Friday, 7 March 2014

Mount Geumgang Reunions: The Saddest Farewells

                (A view of the Mount Geumgang resort area)

The family members who participated in the latest episode of  the South-North Korean reunions at the Mount Geumgang Resort had all returned home. I can only imagine the ride, both emotional and physical, that they endured on those trips heading to and leaving the resort. I wouldn't know what these family members felt on their way to the resort. Maybe a mixture of joy, excitement, curiosity and gratitude? But when it was time to leave and separate, maybe for the last time, the grief, sadness, anger and helplessness might have been too much to bear.   

      (A painting of Mount Geumgang at a hotel in the resort)

I have been to the Mount Geumgang Resort on the North Korean side of the DMZ. This was the time when it was still open to tourists from South Korea. Those tours were stopped in 2008 after an incident where a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a soldier from the north.

And last month, as the North agreed to restart the reunions of Korean families separated during the Korean War, the selected families traveled to the resort to spend time with their brothers and sisters whom they haven't seen for more than 60 years.

Yes, 60 years. At least.
                            (The dining hall at the hotel)
                        (The huge chandelier of the hotel)

On the chilly morning of February 20, the first batch of family members crossed the DMZ and into North Korea's Mount Geumgang Resort where their relatives from the North were waiting. According to the news, an 82-member delegation from the South were to meet with the 178-member delegation from the North that day. 

Most of the family members were in their 80s and 90s; frail, old and must have been worried about making the trip. Some were even carried on stretchers and had medical attendants with them. I guess, if there's one trip they would want to make regardless of their health, this would be it. For the last time, after decades, they would meet once again a brother or a sister, or a parent, an aunt or an uncle.
                       (One of the hotels at the resort)

For most of us having our families near, we may take it for granted seeing them or just being around them. But for these separated families, I would think they would give up everything or do everything just to see them. But for us, who are lucky not to have suffered the same fate because of the war, do we appreciate the privilege of being with our family around any day, any time?

Do we, actually??

       (A picture of the separated family members from the   previous reunions displayed at a building at the boundary)

There are still about 22,000 family members from about 4,300 separated families, according to the news. And these family members are very old and are running out of time, considering their age. I once saw on Korean TV a family member in his late 60s who lamented that his only remaining dream was to see for the last time his surviving family members in the North. 

As he eagerly awaits his turn to reunite with his long-lost loved ones, let's all hope that these family reunions will continue to be held. How would you feel if you have not been able to see face-to-face or embrace a brother or a sister, or a parent for decades? Or not having the means to know if they are still alive? Or worse, you're not even able to recall the memories when you were still together? Or remember each other's faces?

And on the last moments of the reunion, what do you say to each other knowing that you may never see each other again? 

What could be the words of a last farewell?

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