South Korea: Left Accuses President-Elect of Feng Shui Obsession for Not Living in Presidential House

South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, narrow winner of the March 9 election, dispatched his transition team on Friday to scout two possible locations for his office and residence outside of Cheong Wa Dae, the “Blue House” where the president of the Republic of Korea traditionally resides.

Opposition politicians accused Yoon of wastefully seeking an alternative residence because he has developed an obsessive interest in feng shui, the Chinese art of improving life energy by carefully arranging furniture and architecture.

Yoon’s official reason for seeking alternate office and living space is that he wants his administration to be more accessible to the South Korean public. His transition team described the isolated Blue House as a rather poorly-designed “royal palace” that has not been remodeled in 50 years and is therefore ill-suited for modern business practices.

“We are looking to move out of the Blue House, which had been a symbol of absolute power in our history, and return that power to the people,” Kim Eun-hye said on Friday.

The Blue House has been the seat of the South Korean government – not always a democratically-elected chief executive – since the Korean War. Before that, it was the headquarters of the Japanese imperial occupation.

Cheong Wa Dae is notoriously inaccessible, excessively large, inconveniently laid out, and perhaps a bit ostentatious – far more reminiscent of the imperial palace it used to be than the chief office of a modern republic.

The overall history of the complex is so unhappy that feng shui practitioners believe the Blue House is cursed – or “crisscrossed by unfavorable flows of natural energy, or chi, that bring bad luck and ill health to the people living there,” as the South China Morning Post (SCMP) put it on Friday.

The outgoing president, Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), said he would move out of the Blue House soon after his election in 2017. 

“I will leave the Blue House and begin the age of a ‘Gwanghwamun president’ as soon as preparations are done,” Moon said in his very first presidential speech, referring to a historic district in Seoul where many embassies and corporate headquarters are located. 

The venue also appealed to Moon because it was the scene of demonstrations against his predecessor Park Geun-hye, brought down by corruption and abuse-of-power scandals. Four of South Korea’s last six presidents were either arrested or killed themselves, contributing greatly to the Blue House’s reputation as the Amityville Horror of national executive offices.

Moon eventually abandoned his relocation plan as too expensive and logistically difficult and his party now accuses Yoon of planning to waste up to $822 million on an unnecessary relocation guided by feng shui mysticism. 

Reuters on Friday noted the DPK claims Yoon fell under the influence of a feng shui “shaman” during the campaign, a man Yoon said was merely a Buddhist priest of his acquaintance.

South Korea’s feng shui community is outspokenly critical of the Blue House and excited about one of the alternatives Yoon is exploring, a Defense Ministry complex in the Yongsan district of Seoul. Yoon’s team also visited the Gwanghwamun area favored by Moon.

“Yongsan is a blessed spot, open and surrounded by gentle mountains. It’s an incomparably humble yet auspicious piece of land compared to the Blue House location,” gushed Jee Jong-hag, head of a feng shui society.

DPK politicians shot back that Yongsan has a “shameful history” as the headquarters of “occupation forces,” by which they probably mean the Japanese, although the U.S. Army had a garrison there as well until 2018. The U.S. base boasted a Taco Bell, in addition to whatever advantageous feng shui energy flows it might enjoy.

Yoon’s transition team said on Friday his prospective offices would be modeled on the U.S. White House and would be constructed on the grounds of the former American military base, which is being renovated into a public park.

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