I don’t know how many of you are familiar with this popular fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, but it is a story that I grew up with. “The Princess and the Pea” is a tale of a prince who is searching for a suitable wife, and the queen, wanting to test and confirm the royal identity of his potential wife resorts to testing her physical sensitivity by placing a pea under a high mound of mattresses and feather-beds. The test is deemed successful, if the lady is able to feel discomfort due to the pea.
This particular story seemed to resonate a chord with me with regards to the current issue between North and South Korea. According to the results of a recent poll I read sometime back, it seems like the number of South Korean youths seem to regard the issue of Korean Unification with less and less importance as compared to other issues that were deemed more ‘pressing’ such as getting into college and so on. I wanted to depict the idea that while South Koreans may be busy trying to stack up on their material comforts, in hope of attaining a higher satisfaction of living, they will never be completely feel comfortable as long as there is the issue of Korea being divided. They may choose to conveniently neglect the issue of Korean Unification, but they’ll never be able to forget or disregard it completely.
We see in the news, the occasional updates of North Korea when there is something sensational/worth covering, such as the recent murder or assassination of Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother Kim Jong-nam, or when he ordered the execution of his uncle. And because how these issues are usually sensationalised by the media, we often forget the bigger picture that beyond these sporadic events, there lies a pressing, enduring issue of North Korean citizens being oppressed day by day.
Autobiographies and accounts by survivors help us keep things in perspective, and while no one likes to be reminded of depressing, unhappy events, it is important to know them. To ignore or dismiss that these events ever happened, is one of the greatest indignities that human beings can inflict on each other.
The preface by Robert McAfee Brown, in Night by Elie Wiesel, puts into words the importance of remembering such events rather nicely: “Among the few who survived the onslaught of that formidable shadow turned substance, was Elie Wiesel, whose deliverance condemned him to tell his story to an unbelieving and uncaring world. But because of his telling, many who did not believe have come to believe, and some who did not care have come to care. He tells the story, out of infinite pain, partly to honour the dead, but also to warn the living – to warn the living that it could happen again and that it must never happen again. Better that one heart be broken a thousand times in the retelling, he has decided, if it means that a thousand other hearts ned not be broken at all.”
Let us not so quickly dismiss the accounts/testimonies of these North Korean defectors. Let us find it in ourselves to believe and care for them, and to open our doors if need be. Just because they live on the other side of the world with their own unique set of issues, does not make them any less important or valuable. We do not know how long the Korean unification will take, but let us not forget our fellow brothers and sisters in North Korea. And whatever may come or whatever it may take, let us journey with them until the very end.
The term ‘star-crossed lovers’ is used to describe two people who are enamoured with one another, but are unable to be together due to their circumstances. This drawing is influenced by the Korean version of the star-crossed lovers, as told in the story of the ‘The Weaver and the Cow Herdsman’. The story tells us how two lovers were separated, but were allowed to be with each other once a year because of how their cries deeply evoked sympathy from the magpies who decided to form a bridge. Likewise, I wanted to depict the situation of the Korean peninsula like that of star-crossed lovers, of how the people in both North and South Korea desperately want to be unified, but are unable to due to the circumstances.
For those familiar with Greek mythology, the term ‘Pandora’s box’ may not be all too unfamiliar. The idea or expression regarding the opening of the Pandora’s box is usually associated with chaos, with the resultant consequences being completely unanticipated. Likewise, I wanted to express that the while the Korea’s unification is ideal, the unification of the two Koreas may result in entirely unanticipated outcomes.
No one knows what exactly will happen regarding the unification of the Korean peninsula, and at best, what we can do in the meanwhile is to preempt and prepare for all kinds of possible scenarios that may happen upon unification.
The image of an obstacle course came to mind, as I thought about the long, complicated and tedious route Korean defectors have to take to reach South Korea as their final destination. Contrary to common belief, as much as North Korea is geographically close in proximity to South Korea, North Korean defectors are not able to simply cross over to South Korea. The common route they usually take is first by crossing the Tumen River into Yanji, China, and thereafter stop over in Southeast Asian countries like Laos and Thailand, where they will be linked with people who ensure their safe passage into South Korea.
The ‘Scramble for Africa’ influenced this drawing of a ‘Scramble for Korea’. Although some aspects of the colonization/invasion/annexation are different, arguably, I feel that on the whole, they are similar in nature, in the sense that the separation of Korea occurred due to intervention by foreign powers who had/have vested interests on the Korean peninsula. The light blue colored area denotes the Korean peninsula, and the spoons represent the key foreign powers that are have had, and still have, significant influence over the Korean unification issue. I drew the foreign powers as spoons to demonstrate the keeness of these countries ‘digging into’ the Korean peninsula, which has borne weighty consequences in the process.
During my stay in Goseong, I visited the Inter-Korean Transit Office (Donghae Line) as well. This office was active during the running of Mt. Geumgang tours with the Geumgang resort receiving about 400,000 visitors per year until July 2008. The tours to Geumgang ceased with the shooting of Park Wang-ja, a South Korean tourist, when she unintentionally crossed to a prohibited area and was shot by a North Korean guard. Calls for a joint-Korean investigation of the shooting were made, however due to the lack of cooperation from the DPRK side, tours were never resumed.
Through the Geumgang project, the North has benefited much from it economically, and since the ceasing of tours, it has suffered losses of more than US$900million.
The next monumental economic partnership after the Geumgang project was the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) in 2004. Unfortunately, this project has fallen through too with the closing down of the KIC earlier this year in February.
The first time North and South Korean trains crossed the Inter-Korean or the DMZ border was in 17 May 2007, 56 years after the Korean War. Some of the distinguished South Korean passengers included former Unification Ministers like Lee Jong-seok and Lim Dong-won, the main architect of the ‘sunshine’ policy.