Early April this year, I landed at the Incheon International Airport, Republic of Korea which is extremely clean and organized. At the arrival, an immigration officer asked me looking at my passport, “Which country you from?”
“I am from Bhutan,” I responded.
“Bhu….” she said completely unsure.
My colleague, behind me, reaffirmed her, “It’s Bhutan.”
She shook her head and instead went on doing her work of verifying my passport and visa. She stamped in my passport and smiled at me, as she gave it back to me.
South Korea, particularly Seoul and Gangnam, was very cold then with dark clouds hovering in the sky and intermittent rains. As we drove to our hotel at Gangnam, I found this country is a technologically advanced with glittering tall buildings and sophisticated hotels, expensive vehicles on the excellent roads, good-looking people in trendy clothes, and beautiful parks and footpaths. There were infinite large size digital billboards on the roadsides displaying commercials.
Wow, was my reaction.
Our Korean friend told us, “Korea is beautiful because of maples in autumn and Shakura in spring.”
As it’s spring in the country, I excitedly looked around and felt a little fortunate - the cherries were just starting to bloom. “After a week or two, we will have cherry blooms all over the city,” he added further.
I felt privileged to step in this country for second time. We all know that Korea is very popular in Bhutan and a lot of our young people are insanely crazy about K-Pop and television dramas. K-Pop and Korean film festivals held in Thimphu last year to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and South Korea have further popularized Korea. You can see the influence of Korean Wave on our youth by the way of their dressing, hairstyle, and makeup. Quite surprisingly, today, many Bhutanese youth can speak and read Korean texts – that too by just watching Korean dramas, K-Pop music and Arirang television.
Technically speaking, South Korea is more than double the size of Bhutan with over 50 million people - of which, over half the total population live in the trendy Seoul city. The South Korean economy soared at an annual average of 10 percent for three decades, which is called the Miracle on the Han River. Today, it’s a global technological powerhouse that produces and exports electronics and motor vehicles such as Samsung, Hyundai, and Kia motors.
Once at the hotel, one staff asked me, “Where are you from?”
“Bhutan,” I said trying to sound myself clear this time.
She grimaced at me and said, “Never heard it.”
After that, I thought that Koreans do not know about Bhutan. After all, Korea is such a developed country and why Bhutan, a small developing country, matters to them.
The next day onwards, we attended meetings one after another at different institutes and agencies. In every meeting and conversation, the Koreans always mentioned about “Happy Country” when they referred to Bhutan and they seemed extremely impressed. And they called Bhutan differently, “Butan” or “Butane”.
One day, my colleagues and I went out in Seoul wearing gho and kira. I was surprised. The Koreans recognized us; they recognized our King and Queen. “Your King is handsome, but your Queen is so beautiful,” they exclaimed every time we talked.
Then, I discovered that Bhutan is quite popular in South Korea. Most Koreans know about our country and they think that Bhutan is the happiest country in the world with generally happy people. In fact, they love Bhutan. And there are reasons why.
Firstly, the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, has a special connection to Bhutan. President Moon visited Bhutan in July 2016 and spent two weeks when he met the Prime Minister of Bhutan and Dasho Karma Ura, the Chairperson of Centre for Bhutan Studies and Gross National Happiness. This visit has left a huge impact on Moon and it’s reported that he might implement the GNH policy in Korea.
Secondly, I learned that it’s Lyonchhen Dasho Tshering Tobgay who is the first foreign leader to call and speak with Moon after the confirmation of his election as the President.
Thirdly, the Korea-Bhutan Friendship Association serves as a liaison between the two countries and President Moon is also a member of the Association. Mr. William Lee, the Chairman of the Association has been working towards promoting Bhutan and GNH in Korea and fostering the friendship between the two countries. Watch his interview about Bhutan here by Arirang.
Fourthly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea recently published a book on Bhutan and it is distributed widely.
|Picture: "Kingdom of Bhutan", a publication by Foreign Ministry, Korea|
Lastly, Park Jin-do, a professor emeritus at Chungnam National University, published a book, “The Secret of Bhutan’s Happiness”. He visited Bhutan and studied GNH in 2015. The book encourages South Korea “to adopt national happiness as a basic principle for state policy.”
Information courtesy: Mr. Choi, Ms. Miakaw, and www.hani.co.kr