I thought the Lotus Lantern parade would be canceled. After all, almost everything has been cancelled. Those of you outside of the country may not know it, but due to the Sewol disaster, South Korea is in sort of a forced state of morning. All field trips for all schools have been cancelled, even my little kindergartners who go to a private school couldn’t go to the insect museum as promised. Many public workers will have to come in to work on holidays. The reasoning is unclear but it seems to be about face. All regular television programs have been cancelled and the same five-minute loop of the ferry sinking is played over and over and over. I don’t ever turn on my TV at home, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that loop while out in public. It’s a culture thing, I think. The “we-ness” of Korean society. Even people who were not directly affected by the tragedy, they’re sort of being forced to mourn because nobody wants to look like they’re having a good time when some people are dealing with the death of their loved ones.
I understand but yet, I don’t understand. In the Philippines during the Passion week, you’ll see Catholic young men carrying crosses through the street, whipping themselves and stumbling all the way. It’s sort of a Jesus died for me, so I’m taking part in his suffering sort of thing. But here’s the thing: No, you’re not. Nothing you can do to yourself can come close to what was done to Jesus that day, or what was done to ANYONE who was actually, for real, crucified on a cross. It just feels fake and more of a look-at-me-and-my-piousness sort of thing than anything else. To me, that’s what some of these forced cancellations feel like in South Korea. No amount of NOT getting to watch their favorite programs, for my students, is even going to come close to the suffering that other kids are presently enduring for having lost a sibling. A cancelled kindergarten field trip to an insect museum does nothing to ease the grief of the mothers who lost their children. It doesn’t even come close. I understand that it’s about the we-ness of it all; but I feel like a lot of it is just for show.
I obviously have really mixed feelings about this. My students are upset. Many of them are halfway upset because of the actual accident, but mostly upset because of how much the disaster is interfering with their day-to-day lives. I agree, we should mourn the dead and be respectful of what has happened. But canceling everything isn’t going to help or change anything; I think the people who are responsible should be held responsible, and that the public should be allowed to mourn on their own and in not such a forced way. Also, students and innocent lives were taken on that ferry, yes, but why does South Korea care so much about this and yet it seems to care little about what’s going on in North Korea? If I ever pull up a video interview with North Koreans up on my computer, or broach the subject at all with my Korean friends, they simply give an apathetic shrug and a bit of a well-there-is-nothing-we-can do face and they move on.
All this to say, the Lotus Lantern parade was a solemn event but if you’re reading this and you get the chance to go next year, I would highly suggest that you do so. It was a wonderful event and the lanterns were beautiful. My pictures don’t do it justice. I wouldn’t have known how solemn the event actually was compared to previous years, but I was sitting next to an older couple from the States (he is in the military) and they explained how different the atmosphere was this year, and how it was a completely different even since we’re mourning those who died in the Sewol tragedy. Usually, there is a dance party in the streets after the parade; this year, it was a Buddhist prayer rally to help guide the souls of those who died to Nirvana. Quite different.
Many of you know that I teach English. Last week, I had some of my kids talking about how they were genuinely sad about the events that have unfolded. I asked some of them to write letters to the kids who died on the ferry. Some of what they have written is included below.