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South Korean island smartens up ahead of ASEAN summit

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South Korea’s Jeju Island is sprucing itself up, ready to greet visitors with various cultural events and programs ahead of the summit between President Lee Myung-bak and the leaders of Southeast Asian countries, the local government said Wednesday.

South Korea is set to host a series of summits and ministerial meetings among leaders of ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on the country’s resort island of Jeju on June 1-2.

Jeju, a volcanic island dominated by South Korea’s highest mountain Halla, has been preparing thoroughly for the upcoming Korea-ASEAN summit, aiming to boost tourist recognition.

With a humid subtropical climate warmer than that of mainland Korea, Jeju has developed a culture and language that are distinct from the rest of the country due to the relatively isolated location. Home to thousands of local legends and myths, Jeju is considered a top vacation spot.

“We expect at least 20,000 people to flock to the island during the summit,” said Park Hong-bae, head of the preparation committee of the upcoming event. “This will be one of the largest events the island has hosted.”

Ready to greet government officials and business people from 10 different ASEAN nations, the Jeju autonomous government has this week finished refurbishing the International Convention Center, the venue of the leaders’ meeting.

Jeju has also set up flowerbeds and symbols of each participating country alongside the street, named the “ASEAN Road,” leading to the convention center.

Designating May 24 through June 2 as “ASEAN Week,” the local government and Seoul’s culture and foreign ministries have also prepared a round of traditional fashion shows, plays and photo exhibitions.

Jeju will be hosting the World Culture and Travel EXPO, participated in by some 40 countries from May 29 through June 1. Countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia will be introducing their culture, traditional customs and cuisines during the event.

A fashion show featuring traditional Korean costume, or Hanbok, will be held during the EXPO.

The Deoksuri Culture Preservation Society, an organization of traditional performers in Jeju, will hold a separate festival from May 31 through June 2 near the Jeju Art Park, featuring various plays and games generated from the region.

The fest will showcase pungmulnori, a traditional rural folk musical performance designated as Korea’s intangible cultural property, and will provide visitors with chances to experience fabric dyeing, rice cake-making and donkey-riding.

Under the title “Oh, Beautiful Jeju,” the local government will operate special tour programs featuring 11 different courses spanning Jeju’s key tourist spots including water valleys, hills and caves.

Commemorating the 20th anniversary of South Korea becoming ASEAN’s dialogue partner, participating countries have created a Korea-ASEAN music orchestra, which will hold its first concert in Jeju on May 31 and the second in Seoul on June 4.

It is the first orchestra featuring 79 different instruments from 52 different Asian countries. The 80-member orchestra will play 12 songs during each concert.

The Jeju government will also hold four photo exhibitions at the International Convention Center, the Jeju airport and the World Cup stadium, showcasing the island’s landscapes and people’s everyday lives.

The island has also prepared strong safety measures, under which 5,500 policemen and guards will be dispatched. About 200 volunteer workers have been selected to usher visitors and help with translation.

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