[NOTEBOOK]In the close chambers of a heartLast week, I heard the news that Hyun Dong-wha, a businessman in India, was visiting Seoul, but I could not immediately make contact with him and put it off. But over the weekend, when I contacted him, he said he was too busy to meet me because he had to leave the country quickly.
I had a long telephone conversation with him. “In my younger days, my dream was to make money in India and fly to America for plastic surgery. But now I am 71 and have passed the age to worry about a facial scar. Still, I do not feel very comfortable these days because, after 50 years, the Korean Peninsula shows signs of being brought to a war again.” He continued, “War should be avoided at any cost. But I feel anxious because South Korea seems to have been captured as a hostage in the North Korean nuclear crisis.” Then he expressed his belief from his past experience: “If we first go down on our knees to the military offensive of North Korea, we will bring misfortune on ourselves. The power to restrain war comes from sturdiness.”
Mr. Hyun needs an introduction. He was born in Cheongjin, in North Ham-gyeong province, and at the young age of 18 he served in the Korean War as a first lieutenant in the North Korean People’s Army. On Sep. 20, 1950, just after the Incheon landing by the United Nations forces, he was injured in a battle at Hwacheon, Gangwon province, and on Oct. 10 he defected to the South and was transferred to the prisoner-of-war camp at Geojae, near Busan. He refused repatriation to North Korea during the exchange of prisoners after the armistice, so he boarded a transport ship, the Astoria, at Incheon port on Feb. 6, 1954.
Hyun Dong-hwa was one of the so-called “76 anti-communist prisoners” (who actually numbered 88, if Chinese soldiers are included). As he said, he was like an autumn leaf, pushed by the flow of torturous Korean modern history and blown to India. Some of those sent to India remained there, but most of them left for Brazil or Argentina to find a new home. Almost all of them lived an exhausting life, suffering from poverty and mental disease. Among them, Mr. Hyun, who can be rightly called a successful man, wrote a part of our modern history by publishing a memoir, “In the times of raging waves, letting go of the anchor in India,” published by Namuwasup in June 2002.
Here is part of his book: “I felt bitter and hurt when I saw more than 150 members of the Young Anti-communist League waving the national flag of South Korea and singing a song at the wharf. They shouted, ‘Back to the bosom of Korea!’ ... I thought of holding the last view of the landscape of my mother country in my mind standing on the deck, but I just went down to the cabin and lay down, covering myself with a blanket.” So, we have to recall “the breathing sea, heavily turning over the massive, blue scales, thicker than the color of the crayons” described at the beginning of “The Plaza,” a novel by Choi In-hun.
In the novel, the protagonist, Lee Myeong-jun, who was heading for India, came to think of his father who died while experiencing conflicts of ideology. “The road to the plaza where he could meet his father was blocked. The plaza where his father appeared was a plaza located in the other village ... from the very start, he should not wish to go there, and neither did he want to. That is because he does not believe there is a plaza.” Finally, Myeong-jun, leaving his narrow, close chamber behind, throws himself into the ocean.
When Mr. Hyun was a boy who romped in Cheongjin, he had a yearning in his heart for Tokyo, where his youngest uncle was studying. When, as a young man after liberation, he entered the Sadong military school near Pyeongyang, the object of his admiration chang-ed to Moscow, far beyond Lake Baikal and located at the end of the Trans-Siberia Rail-road. But war threw him away to a strange place: New Delhi, India.
About the time I finished my telephone conversation with him, I dimly recalled the summer of 1950 in the Korean Peninsula, that was said to be unusually long and sultry. Why is the plaza in our hearts still lonely? And what is happening in the dark, close chamber?
* The writer is the culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Huh Eui-do