Tonight my wife and I had a wonderful evening with General and Mrs. Colin Powell. The Korea International Trade Association and Korea-U.S. Economic Council hosted General Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State and Joint Chief of Staff, and his wife at the COEX Grand Ballroom. I was privileged to join him for the festivities honoring the translation of his book into Korean. General Powell gave a wonderful half-speech about his book and about foreign policy, focusing on his special relationship with Korea (where he served as lieutenant colonel in 1973-74). He gave candid insights into U.S.-Asian foreign relations, particularly U.S. relations with Korea, Japan, and China. We were happy to receive an autographed copy of his best-selling book, “An American Journey.” Although it is in Korean, we will keep it as a souvenir of this memorable night.
Following his speech, we feasted on an elegant dinner of sashimi salad, wild mushroom cream soup, beef tenderloin, and Grandmarnier soufflé, accented with a glass of dry red wine and coffee for dessert. After we offered a toast to the general, we watched a memorable performance by a Korean men’s choir, who sang “America the Beautiful,” “Arirang,” and “The Old Maine” a cappella. A group of Korean dancers dubbed “Tooms River Dance” performed “Riverdance” numbers. Perhaps the best performance of all, one that was quite unexpected for a buttoned-down affair, was a riveting performance by In Soon Yi, one of Korea’s top pop artists. She was very popular several years ago but is now in the midst of a comeback. The daughter of a Korean mother and American father who was stationed as a soldier in Korea, she possesses a soulful voice that reveals her African American roots. She sang a couple of songs, and then she invited General Powell to sing on stage with her. I was amazed to see General Powell join her on stage. He sang a short duet with her. He has a great voice. It reminds of a time in July 2004 when he wowed the crowd at an ASEAN meeting by donning an electrician’s uniform and singing the Village People classic “YMCA.” He’s that kind of guy, someone willing to go the extra mile to entertain the audience.
I have seen General Powell on two earlier occasions, but this was the most memorable for me. At the end of the program I found a strategic place to wait for him to pass by, and I met him briefly and shook his hand. He gave me a warm smile and a firm handshake. He is one of my heroes, and I finally had a chance to meet him personally. Earlier this week I also met Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she came to Seoul, but this was an even bigger thrill for me. Both are unforgettable, but General Powell is even larger than life.