I searched for my usual seat in the back of the room. Oddly enough, I found Burlington Police Chief Mike Williams there, too. I checked to see if I had any contraband on me before taking the chair beside him in the City Council meeting room. After all, the city didn’t have its security detail stationed outside Tuesday afternoon so I wasn’t searched for knives, balky cell phones or broken tape recorders — the tools of a journalist’s trade. Didn’t want the chief to find me in a compromising position. Never be the story yourself, that’s my motto.
I was there Tuesday afternoon to witness the signing of an agreement between Burlington and its newest sister city, Gwacheon City, South Korea. I decided to attend to show support for the city’s efforts in conjunction with the Sister Cities program. And because, as Williams whispered in my ear shortly before it started, “This is somethng you don’t see every day.”
I had to agree. The room was full of South Korean dignitaries, some of whom represented the nation and traveled to Burlington from New York. Others made the exhausting trip from Gwacheon City, which is a suburb of Seoul. Mark Cryan with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department likened it to Arlington, Va., a suburb just outside Washington, D.C. and a hub for government functions.
And besides, it was kind of cool to have guests willing to travel 23 hours — including 13 straight hours in the air — to tour the area, meet our folks and exchange gifts with our own city leaders. The gold-plated warship handed to Mayor Ronnie Wall was most impressive indeed.
“Koreans love to present gifts,” said the man sitting next to me, a South Korean who now lives in Raleigh also there to witness the event. I knew this from experience. In 2007 through Elon University I spoke to a group of South Korean editors and publishers who visited our office. They all presented me not only with business cards but a most excellent carved mask, a symbol they told me that signifies the journalist watching the machinations of government.
The Burlington hosts were most gracious, as were the guests. The speeches were eloquent, even the ones halted by the need for an interpreter. Master Sang Ho Lee, owner of a martial arts studio in Burlington and a major force in bringing our second sister city to the area, provided the most animated and emotional words. He was obviously proud of this accomplishment — and should be. His speech was the heart of the celebration.
The Korean man sitting to my left had a half dozen questions about Burlington. What’s the population? What is the economy based upon? How many people work at LabCorp. Between myself and Chief Williams we tried to answer them all. He was impressed with LabCorp and the number of people who work there.
Later Gwancheon City officials provided a video featuring their city, a highly populated but beautiful spot. As Lee pointed out during his speech, South Korea, about the size of North Carolina in terms of land mass, has five times the poulation is a major metropolitan, economic and urban hub of the Far East. Americans often get their idea of the kind of country South Korea is from the TV show “MASH.” Not very close to the truth these days. We hope to have the video up on our website later today. Reporter Molly McGowan is working a story that describes our new sister city a little better for readers. After all, folks might want to go there for a visit. I know Molly does.
Gwacheon City makes no bones about it. Their leaders tout the city as the best place to live in South Korea. Based on the video, that could very well be the case. Certainly the man sitting next to me was impressed.
“Burlington is very lucky to get Gwacheon City,” he said.
I had to agree.