▲ Government officials sport three of the 20 different patterns of aloha shirt, at the Jeju Customer Satisfaction Center. Photo by Yang Ho Geun
A sudden rush of curious tropical flowers started to pop up all around the streets early this summer, drawing my attention every time I went out to lunch. By this I mean the flowers printed on the Hawaiian aloha shirts of provincial government officials. As this reporter’s office is located right in front of Jeju City Hall, the wearers of the attire were very noticeable as they hurried out of their municipal offices.
Jeju officials have been wearing these aloha shirts now for over 8 years.
Grey, dark or white—these are dress codes de rigueur for other government officials on the mainland. How then, did these unlikely shirts end up as the regular summer uniform of the island’s public servicemen and women?
It was the current governor Woo Keun Min, then the 33rd governor of the Jeju provincial government, who started this exotic tradition in the summer of 2003, when he ordered local officials to ditch their grey, dark and white office attire and change to aloha uniforms.
Woo was convinced, it seems, that as the face of Korea’s largest tourist destination, its public servants should live up to the expectation about the island being Korea’s own Hawaii by changing their uniforms to colorful aloha shirts.
The uniform project was commissioned to Cheju Tourism College in 2003 and final shirt designs were confirmed in the same year through an open design competition.
The shirts’ colorful prints seem rather too much for male officials to swallow though. They felt awkward turning themselves into public clowns by wearing them. “The shirt looks totally out of place here,” said one Jeju City official who declined to be named. “It is like something out of the Philippines or South America.”
“Designers may have had difficulties in coming up with more creative designs when they are limited to some Jeju symbols such as the tangerine in their choice of patterns,” said Yi Eun Sil, manager at the office of UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites. She likes the shirt, she said, though she could not find a design that fits her shape.
As the governor that first started this unique tradition, Woo may have heard about some negative undercurrent running among Jeju officials about the shirt. On July 2, on his second day in the office as the new governor, he reminded Jeju officials that they should wear this aloha shirt at all times, stressing that “anyone should be able to recognize Jeju officials with aloha shirts on.”
Some 20 different patterns have been developed for officials to choose from up until now and its logo has evolved from ‘Jeju’ to ‘Only Jeju.’ The shirts have now broken out of the Jeju officialdom and are now often worn by some front office workers in the private sector, including many bank tellers, tourism agencies and executives of Jeju Tourism Organization.
If you want to keep them as souvenir for your visit to Jeju, they are available at 34,000 won per shirt with about 5,000 to 6,000 being sold every year.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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