Reporting from Seoul — For stargazers in this celebrity-crazed nation, this was a foreign dignitary with some real muscle, a visitor who appeared Wednesday bearing the planet's most resilient currency: Hollywood clout.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger swaggered into a high-end South Korean department store, parting the fevered crowds on another choreographed stop in a weeklong trade tour of Asia that included hand-shaking, photo ops and talking market strategy with officials in China, Japan and finally, South Korea.
Here was Schwarzenegger-the-governor not so subtly employing some of his megawatt Arnold-the-actor cachet to help sell California, its image and products to the Eastern world.
That technique certainly wasn't lost on South Korea, where newspapers heralded the arrival of the "Terminator governor."
At the Lotte department store, Schwarzenegger's arrival evoked the breathless energy of a whistle-stop presidential campaign tour mixed with the snapshot-seeking tension of a sold-out film premiere. Most of the crowd had never heard of Sacramento, but they knew all about Hollywood. When they saw him, they collectively gasped.
"I don't know why he's here, but I don't really care," gushed Sohn Kyung-ae, a 43-year-old mother of two. "I just want to see the Terminator. I've seen all his movies."
But Schwarzenegger also had some serious state business to conduct in South Korea. As he did in China and Japan, he hawked California technology, tourism and wines. He rode a bullet train, sampling a high-speed transportation mode he wanted to see come to California.
As his state reeled from a $19-billion deficit, the governor also dabbled in U.S. trade policy — calling upon the U.S. Congress to pass a controversial free-trade agreement with South Korea.
South Korea, which imported $6 billion in California goods last year, is the state's fifth-largest trading partner, buying computer and electronic products, machinery and food. California is South Korea's ninth-largest trade partner.
Schwarzenegger later suggested to another business audience in a lunchtime speech that South Korea could improve its ranking.
"There's no reason why you can't move up to our fourth-biggest trading partner, or three or two — all the way up," he said.
Schwarzenegger also embraced South Korean investment in California and Los Angeles. He praised two major projects, including Hyundai Motors' decision to keep its U.S. headquarters in California and its multimillion-dollar upgrade of its Orange County facility.
He also lauded Korean Air's plans to turn the Wilshire Grand Hotel into a $1-billion hotel, office and retail complex.
"This building will remake the Los Angeles skyline," said the governor, dressed in a gray suit and blue tie but framed by a state promotional poster featuring him in a tight black T-shirt, arms crossed, biceps bulging, looking more Terminator than state leader.
The day turned into a diplomatic love fest. One event official said after shaking hands with Schwarzenegger that his wife had ordered him not to wash the hand.
Not everyone was so enamored of such gushing goodwill.
"California is suffering from a fiscal deficit and Gov. Schwarzenegger is here to make money for his state, but his celebrity status alone will not get him the funding he needs," said Chun Sang-chin, a sociologist at Sogang University in Seoul.
He also called on South Korean politicians to stop acting like autograph seekers.
"Image making is important to them so they want to get a picture taken with Schwarzenegger," he said. "This really dilutes the objective of his trip, in a sense."
That didn't stop scores of wide-eyed fans from blocking the aisles at the downtown Seoul department store, ogling as Schwarzenegger swept onto the scene flanked by bodyguards and advance men. He posed for a few pictures before samples of California almonds and wine.
As the governor left the building, the crowd surged. Swept along amid the press of bodies, the veteran entertainer — just for a moment — looked a bit dazed.
When he was gone, Sohn Kyung-ae still reeled.
"I'm a little surprised because he wasn't as big as I imagined," she said. "And he looked gentler in real life than on the screen."
For yet another day as California's self-professed "salesman in chief," Schwarzenegger rarely missed a moment to play his Hollywood celebrity card to adoring fans.
Walking off the stage, he leaned into the microphone with a goodbye that made the crowd roar.
"I'll be back," he promised.
Ethan Kim of The Times' Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.