By Paul Fattig
Medford resident Ed Chun is having a hard time accepting reality these days.
“For a first-generation, naturalized American citizen to sit in the House chambers for a joint congressional session is phenomenal,” he said Monday. “I have to pinch myself to realize this is really happening.”
What is happening is that he has been invited as a guest of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., to sit in on a joint session of Congress in the House chambers Wednesday morning to hear an address by President Park Geun-hye of the Republic of Korea.
Park is the 11th president of what is commonly known as South Korea, and the first female leader of that nation.
Chun, 47, keeps close tabs on South Korea, and not merely because he was born in Seoul.
“I follow it more from the American consumer-safety perspective because our national ties to the Republic of Korea are so strong,” said the restaurant owner and former Medford City Council member in an interview before leaving for Washington, D.C.
“I don’t think a lot of Americans realize how connected we are to the South Korean economy,” he said. “Our everyday lives are impacted tremendously by South Korea. It is our second-largest trading partner.”
Although a world traveler, the trip is the first for Chun to spend any time in D.C.
After listening to Park’s presentation, he will have lunch with Walden.
“If I had a chance to talk to her — and I’m sure I won’t — I would express my concern about the North Korean situation, but I would also stress the importance of maintaining the great ties we have between our two nations,” Chun said. “We have a great relationship.
“As much as we would love to ultimately demilitarize the DMZ there, it is a reality of our world that we will always have conflict,” he added. “There will always be a somebody out there, whether it is Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or this nut job.”
He was referring to Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea whose administration, like his father’s, is known for its sword rattling.
Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, was president of South Korea from 1963 to 1979.
“She is very well-respected,” Chun said. “I’m looking forward to hearing her presentation.”
Chun was born in Seoul, immigrating to Hawaii with his parents and three sisters when he was 3 years old. His father is an acupuncturist trained at a medical school in South Korea.
“He gave all that up to immigrate to Hawaii and to America for the opportunities,” he said. “The family story is that we arrived with a couple of suitcases and a few hundred dollars.
“My first recollection of Hawaii is living in my aunt’s house and my parents both working in my aunt’s restaurant,” he added.
However, his father learned English and became a licensed acupuncturist in Hawaii, serving as the first chair of the Hawaiian acupuncture board.
Ed Chun attended a high school in Hawaii that was a rival school to the one attended by President Barack Obama.
Chun, who has a degree in business from Pacific Lutheran University, worked for a Wall Street firm based in Chicago before moving to Medford in 1995.
He and his sister, Carol Hendricks, are the owners of the two Sunrise cafes in Medford.
“All four of us are entrepreneurs,” he said of his siblings. “We are all college-educated and own our own businesses. We are all living the American dream.”
Chun, with a son who is turning 16 and a 12-year-old daughter, said he hopes to one day visit the land of his birth with his family.
“I have never gone back to South Korea since I left it as a young child,” he said. “I would like to learn more about the Korean culture. My family got Americanized very quickly.”
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.