[FOUNTAIN]Our “windflowers” now need our helpOn September 3, 1997, a Vietnam Airlines plane crashed near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. All 65 passengers and crew members were killed in the accident, including 21 Koreans. A group of Koreans residing in Cambodia arrived at the crash site shortly after the accident. The crash site was catastrophic, with legs and arms torn off and burned bodies lying around. However, despite the terrible sight, they worked hard to gather the bodies of the Korean passengers. How were they able to distinguish their fellow Koreans? “We checked the labels on underwear and socks. If it was a Korean brand such as “Baekyang” or “Ssangbangul,” we would consider him a Korean,” said Kim Mun-baek, a Korean living in Cambodia who was one of the group. They guarded the bodies of 21 Korean passengers and shooed away flies swarming around the carnage. People normally do not have courage to approach such badly damaged remains. However, this group dashed to the crash site when they heard that fellow Koreans were among the victims.
Ethnic Koreans residing outside of Korea are called “overseas Koreans.” Writer Heo Ryeon-sun, who is a Joseonjok, a Chinese of Korean descent, has called the overseas Koreans “windflowers.” She meant the overseas Koreans had aimlessly drifted wherever the wind took them and settled down where the wind stopped. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 6,638,338 “windflowers” were living in 173 nations as of January, 2005. The beginning of the Korean Diaspora was the relocation of 13 farmers and their families to the Russian territory of Posiet Port across the Tumen River in 1863. Now, 142 years later, nearly 10 percent of the combined population of both Koreas has moved abroad.
Overseas Koreans have always rendered help to the motherland. At the time of the economic crisis in 1997, ethnic Koreans in Japan assisted with 400 billion yen, about $4 billion. A Korean resident in Japan brought tangerine saplings to Jeju Island, which is now famous for its specialty tangerines. Loans from Germany, which became the foundation of economic development in the 1960s, were made possible by some Koreans emmigrating, like hostages. Germany had demanded to know how Korea could secure the loans. The government agreed to send nurses and miners as a “guarantee” and borrowed 140 million deutsche marks.
Some 2,500 Koreans living in New Orleans have lost nearly all their assets to Hurricane Katrina. The damage is estimated to be about $100 million. It is time for us, Koreans, to help our brothers abroad. We cannot let the windflowers in New Orleans fall like this.
by You Sang-cheol
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.