First Lady Visits Korean Geisha House
Feb. 20, 2002
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Laura Bush visited a former ``kisaeng'' or Korean geisha house on Wednesday to see a traditional Korean fan dance performed by teen-age Girl Scouts.
About 260 Scouts and officials packing an auditorium at Samcheong Gak, a Korean culture center, stood when she arrived, singing, ``We all welcome the first lady from the bottom of our hearts.''
``President Bush and I were both Scouts when we were young,'' Mrs. Bush told the Scouts, who were drawn from local Korean schools and the U.S. 8th Army headquarters in Seoul.
From her front-row seat, Mrs. Bush watched a dozen high school girls in colorful traditional Korean dancing costumes swirl on stage with feather-tipped fans. She then saw a brief but comical rendition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, performed in English by elementary school children.
Mrs. Bush was also shown a performance of the traditional Korean seesaw _ children jumping each other up into the air from each end of a large plank in the center's front yard.
Surrounded by pine-tree hills, the tiled-roof Samcheong Gak was built in the early 1970s as a state guest house that gained fame for its troupe of ``kisaeng,'' the Korean equivalent of Japanese geisha, who sang, danced and served politicians during drinking parties.
It also was where secret envoys from North and South Korea met in the 1970s to discuss their fitful efforts for political reconciliation.
The center was off limits to ordinary citizens until the late 1990s, when the government refurbished it as a traditional culture center.
Sunshine, flag-waving children and the celebratory marches of a military band welcomed the Bushes to the Blue House, South Korea's equivalent of the White House.
But the U.S. president was in no mood for reporters' questions.
As Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung sat down for their formal talks, Bush was asked what he would tell Kim about the unfulfilled aims of his ``sunshine policy'' toward the North.
Bush refused to answer, saying he and Kim would take questions later at a news conference.
Another reporter ventured, ``What do you think of Korea?''
Bush again referred to the afternoon news conference.
Then, his eyes searching the room for White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, Bush gritted his teeth and said, ``Ari, we have a press conference later on.''
And with a curt backhanded wave, Bush motioned for reporters to leave the room.
Past American presidents have been known to scrawl messages in the guest book at Blue House, which is named for its blue ceramic roof tiles. Bush signed only his name.