Photos capturing events of the Presidential Inauguration. 25 February 2013 marked the inauguration of the 18th President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Park Geun-hye.
70,000 mostly Korean citizens turned out to watch the event held on the steps of the National Assembly.
I went to observe to see what took place. I had never been to a presidential election before, and I guess I was also interested to see how Korea might stamp their own brand of identity onto the occasion.
Before the president arrived in her cavalcade, there were a number of entertainers to warm up the crowd. This reflected much of the contemporary Korean cultural trends, and perhaps of most interest was the culmination point immediately before her arrival featuring PSY singing his now world-famous ‘Gangnam Style’.
It is interesting because until he achieved popularity with that song, he was not unknown, but certainly perhaps too controversial to be embraced by the mainstream, not least to sing as the highlight of entertainment prior to the arrival of a new president. Amazing what one billion YouTube hits can do for your fortunes!
The crowd provided much opportunity for people watching. Here, an idiosyncratically typical ‘A-ju-ma’ served hot tea for the crowd for a price. Lemon, honey and ginseng tea (served out of a pre-mixed package) was ₩2,000 (about AU$1.90). The hot water urn burned coals at its base. I thought it was an interesting photo of the old sitting comfortably alongside the new, such as is Korean society when it is at its best.
The streets surrounding the National Assembly had been cleared, creating an odd mix of the lifeless and the lively. This main road that the president drove down was left abandoned through its security cordon long after she had been received at the inauguration. The colourful ribbons on either side of the road show the expense that had been spent to prepare for the day. I guess this is much like anywhere else the world over: ribbons and flags are positioned in places where they will not be seen or witnessed for a brief second then forgotten. Unnecessary expense of superfluous trimming or signs of a celebration?
Throughout the crowd was a spectacle of the security services: mostly made of police and NIS. It was almost as though this was their Big Day Out as well. With so many contemporary movies about police, gangstas, security services and North Korean plots, I did wonder how much art has influenced life in some parts of Korean society.
The inauguration itself was Korean, and not an imitation of something else. It wasn’t simply a cut and paste of Obama-style inauguration which I thought showed a good sense of maturing identity among
Koreans. That is a good sign for the future. It is a country with an incredibly unique and resilient culture, and something that they ought to focus on sharing more widely, beyond simply pushing K-Pop on the world. As the President drove away in a cavalcade that had again assembled, it was back to work. No messing around.
The inauguration itself was relatively short and sweet. The focus was on the President, as she addressed the nation in a 30 minute speech. Maybe like Park Geun-hye, this reflects her style: well presented, no nonsense, professional. As the crowd left, I wondered what they were thinking about what they had just heard, and about their prospects for the next five years. Of course, it is hard for me to really know the answer to this because I am not Korean.
I was not invited to the Inauguration, and nor ought I to have expected to have necessarily been, but it was worthwhile turning up to observe what took place. Walking into the invitation-only area as the crowd was leaving, it was good to get a sense of what the atmosphere must have been like for those who were there. As I travelled to the National Assembly on the train, it was good to see many Koreans clutching their invitations, and checking them again from the envelopes where they were held. It was a big day for everyone.
Inside the area was a sea of seats, now abandoned. It is idiosyncratic of the Korean character that they dispersed as quickly as they did back to work, as much as the promptness that the disassembly of the chairs and scaffolding took place shortly after the event.
I took to the stage where the event had been. Here, our Governor General representing Australia was seated along with the other official guests.
The backdrop mural to the stage was very interesting. It was a brilliant artwork, telling a narrative of a happy and healthy community. These things are easy to mouth as spin, but this was perhaps different. It was a very fresh and vibrant mural, and I think compliments well the genuine intention Park Geun-hye has for the happiness of her nation, as she pledged: “I will live up to the will of the people by achieving economic rejuvenation, the happiness of the people, and the flourishing of the culture.”
As I was leaving, the large groups of traditional Korean dancers and musicians who had led the procession and entertained the crowd gathered together on the steps one last time for a photograph of a day they will tell their grandchildren about. Traditional Korean dress and music is colourful and distinctive. You can see that these people went to a lot of trouble. And the universal verdict of the day for the next five years? I think that they would all agree: it was worth it. Here is to the next five years! 아자!