It was 1980 and a coup d’état had just occurred in South Korea. An official from Washington was sent out to meet with General Chun Doo-hwan who now ran the country and would be president for seven years. Chun asked me to facilitate communication at the meeting.
I entered the throne room and saw Chun sitting in isolated splendor on a green silk sofa. The American official sat on another sofa, the home minister on a third, and a brace of four-star Korean generals occupied the low-prestige sofa opposite Chun in the rectangle. As the lowest ranking guy, my place was between the two generals. To get there I stumbled over one general and turned my back on Chun, a major cultural affront.
As I was about to slide into my seat and face Chun, a servant suddenly accosted me from behind the sofa, obliging me to keep my back to Chun and prolonging my panic. The attendant asked twice before I understood he was offering me a “kokutaru,” a cocktail. Everyone else was impatiently sipping a cocktail while awaiting my arrival.
The waiter twice more attempted to hand me a kokutaru as twice more I insisted on oranji jushi. “Take the cocktail, Grant,” I thought, “just don’t drink the thing.” I was single-handedly destroying American foreign policy. As I opened my mouth to accept the kokutaru, a clear voice in my head said, “No way, brother!” I mouthed “oranji jushi” once again, with feeling. This time the gilded one got it, returning shortly with an orange juice.
My eyes shot around the sofa rectangle as I slid into my seat but saw only scowls. Home Minister Kim broke the ice. He commanded all the police in the country and had been a friend when he served as a four-star general. He turned to Chun. “Do you know why Mr. Grant wouldn’t take the kokutaru? Because he’s a Mormon.” Chon didn’t know what that was. The home minister then took 15 minutes to explain to Chun all about the Church. The Mormon sketch melted the icy atmosphere, and the meeting developed with as much amity as the circumstance of a coup d’état allowed.
I later interpreted for President Chun and American cabinet secretaries several times at the presidential palace, and each time President Chun delighted in explaining to his American guests that Mr. Grant was a Mormon, and Mormons drink only orange juice. My place setting at the palace never included a coffee cup. Chun developed a soft spot for the Church and each Christmas, he invited a choir of Mormon missionaries to sing carols at the presidential palace on national television, even though he was himself a Buddhist.
—Bruce Grant, American Fork 11th Ward, American Fork Utah Stake
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