Sep 8, 2009

A Bold Step

The new president of the Korea Tourist Organization

Lee Cham

BYJ with First Lady Kim Yoon-ok, President Lee and others of a committee launched to promote the globalization of Korean food

Article from the Korean Times

Aug.1, 2009

Foreign Critic Turns Into a Mentor

“Dog meat and wine goes well,” said Lee Cham, 55, a German who has been living in South Korea for 31 years, at a wine-tasting event a few years back.

Now he is the new head of the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO), the nation’s primary body in charge of promoting the country’s tourism abroad.

“French eat horse meat. But few people criticize it. It’s because people think the French culture is a ‘high-end culture.’ I know Koreans don’t eat dogs they raise because the dogs used for cooking are raised in dog farms.

“So, the key here is to raise the status of the Korean culture abroad and give it a ‘high-end’ image and sophistication. Then people won’t quibble on what you eat,” Dong-A Ilbo cited him as saying on Saturday.

Two years ago, Lee, a naturalized Korean citizen, published a book, titled “South Korea: A stifling nation with unlimited potential.”

In the book, he criticized Korea as a place that is run by “bosses,” lacking a healthy debate culture. “An organization cannot be built on a single leader, who orders around,” he said, emphasizing the need for more communicative culture in the stratified corporate hierarchy.

Apparently, the Korean government took his advice as a medicine. It noted his vantage point of understanding both Western and Korean culture and decided to utilized him to promote the Korean tourism abroad.

As a foreigner in the past, Lee said he had mixed feelings about living in South Korea. “I’ve always felt that there is an invisible wall for foreigners in this country. The Korean society is quick to give a second place to a qualified foreigner. But it rarely offers a top position to someone from outside the country.

“Now, with this new responsibility, I feel I am fully recognized as a ‘Korean.’”

Years ago when he married a Korean woman, some Koreans looked at his wife with a disdainful look because the society placed a great emphasis on the “pure blood” of the Koreans and was against international marriage.

His new appointment shows how the society has since changed in this ever “global village.”

“I have a Western face. And this face represents the Korean tourism abroad now,” Lee said.

As part of promoting Korean tourism abroad, he first wants to enhance the visibility of the nation internationally by bidding to host more international conferences in the nation. Secondly, he also plans to vigorously promote Korean festivals abroad. Thirdly, observing the nation’s unique religious and traditional heritage, which even includes shamanism, he wants to promote Korea as a place for ‘spiritual pilgrimage.’

“But what is the most important is for Koreans themselves to enjoy when they tour around the country. If that happens, then foreigners will find the nation as an attractive travel destination as well,” he said.

writer: sunny lee

Lee Cham has appeared in such dramas as "Stairway to Heaven" and "Love Story in Harvard".

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