in both Gabon and Zaire could well be story-told to middle school students as a one-hour extra-curricular parent teacher invited by the Eonju Middle School where my second son went to.

Yet another interesting topic was my communications with then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, which I wrote about in the article “The Mississippi trail (2),” published on Jan. 13, 1990, and later the 42nd President of the United States, which I wrote about in the article “Congratulations, President-elect Clinton,” published on Nov. 6, 1992.

The Korean flag is also an interesting topic, and I wrote about it in the article “Meaning of Taegeuk (Korean) flag,” published on Sept. 11, 1998. The article could well be utilized in lunch meetings with a European Union (EU) delegation hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. While the EU flag has a simple symbolic meaning, the Taegeuk flag has a complicated one, owing to its four black trigrams and its yin and yang circle. At a chance meeting, I did not hesitate to explain the flag’s meaning to some EU delegates.



Lee Sun-ho visits Libreville, Gabon, April 7, 1984 as a member of the second Korea-Gabon mixed commission meeting.


Still another memorable topic is the meaningful solution to the cotton yarn import controversy between the Spinners and Weavers Association and the Korea Apparel Industry Association, which I detailed in an article published on June 4, 2001. could be successfully accorded by the effect of this contribution to The Korea Times with the understanding of the Korea Trade Commission under the Ministry of Industry and Resources plus three related foreign embassies in Seoul, namely, India, Indonesia and Pakistan.


My trek across the then just-reopened Uiryeong Pass in Seoul is another interesting topic, and I wrote about it in the article “Recollections on January 21 incident,” published on Jan. 18, 2010. Uiryeong Pass is an important part of the Kim Shin-jo route and was where North Korean commandoes entered South Korea to assassinate then President Park Chung-hee. I was surprised to receive an email from a reader, Barry Olson, saying the article “provided me with insights I had never read before.” Olson, who at the time worked at a college in southern California, was stationed at the demilitarized zone as a U.S. army officer with the Second Battalion of the 38th Infantry Division in 1968-69, when 31 North Koreans passed through his battalion’s sector to infiltrate Seoul.

Another memorable topic was my ocean cruise to the western Mediterranean in early May 2011, which I wrote about in two articles published on June 6, 2011, and March 6, 2012. The cruise which served as a warning in the following year with regard to the safety of my family, including my first grandson. Even though I enjoyed the cruise, I never expected that the very same cruise ship would become the second RMS Titanic exactly one century later on Friday, January 13, 2012.

My visit to Dresden on June 30, 1985 as a member of a confidential trade mission to then East Germany was also an interesting topic. At that time, my article on visiting socialist Eastern Europe could not be published owing to the strong anti-communism sentiment. The article, “Recollecting Dresden for reunification,” was finally published 29 years later on May 13, 2014. 

My 103-year-old mother, who had been critically ill, is also a memorable topic. I wrote about two valuable moments in her later years — celebrating her centennial year in 2012 and her receiving a goosefoot cane for centenarians from the country’s chief executive in 2014 — in two articles published on June 8, 2012 and Nov. 8-9, 2014, respectively.

Last but not least is seniors’ health problems, which I wrote about in an article published on July 8-9, 2017. A gentleman, Wil, from the United States, emailed me to say, “Your wise words have reached across the Pacific and probably around the world. Your last three paragraphs, (I) will share it with all my relatives and friends who, like me, are also in the twilight of their lives.”

Some foreign bank general managers in Korea used to tell me, “You have two jobs — one as a standing bank executive, the other as an English journalist.” Every time I return from an overseas trip, Korean airport immigration officers treat me kindly with every convenience in the reentry process and say “I read your articles from time to time.” Participants at breakfast or lunch meetings often say hello and say “I enjoy reading your work in The Korea Times.” High school students from everywhere in Korea continue to ask me for telephone interviews for their homework in English class.

My half a century of partnership with The Korea Times is a privilege and a destiny, and it helped broaden and deepen my knowledge and relationships at home and abroad. I plan to continue this partnership for as long as Korea’s oldest English-language newspaper operates and for as long as my health, both mental and physical, allow me to do so.

Thank you very much, The Korea Times. I wish you longevity and prosperity as an independent English-language daily in Korea. 

The writer is an ombudsman columnist for The Korea Times in Seoul. You can reach him at kexim2@unitel.co.kr.

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