The last prince of Korea
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.”
The only son of Crown Prince Yi Eun and Princess Bangja, born Masako Nashimoto of the Japanese royal family, was an architect from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His design office was next to mine and we shared a secretary. We spoke English or Japanese as the Prince couldn’t express himself well in Korean.
``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 handsome.
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 details about how they met and how beautiful her daughter was 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 had attended Korean dinner parties and was there 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.
These 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 Architect Lee prevents me to divulge the details of the Confucianism elders’ suggestions and my conversation with the Prince of the ``scheme.” 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. That alligator madam wasn’t there either.
I noticed those five elders wearing centuries-old traditional mourning attire busying with the service. They looked older and I felt sorry for the ardent admirers of ``His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Korea.”
The writer is a retired architect-specifications writer, who shuttles back and forth between Seoul and New Jersey. His email address is email@example.com.