[Pinoy voices] A transient’s farewell

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[Pinoy voices] A transient’s farewell

This is the last Pinoy Voices article. Members of the Philippine Resource Persons Group (Phil-RPG), a band of Filipino professors working at Korean universities, have taken turns writing articles for this syndicated column since November 2009. The news that the column would be terminated inspired us to think about the life of the transient, particularly that inevitable point when we have to say our goodbyes and move on or go back home.

Korea is at an interesting point in its modern history. Its rapid ascent to the ranks of developed countries came after a long period of seclusion, both as an independent country and as a colony of Japan. Forced open by the demands of globalization, the country is managing an interesting balancing act between sticking to its traditional ways and embracing the cosmopolitan approach.

One of the consequences of this “open sesame act” is the inflow of foreigners to the Land of Morning Calm, who came either at the invitation of the Hankuk saram, the Koreans, or were lured by the country’s attractiveness to the waeguk saram, the foreigners.

At the back of the foreign resident’s mind is the knowledge that his stay can never be permanent. As mortals, there is in us a yearning to go back home before we are called “back home.” Even for those who have intimate reasons to stay on as long as possible, there is that ardent wish to kiss the soil of the homeland and be buried beneath it.

And so we must make the most of our sojourn. The start of the journey is characterized by a mixed feeling of excitement and a sense of feeling lost. The latter triggers a need to get one’s feet firmly planted as soon as possible.

We Asians are wont to hark back to the history of our relationship, preferring to start with an already-existing foundation upon which to build new interactions, complete with new rules and new expectations. Thus the tendency of Filipinos in many civil or diplomatic gatherings here in Korea is to relive the quick decision to join the UN Forces in the 1950-53 Korean War. The Philippines was the third country, and the first developing country, to send a contingent of soldiers to Korean soil to help fight, as the reader may have gleaned from last week’s column written by Professor Emely Abagat.

After the foundations of a promising friendship have been set, what follows is a period of adjustment. It is an amusing drama that ensues as both sides adapt to each other, punctuated at times by effusive hospitality, arrogance, anxiety, clumsiness - indeed a whole mosaic of behavioral responses.

The attendant high emotions are of course memorable. Foreigner bars are infamous for chatter about the hosts, often about how hilarious the Korean people can be. The Koreans, on the other hand, do resort to hushed whispers when they talk about how visitors should go home if they can’t take the heat. (This guest could not agree more.)

The magical tipping point in the interaction is when both sides start to sincerely listen to each other, and try to learn from the other side. My own impression is that some Koreans tend to look down on visitors from developing countries like mine, knowing full well that people from these countries are here to learn the ways of fast development. Thus, it is extremely satisfying when Koreans listen to us and acknowledge that we, too, know a thing or two. Much easier said than done is my experience - especially because, at times, it’s necessary that we criticize each other.

But when these barriers are hurdled, there develops a mutual respect from which flows a genuine need to deepen the friendship and honor cross-dependencies, an important ingredient of filial love. It is the same mutual respect that is necessary if worldwide equitable development can be achieved.

Pinoy Voices represented to us writers a golden opportunity to earn this respect from you, our esteemed readers. Auspiciously, our final bow comes on World Press Freedom Day. We can only pray that through the half-year our column has existed, we have been successful in informing, amusing, or even educating you in our humble Filipino way.

For this, the Phil-RPG is eternally grateful to the management and editorial board of the JoongAng Daily. Gamsahamnida.

Because our relationship has blossomed to this point, it is heart-wrenching and painful to bid farewell. When the day comes for me to finally say goodbye to my closest Korean friends, I know I will find it hard to hold back the tears. My heavy heart will momentarily dampen my resolve to meet the challenges of moving on. But rest assured that later on, if our paths do not cross again, I will recall our experiences together with a wan smile, and perhaps silently recite this old Irish salutation, which I would like to offer as a final gift as I lay down my pen:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And rain fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.


*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies at Kyunghee University and the Chair of Phil-RPG.

By Manuel Dioquino
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