In the Building 1510 in the Main Post, Yongsan Garrison, (and later in another office in Hannam-dong) the late architect Kyu Lee had his own office and a female private secretary. My drafting board was located in the adjoining office.
His mother, Her Royal Highness Masako (or Yi Bangja in Korean, or Nashimoto-no-miya Masako in Japanese) Crown Princess Euimin of Korea was the Consort of Crown Prince Euimin. She and her husband would have been the Emperor and Empress of the Empire of Korea if Korea had not been annexed to the Empire of Japan in 1910. His father Crown Prince Uimin was a Lieutenant General of the Imperial Japanese Army until the end of the World War II. Architect Kyu Lee had attended Gakushuin, a Japanese educational institution for the children of Japan’s nobilities. The current Emperor Akihito had attended when Prince Lee was with the school.
For the Architect Lee’s close family connection with the Japanese royal families, he had to visit Tokyo quite often, and I had to look after his pending tasks in his absence. And when I attended meetings on behalf of him at the Headquarters of the 8th U.S. Army in Garrison Yongsan, young Lieutenants courteously addressed me as “Prince Lee” by mistake. We had about the same builds and I looked more like Japanese than Korean, so I’ve been told (I was born and bred in Japan).
And my job in his absence included to look after his romantic affair actually or falsely involved with a beautiful Korean woman who was said to be chasing after the last Prince of Korea who had no children (dubiously to have the true blood line of royal descendant). (The original text of this story by the same author was published by The Korea Times in June 2012)
A fiftyish, plump lady beautifully dressed in Korean traditional dress holding a black alligator leather pouch stepped into my atelier with a whiff of perfume while I was busy on the drawing board.
“Please pardon my intrusion but I would very much like to talk to you,” she announced with a forced smile. Thinking that she might be a potential client, I introduced myself and guided her to an easy chair. “How may I help you, madam?”
“Actually, I came to see Prince Yi Gu. Your secretary says Jeonha (Royal Highness) is out of the country, and you can speak for him.” Yi Gu in Korean, Kyu Lee in English, was a claimant to the throne of Korea and if Korea were still a monarchy, his title would have been “His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Korea.”
“I have a beautiful daughter…” she mumbled. “My daughter loves Prince Yi…”
Well, it wasn’t architectural business and Prince Lee was married to Julia Mullock, a citizen of the United States. He was handsome but I didn’t think he was all that attractive.
After a long pause and some wiggling, “… she is pregnant,” the alligator madam expelled as if I was responsible. What she wanted to declare was; “My daughter is carrying a child who would be the last Prince (or Princess) of Joseon Dynasty, or great-grand child of King Gojong.”
Prince Yi Gu had no child with his wife Julia Lee, or anyone else. I knew as I had worked with him side by side over 10 years. I was tempted to ask the details about how they met and what month her pregnancy was in, if the Prince was responsible. But decided to hear the Prince’s word before I could do anything to help, whoever needed help.
About a year before this perfumed encounter, five elders of the Lee Family Clan Council of Korea had visited my office, not the Prince’s. they knew the Prince and I attend Korean dinner parties sitting on the floor served by beautiful girls.
To make a long story short, they wanted to have at least one baby boy, hopefully two, though they would accept a girl, by Prince Yi before too late. They said they gave up the last hope of producing Korea’s monarchy blood by Mrs. Julia Lee, who was, the clan elders decided, sterile.
The royalist Lee clan elders were desperate that “The last choice available now was that the royal descendant should come from out of wedlock and with a fine, healthy Korean woman,” they whispered to me in unison. The elders pleaded me to help them to keep the time-honored tradition of Joseon Dynasty.
Here, I must apologize that my respect and confidence in the late Architect Lee prevents me to divulge the details of the Confucianism elders’ suggestion and my conversation with the Prince about the elders’ plot. Prince Lee was personable but having had no experience carrying around a wallet, he wasn’t good at counting money nor knew how to get friendly with women.
Prince Yi Gu died on July 16, 2005, he was 74. I flew from New Jersey to attend his funeral service held at Nakseonjae Palace in Seoul and found neither sobbing beautiful woman nor a resembling child among the family condolers. The alligator madam wasn’t there either.
I noticed, on the other hand, those five elders wearing the centuries-old traditional mourning attire busying with the service. They looked very sorrowful for missing the last chance to continue their dynasty clan, and I felt sorry for the ardent admirers of “His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Korea.” (End)
(By Nam Sang-so, Seoul, February 19, 2017)