May 2014: Seoul, South Korea
Pushing through the heavy glass lobby doors into the cool, misty morning the sounds of the city awakening are light on my ears. A few cabs are on the street and the five way intersection at the bottom of the hill is not yet congested with the commuter’s cacophony.
In search of morning coffee and I turn right and follow the path past the temple built behind the hotel. The dirt paths on the temple grounds have been recently raked and await the tread of today’s traveler. I don’t walk through the temple grounds but stay on the path that leads past the temple and through the pines to a stairway leading down. At the bottom of the steps I can hear traffic noise echo through the narrow canyon between the buildings. I follow the sound to the main road.
I am seized with an awareness that this is no ordinary day. The gentle light of this dawn touches the square before me and illuminates the yellow strips of cloth as they wave in the morning breeze. They are tied to the posts of the white tents set up between the building and Seoul Plaza. They are tied to the guide wires staked in the ground, to the trees and to the many poles erected just for the ribbons. Students are painting images of the victims onto a long canvas banner laid across the ground. Bulletin boards have messages and drawings overlapping each other, layering the sorrow of the country with each addition. Tables hold black markers and yellow strips so that visitors can add their own messages to flutter in the sorrowful breeze. Little yellow boats are stuck into the moist dirt.
This is Children’s day and it’s also an official day of mourning for the Seoul ferry disaster that claimed the treasure of this nation; almost 300 children who were raised to be obedient were taken to their death as the ferry sank and the crew left them behind after announcing that they should stay in their cabins to be safe. A large sign hangs on the City Hall building apologizing to the victims.
It’s exceptionally quiet as I walk through the plaza. Soon, people will be lining up to place a white Chrysanthemum on an altar in remembrance of those who died.
I walk through the plaza and absorb the grief; I am in tears as I read the messages and pictures around me. My hunt for coffee is forgotten as I stay a little longer to reflect on the lives lost and the living whose strength are reflected in the respectful messages of mourning.