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It takes about two hours by air to go from Incheon Airport to Vladivostok in the Maritime Province of Russia. Chinese people used to call Vladivostok the land of the sea cucumber because of the number of sea cucumbers in the sea nearby.
Historically the area near Vladivostok belonged to the Old
Joseon Dynasty (BC 2333-BC 194) and Bohai (698-926).
It also served as a center for the independence movement of the Korean people during the Japanese colonial period.
About a one-and-half hour drive to the north from Vladivostok, is a place called Ussuriysk.
A vast plain called “Hanmadang,” or “big ground” in Korean, unfolds there.
Exactly 70 years ago, the fields there were covered with golden rice heavy with ripe grain waiting to be harvested.
Of course, the rice was planted by Koreans who had moved to that area in the early 20th century. But the Koreans were forcibly taken by train at a railroad station near their villages before they had a chance to harvest that rice, then taken to a desert in Central Asia and abandoned like luggage.
Since then, the rice in the fields had sat there, without being harvested, unattended and frozen in the cold Siberian weather.
The grain had scattered. Some of it had rotted, but some survived
under the frozen land, where it sprouts the spring.
The same thing has happened over and over for decades. Because no one has taken care of the rice there, the grain grown wild in its repeated struggle for survival.
The grain of ordinary rice has a smooth skin, but wild rice is covered
with long hair.
This is the result of a genetic mutation. Wild rice is better suited to
defend itself from birds’ beaks.
Even after being forcibly transferred to Central Asia, Koreans have tenaciously survived. Some of them have even moved to the far west of the Eurasian continent, settling down in the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania via
The Koreans have the strong vitality of wild rice, which even survived
under the frozen land of the Maritime Province of Russia.
Some Koreans who were deported to Central Asia when the Soviet
Union was under Joseph Stalin’s rule were allowed to move back to
the Maritime Province when Nikita Khrushchev came to power in 1956.
In the latter half of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the socialist bloc
countries were undergoing the turmoil of change, Koreans reverseimmigrated
from Central Asia to the Maritime Province and started to cultivate
the old land they had been forced to leave.
They are now cultivating the land
that had once been claimed decades
by their grandfathers, fathers or
themselves, again with their bare
With the help of a religious
organization, they have started to
buy farms near Hanka Lake that had
been reclaimed by the Koreans but
been abandoned for a long time.
They have purchased 17 farms so far
and bred cattle, pigs, chickens and
even deer there. They have already
been cultivating rice and beans there
for five years.
One thing in particular about the
farm there is that the wild rice grows
almost everywhere.
The wild rice that survived during
the past 70 years, overcoming
severe weather conditions, reminds
us of the sad fate and tenacious vitality
of the Koreans in the Russian Far
The leaders of both Koreas are
going to meet again tomorrow.
I don’t pin high hopes on their
meeting, but I sincerely hope that the
two leaders will not be preoccupied
with a narrow political deal by confining
their perspectives to the
Korean Peninsula.
If they really want to think about
unifying the Korean people as one,
shouldn’t they first embrace the seven
million Koreans living abroad
and console their past wounds?
Friday is the day for Koreans all
over the world.
We have designated that day to
remember that there are seven million
Koreans scattered around the
In order to claim to be the leader
of the Korean people, one should be
able at least to wipe away the tears of
the Koreans who suffered under the
yoke of history like the wild rice
growing in the fields of the Russian
Far East, and the tears of all Koreans
scattered in every nook and corner or
cranny of the globe.

by Chung Jin-hong
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