Thursday, April 24, 2014

Yellow ribbons for Sewol ::

Thoughts on the captain and crew:

I think that human mistake after mistake compounded into what is now one hundred seventy dead people with still over one hundred missing. I think that the people of authority on the Sewol made decisions and orders that failed to protect the lives on board. I think the surviving crew members had to decide to leave a sinking sink with three hundred some people, most of them high school kids, trapped inside. When I feel how I feel about that cold, hard fact, I know that the surviving crew are feeling that ten fold in the darkest way possible. And the reactions that are trying to find the "good" in their personal destruction and arrests and hold their actions as forseeably intentional are useless. 

It's difficult not feel betrayed as the numbers of the dead and missing tower over the heads of Captain Lee Joon Seok and the surviving crew of the Sewol. How could they abandon all those people? Why didn't they do more? Where is their honor? However, I reject the notion that they survived in the place of one of those who are missing, those who are dead. I think the decisions and actions made in crucial moments culminated into tragic realities where they were not trapped. They had a responsibility and they made the wrong choices, and South Korea is devastated. But I have to believe, until I hear from the mouths of the crew or of proof otherwise, that they did what they thought was best under the circumstances. Which was, tearfully, regrettably, furiously, not near good enough. 

How powerful is the human instinct to survive? There was a moment when the situation got bigger than staying on the sinking ferry to help those to safety. That's when outside help was needed and two hours -- it's not a very long time. I think above everything, a certain point was reached and people got scared and had to choose their own lives. I was shocked by President Park Geun Hye's statement about the Sewol Ferry Sinking. With underlying defensive political tones, she likens the captain and crew to murderers, and this at a time when there are still hundreds missing. Her statement seemed highly inappropriate to me. Turn your heart towards those still at sea and have belief in the arrests not as measures of blame (you did this) but as measures of accountability (you are responsible), in this instance especially. I doubt that the captain and arrested crew members fought hard against being taken in by law enforcement.  

I want there to be a clear enemy, a clear act of malicious evil, to hate and scream at, but all there is is confusion, lack of protocol, and a ton of mistakes made by people of authority, on and off the Sewol. 

A collectivist culture:

My thoughts about the circumstances under which a majority of the crew survived while hundreds are missing and dead bear the collectivist culture of South Korea in mind. The South Koreans are incredibly devoted to and proud of their country. They truly do function as one people in a way that is uplifting to be a part of -- there is less crime, more genuine hospitality, more outward gestures of appreciation. I've mentioned before how much I regard the culture of bowing as a sign of respect. The visuals of the captain, his head sunken down is important to realize -- he was the captain of the ferry. To see the top of his head... it is important to realize. It's an image that has a lot of cultural weight for me. 

Korea as one. The grief and sadness is right here in Icheon. It is in every single city in South Korea. I cannot explain well enough that the loss and hope is very personal to everyone, even those not directly involved because this is Korea. It is a collectivist society, yes, it is a small country, yes, and it is the second most homogeneous country in the world, yes. Yet those facts do not quite explain -- that it's not empathy, it's real horror, fear, and sorrow that everyone in this country is feeling, because Korea. I know what those high school kids, what the teachers, and what the other people on board the Sewol looked like because I see them in my everyday. We all eat the same food, shop in the same markets, and hike the same mountains. South Korea is a family-style society. 


My co-teacher SK and I spoke about Sewol in the afternoons after our classes for the day were finished. She mentioned to me that the 5th and 6th grade field trip was cancelled, which I had heard about. Korea has cancelled all school excursions and special days for the time being. When I read about the "heartbroken" Ansan vice principal who survived the sinking and committed suicide, the tears broke through the numbness for the first time. There is a complex set of criticisms, anger, and sadness to say about his death and this whole disaster, but his words about please "[holding him] responsible [as he] pushed for the school excursion" is a detail that digs at me because he was fighting a separate battle when this all happened. I had just had a conversation with my second co-teacher SH in which he said he didn't understand the point of field trips - students should only study textbooks and take tests. 

I expected SK to say that the students were unhappy about their field trip being cancelled when I asked if they were, but she said that they were perhaps disappointed but that they understood why it was cancelled. I don't agree with the nation-wide trashing of the field trips and 'Sports Days,' but I can understand that sentiment. Yes, life goes on and it has this past week; still, it's been really scary and I think it's my reaction, too, to take it easy. I am proud of my students.

Yellow ribbons for Sewol:

"Never lose hope." Doam had a concert yesterday and the school orchestra played a slow tune for Sewol. A song for the safe return of loved ones. I walked into Doji this morning to see beautiful pictures of candles, colored and full of messages. SK sent me photos of Doam's own yellow ribbon campaign "to pray for the coming back to home safely." On Walking Street, on my way home from work, I was able to write and pin up my own words onto a big, community poster board. The small moments for expression and discussion have been important as the rest of this disaster unfolds with hopes for a miracle.   

Sewol in our hearts and prayers for a miracle. 

1 comment:

  1. I, too, am shocked at President Park's harsh words towards the captain and crew. So many variables and experiences that have accumulated over a lifetime resulted in the actions of each crew member and the captain. It's far too easy to look back from a distance and tell someone else what they should have done.

    We can't know everything that was going through their minds during the sinking, what emergency training they'd had and how recent it had been, what roles and responsibilities they each had on the ship, or why certain autopilot reactions took over in panic mode, etc.

    What saddens me is that I'm sure most of the nation didn't give the President's words a second thought. I think there's lots of agreement, and no one is looking at these people as people - human beings with family, interests, hearts, and emotion. Rather, they are now villains: guilty murderers. :/