How will history remember 2015?When I was young, I was a bit scared as we drove to the Mangbaedan in Imjingak. It was the northernmost point in South Korea, and my grandparents, who are originally from the North, fell silent whenever we visited. Back in the old days, we were taught at school that North Koreans had horns. I had many questions, but the silence in the car was so heavy that I couldn’t break it. My grandparents and parents seemed to have their minds set beyond the demarcation line. Then, I learned that sometimes you can say more by being silent.
On Sundays, we had cold noodles. When I entered elementary school, the adults let me have hoenaengmyeon (cold noodles with raw fish) instead of mulnaengmyeon (cold noodles with cold broth). I was proud I was old enough to eat spicy noodles, although I could only finish my bowl by adding sugar and more broth. New Year’s Day is the day we eat sikhae (a fermented dish of fish and grain) and dumplings prepared with a recipe from Pyeongan. Hamgyeong-style salted halibut with rice is my soul food, along with hoenaengmyeon and dumplings.
When I visited Panmunjeom last week, I made eye contact with a North Korean soldier outside the window of the T-2 meeting room. Beyond the shoulders of an ROK military police officer, the North Korean soldier looked straight at me. And I looked at him in the eyes for the longest second. From his face, I saw my young self. He was curious yet scared, and he was determined not to show his feelings.
July 27 marks the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Armistice Agreement at Panmunjeom. What have we done for over six decades? While South and North Korea did not become divided because we wanted to be, Seoul and Pyongyang advocate their own versions of reunification and blame each other. If we waste the remaining three weeks to the 70th anniversary of the liberation without any progress, how will history remember the year 2015? It seems that what Seoul and Pyongyang really want is to maintain the status quo for the privileged class, not reunification. I desperately hope I am wrong.
South and North Korean authorities should stop for a moment and listen to the song, “Imjin River,” a North Korean song often sung in the South as well. “Flying from the fields in the North to the sky in the South, the bird is a messenger of freedom. Who divided our homeland into two? Does the clear water of the Imjin River flow with a grudge? No one can stop the flow of the Imjin River.”
Someday, when I have grandchildren, I want to take them to the Imjin River.
When I become silent as we look around the Imjin River and Mangbaedan, I hope my grandchildren will say, “Grandma, it’s been so long since Korea became reunited. Let’s take the Gyeongwon Line train and visit Kaema Plateau. When can I have spicy hoenaengmyeon anyway?”
The author is a political and international news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, July 25, Page 27
by CHUN SU-JIN