Thursday, April 16, 2015

Sewol: One Year Later

A year ago today, a ferry carrying several hundred Korean high school students and teachers, capsized and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Three hundred and four people died that day. A week after the accident, I wrote a blog about how my co-workers were helping me understand the story.

Since then, the news stories surrounding the incident have been a mix of incredible grief, as well as overwhelming anger: grief that so many young lives were taken, anger that the incident may have been prevented with better safety regulations. Some are of the opinion that the government deliberately covered up some information and hasn't conducted a thorough and independent investigation.Some parents publicly shaved their heads in protest. And still others are demanding that the ferry boat be raised out of the water. A huge feat which would cost between $91-$137 million US dollars.

This will continue to be a sad day for Koreans for a long, long time.

As I observe the events around this tragedy taking place, I know that I don't have much room to talk. I'm not Korean. I'm no expert. I don't have an ounce of light to shed on the issue, but I can't help but think on an article I read recently, compliments of a Korean friend who passed it on to me, called, "South Korea's Real Culture of Shame."

I see the Sewol incident (and aftermath) to be tied closely to this article, because the Sewol is something Korea is not proud of. Something Korea is embarrassed about. The cultural response to this tragedy fits right in with the thesis of the article: Korea's high-concern for reputation overshadows some serious changes that need to happen. 

"If you are a friend of South Korea, you do not shame it. You do not only report news, but “good news” and “affection”. That attitude of the South Korean government is precisely the problem, because South Korea abounds in things that it should be ashamed of instead of masking from attention. You need only look outside the window to see it in millions of hapless old men and woman collecting rubbish, a highly pressurised education system that has victimised generations of young people,rampant violence and suicides in the militaryenslavement of disabled workers right under the country’s watch, and booming Christian cults that telegraph abject disenchantment with here and now. Or read the available statistics: ludicrous work hours, alarming degrees of economic and social inequality, depressing suicide figures.

The idea is that every South Korean must learn to be ashamed of things that she or he has no control over: problems of the state’s own making to the detriment of the people who are, ostensibly, with the state, for the state, of the state. South Korean Nationalism is built on this magic dust."