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Envoy leaves literary legacy behind him

The Swedish ambassadorial couple left a piece of themselves here in Korea before moving to their next posting in Japan.

Before they left, Lars Vargo was the guest of honor during the last Seoul Literary Society meeting.

It was not because the president of the society was leaving; it was because Vargo released a collection of haiku poetry titled “Winter Moon” presented in four languages: Swedish, Korean, English and Japanese.

On the opposite pages of his haiku works are reproductions of some of his favorite paintings that he has created throughout the years.
Outgoing Swedish Ambassador Lars Vargo (right) and his wife Eva show the envoy’s new haiku book titled “Winter Moon.” (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)
Outgoing Swedish Ambassador Lars Vargo (right) and his wife Eva show the envoy’s new haiku book titled “Winter Moon.” (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

“Although it is arguably the shortest form of poetry there is, there are still many variations and continuous discussions as to what kind of poetry is should be,” he said.

Vargo has seen the society he created with the help of former and late Spanish Ambassador Delfin Colome grow into a gathering of members from all walks of life. After Colome passed away, Vargo took the reigns and invited writers from Korea, Sweden, Norway, Italy and Japan to talk about their works and bridge divides using the written word.

The conventional wisdom that an ambassador represents the interests of his own country is a theory that Vargo does not adhere to.

“That’s what modern diplomacy is, you are not only the ambassador to the country you represent, but also represent your host country to your home country,” he told The Korea Herald two days before his departure.

With the cooperation of Korean ambassadors stationed in Stockholm, Vargo has built a relationship between the two countries that has propelled to a higher level and in a way, put Korea in the minds of Swedes.

“With this cooperation, you get a two-way street,” he said. “For instance, if you arrange an event and only talk about your own country, it’s not very interesting, but if you create an event which both countries are interested in, then you get somewhere.”

His proudest achievement besides creating a literary society with over 50 active members is creating a bridge between parliamentarians on both sides.

“After coming here, I contacted all the committees in the Swedish parliament, I told them that they are missing an opportunity if they are not coming here,” he said.

Within the next couple of years, Vargo hosted and teamed up eight big Swedish committees with their Korean counterparts.

Conflicts were also resolved during his tenure, with Vargo overcoming challenges to allow businesses on both sides to further collaborate and grow. More often than not, conflicts tend to linger a lot longer than the tenure of one particular ambassador.

The ambassador and his wife Eva forged ties with more than just people with the adoption of the newest member of their family, a cocker spaniel named Mango.

The Vargos explained that Mango visited them several times in the span of a week looking for food. Eva welcomed him to their home, fed him but Mango kept leaving at the end of the meal until one day, he decided that the Vargos were to be his family.

Along with their jindo named Katchi, the Vargos will miss taking long walks in the hills surrounding their home in Seongbuk-dong.

Even though they have left for their next assignment in Tokyo, Vargo’s legacy outside Korea’s diplomatic channels is his newest book “Winter Moon” which is available at all major bookstores.

For Eva, her artistic weaves that meld all three Northeast Asian cultures with her own Swedish upbringing will be on display at the World Calligraphy Biennale of Jeollabuk-do in Jeonju City during the month of October, and some other pieces at the Korea Foundation’s craft exhibition in the beginning of October.

Eva’s fondest memory is one of the aspects of Korea that drives many foreign visitors crazy ― the “Ppali-ppali” (quckly-quickly) lifestyle.

“Korean culture is not known outside Korea yet. It has been really nice to explore all the cultural fields. As a fiber and textile artist, I found new materials to work with,” she said.

By Yoav Cerralbo (yoav@heraldcorp.com)
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