Even before sunrise, citizens began to gather around the private residence of the nation’s first female president in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul.
When President Park Geun-hye emerged from her two-story house shortly past 10 a.m. to go to the inauguration ceremony, she was greeted by hundreds of flag-waving well-wishers.
A citizen representative gave Park the gift of two white Jindo puppies, South Korea’s popular native breed of hunting dogs. Park is a well-known lover of dogs.
“There must have been a lot of nuisance but thanks for being such warm neighbors,” Park told the crowd. “Until my return, I wish you good health and happiness.”
“Whether or not one supports, I believe that the people will wish her success with one unified heart,” said Kim Myung-hwa, 43, a housewife.
“I hope she becomes a president who returns home five years later with applause,” said Seo Sang-wook, 27, a student.
Park then traveled to pay her respects at the Seoul National Cemetery, where deceased veterans of the Korean independence movement, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are laid to rest.
The president met and consoled the families of the deceased, including those who were on board the Cheonan navy vessel, which sank in the Yellow Sea in 2010 in what South Korea claimed was a North Korean torpedo attack.
Park then changed clothes from her black suit to a green coat and was led by her presidential motorcade to the National Assembly in Yeouido, southwestern Seoul, where the inaugural ceremony took place.
Minor clashes between the police and protestors were reported in the vicinity of the legislature. Approximately 80 members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions held a press conference in front of a bank in Yeouido to protest the firing of workers at Ssangyong Motor Co. and also demanded temporary workers see their jobs turn permanent.
An organization dedicated to fighting discrimination against the disabled also held a press conference to protest the treatment of the disabled. There were also several one-person protestors with signs calling attention to such issues as property zoning laws.
By the time the president arrived at the National Assembly, the festive mood and hopeful atmosphere reached a peak. The series of celebratory events began to take the stage just after 9 a.m. Echoing the theme set aside for the inaugural ceremony, “People’s Happiness, a New Era of Hope,” the events carried the themes of “people’s happiness, unity and livelihood.”
The celebratory events began with a performance by traditional Korean music artists accompanied by a band of poongul musicians, or traditional Korean drumming, and also a folk choir. The MCs of the events were members of “Gag Concert,” a popular comedy TV program on national television broadcaster KBS.
|Singer Psy performs in front of presidential guests at the inauguration ceremony at the National Assembly on Monday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)|
In addition, diverse performances were given by Psy and the fusion traditional music band Bibim, playing songs from the 1950s to the 2000s.
Two large South Korean national flags draped the backdrop of the stage. Between them was the red and blue emblem of the ceremony, derived from the taeguk, the central symbol of the Korean flag.
At the center of the main stage sat the incoming and outgoing presidents, as well as the heads of each political party, key economic organizations, foreign dignitaries, and 100 representatives of the public.
The background of the main stage was filled by a painting that used to hang at the Saenuri Party headquarters. Titled “Hopeful Arirang,” the painting shows people of various occupations playing instruments, all led by a female conductor to symbolize the nation’s first female president.
In her inaugural address, Park spoke with the stoicism and stern face characteristic of her father, late President Park Chung-hee.
“The Republic of Korea as we know it today has been built on the blood, toil and sweat of the people,” said Park.
“We have written a new history of extraordinary achievement combining industrialization and democratization based on the unwavering ‘can do’ spirit of our people and matching resolve.”
It was evident in the faces of those who had gathered, who were mostly in their 60s and 70s, that the former first daughter’s address calling on the patriotism and sacrifice of the preceding generation rekindled nostalgic memories of her father.
“The Korean saga that is often referred to as the ‘Miracle on the Han River’ was written on the heels of our citizens who worked tirelessly in the mines of Germany, in the torrid deserts of the Middle East, in factories and laboratories where the lights were never turned off, and in the freezing frontlines safeguarding our national defense,” said Park.
After the inaugural ceremony, Park traveled to Gwanghwamun Square, where she participated in the unveiling of a tree where messages written by the public hung. She read several of the messages aloud and shared her thoughts.
One message written by a father asked Park to expand the number of government-run child-care services.
“I will most certainly do that,” said Park. “Rearing children should not be a burden, and allowing women to happily rear children is necessary for women to manage both the household as well as their job.”
Another message, written by a temporary postal worker, also urged Park to “provide hope to temporary workers.”
Park responded that she was gravely concerned about the issue, and that she would do her best during her administration to resolve the plight of the temporary workers.
By Samuel Songhoon Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)