I spent a week in Korea and that experience was out of this world. I am a traveller and my travelling style is immersion. I like to live like the locals, eat like the locals and live like the locals. I find it pointless to travel to another country and eat french fries and burgers. How can you say you really visited a country if you do not taste its food or inhale its scent or hear the constant clearing of the throats and spitting!?!? Okay I digress.
One of the places I visited in Seoul was Soedaemun Prison. This is where the Japanese housed Koreans who were opposed to their occupation of Korea. It was built to house 500 although the standard size of most Korean prisons was 300. At its max, it housed over 3500 and torture was a part of everyday life. Cells that were meant to hold 7 now held 35 so that the prisoners would have to sleep in shifts. Before we started the exhibit, my friend warned me about the graphic nature of the prison exhibit. Ironically enough some of my favourite shows are Locked Up and any prison shows I can find, so the graphic nature did not faze me. As we walked the halls and grounds of the prison, we came across the women’s cells and an exhibit dedicated to the Comfort Women. The Comfort Women were women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese. These women were kept to service the men bringing them comfort, keeping them happy and preventing espionage. As we walked the exhibit, my friend explained that to this day once a week, the comfort women in Korea stage a protest in front of the Japanese embassy. My first thought was, it has been over 50 years, why are they letting the Japanese retain power over them for just a few words? I did not think much about it after that and upon my return, because of the amazing experience I had in Korea, I decided to do some more reading on the country. One of the articles I read was from a young lady who had visited Korea and stated that her most moving experience was visiting the Comfort Women of Korea and listening their stories. This made me do some more reasearch and read more into about them. I was able to confirm that they are still staging protests to this day asking for an apology from the Japanese and acknowledgement of the huge wrong that was done to them. I could not help but internalize this and reflect on my boarding school years.
I was miserable in boarding school. I have few if any good memories of my time spent in that institution. Part of it was that I was ill prepared to take care of myself and the other was that like a prison society where the strong prey on the weak, I was a very easy target. To this day, I can remember every single person who went out of their way to seek me out and push me around because I looked weak and was essentially unprotected. I understand that the boarding school environment exists to make one stronger and build one’s character but I do not believe that this has to be done by being malicious and cruel. It has been over 10 years since I was in boarding school but I cannot forget what happened to me. If given the chance I would like to ask some of those people why. Why me? What was it about my person, my character or maybe the way I looked that made it easy to pick on me? Why not that other person? Why did you leave them alone? About 6 years ago, someone from my boarding school who had incessantly teased me and picked on me was visiting a friend of mine. I had told me friend about the experiences and remarked that I was not sure how I would react when I saw this individual. True to form, she told. When we met, after the customary greetings, he brought up what my friend had told him and said he could not remember picking on me. I told him in great detail what he had done and that I remembered it very clearly. He stood up, told me although he could not quite recall the events he was sorry and proceeded to kneel in front of me and ask for my forgiveness.
Now that is extreme, I do not expect everyone who has ever wronged me to come to me kissing my feet and asking for forgiveness. Truth be told I was neither expecting nor asking for one. I simply wanted to know why he picked on me. I gained two things from that encounter: first, sometimes even though we don’t know that it matters, it helps to hear someone say that they are sorry for hurting you. Yes, they happen to be just 3 very short words, but they carry a lot of impact. More that I ever imagined. Secondly, sometimes when a person is causing harm, they are unaware of the destruction they are causing. It is still inexcusable and I have not completely figured it out but the psychologist in me in working on understanding the “science’ of that process.
I hope to visit Korea again someday and if I am lucky, I would love to stand with the Comfort Women in front of Japanese embassy because whether they meant it or not, they caused suffering and I will be standing with them for the power of a simple apology.