[VIEWPOINT]Past history is hard to shake off

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[VIEWPOINT]Past history is hard to shake off

Usually I am not a person who is filled with consciousness of country. Nevertheless, an incident woke me up from my "I-don't-care" condition and made me think about my identity as a Korean woman.

On March 2 at about 1 p.m., I was standing in front of the immigration checkpoint at the Fukuoka airport in Japan, waiting to get the stamp in my passport that would mean I could go about my business. Everything was in order - or at least seemed to be so. My tourist visa was not expired and there were no problems with my round-trip tickets. I don't think my appearance was inappropriate either. I had my makeup on, my hair was in place and I was wearing a coat that I had just ironed.

But the problem was that I did not write down the name of my hotel on the immigration forms. Everyone has their own little principles, and so do I. I don't make hotel reservations. I don't like to go to a place if I don't have the slightest idea of its location. Instead, I get a recommendation from the local tourist office and go to a place that suits me. Usually, I can save some unnecessary travel expenses. Never, in all the countries that I have traveled to, had I been refused entry because I had not written down the name of my hotel. But there I was, trying to explain in broken English who I was, trying to dampen down the suspicious looks thrown at me. They were actually thinking that I might become an illegal immigrant.

Why did you come here? I am a tourist, I replied. Are you alone? Yes. Then why didn't you make a reservation for a hotel? Because I like to travel freely without any restrictions. The questions kept coming: Did I have any friends in Japan? I said I had some in Yokohama. I could have given them the names of Sagawa Aki, who translated my poems and introduced them in Japan, or Muramaki Ryu, a well known writer, who interviewed me for an NHK program, but I didn't. They did not ask for the names of my friends, did they? Then I finally heard a question that stunned me: They asked me how much money I had. I was shocked. I fumbled for an answer and mumbled to them that I had around 20,000 yen and my credit cards. I showed them my credit cards and felt the blood rush to my face. I was embarrassed and felt looked down upon. My dignity was shattered; I couldn't help thinking of our past history. Could it have been that so many Korean women were trying to enter Japan for illegal reasons and the officials were just doing their job? One of them kept shaking his head and used such words as "recommend" and "I warn you" while explaining to me that I would have to make a reservation in the future. I will probably never forget those harsh words.

As I passed the immigration checkpoint, I saw a bulletin board with an English sign, "Hotel Reservations." If, following the theory of the officials, anyone who entered Japan has already made a reservation, why then have a reservation booth? I immediately suspected that I might have been the subject of discrimination because I was a Korean. If I had been an American or part of a tourist group, all this trouble would not have happened. I comforted myself by telling myself that these are the consequences of being a Korean poet. I tried to justify what had happened, but I knew that the mental wound would remain.

I treated myself to a cigarette, but the insult that I suffered wouldn't go away. Since my first encounter on this trip to Japan got me off on the wrong foot, I had this constant feeling that I was being watched. Whenever I heard the Japanese word that means "Korean," I felt uncomfortable. Fifty years have passed since we became independent and we are at the brink of the Korea/Japan World Cup, but why is it that I am still not free from the complex of being a citizen of a former Japanese colony?

A small incident, but it was enough to show once more that our countries might be near in distance but still are far apart.


The writer is a poet.

by Choi Young-mi

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