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Friday, May 4, 2012

South Korea, New Zealand celebrate 50 years of friendship . . .

SEOUL, May 4 (Yonhap) -- The suburb of Yeoksam, in Seoul's upmarket Gangnam district, is home to many of the capital's tallest skyscrapers and office towers that headquarter some of South Korea's biggest businesses. The shining metal and steel architecture of Asia's fourth-largest economy was warmed Thursday by a whimsical performance by a New Zealand theater company, as the two countries celebrate 50 years of diplomatic ties this year.

The Red Leap Theatre company opened their production, "The Arrival," at the LG Arts Center to a capacity crowd that included New Zealand Ambassador Patrick Rata, a large number of "Kiwi" residents of Seoul and many South Koreans with ties to the Pacific nation. The evocative and imaginative performance featured puppetry, sharply choreographed physical theater, humor and an invented language to tell the story of a migrant in a strange land, based on an illustrated novel by Australian author Shaun Tan.

Speaking at a reception hosted by the New Zealand Embassy following the show, Rata said the relationship between New Zealand and South Korea has grown from being "allies on the battlefield" to a "contemporary relationship with vibrant trading links and strong political connections."

"The migration theme of tonight's performance is one that will be very familiar to many families and individuals from Korea who have chosen to move to New Zealand in the past two decades," he said.

New Zealand, which has a population of just over 4.4 million people, is now home to 28,000 "Korwis," Rata said. "We welcome another 12,000 or so Korean students who study in New Zealand each year and about 60,000 tourists who visit."

South Korea has a strong New Zealand business community, he added, with more than 2,000 New Zealanders living and working here.

"It's a wonderful bilateral relationship and one we must take forward," Rata said, before asking his fellow Kiwis to join him to finish his speech the traditional New Zealand way, by singing a "waiata," or song in the indigenous Maori language. The embassy plans to hold other events throughout the year to celebrate the "Year of Friendship."