Divided Korea: Family Reunions from a South Korean Perspective (Video)

The Korean War from 1950-53 saw millions of families divided across the peninsula. It wasn’t until 2000 that the first family reunions started to take place and through this approximately 17,000 families have been able to reunite, albeit briefly. At the end of September, North Korea ordered the indefinite postponement of the first scheduled meeting in 3 years just days in advance. Claiming that there had been a feeling of ‘hostility’ from some South Koreans, the North’s sudden postponement left thousands of families across the border disappointed.

Ingoo Jang, a 26-year-old South Korean music student living in Seoul is one of the many South Koreans desperate to see the reunions rescheduled immediately. Like thousands of South Koreans, Ingoo has no family whom he is hoping to reunite with himself, (his grandmother was evacuated from the North at the start of the Korean War,) but his passion for the reunions and eventual reunification is unwavering. His feelings are such that he recently wrote a ballad ‘Ahoo’ plainly presenting the feeling of loss felt by the families separated during the War; ‘it was upon arriving home to an unusually empty house, that I imagined a life without my family if they were never to return. I couldn’t stop crying.’

Ingoo’s family returned home later that evening however he couldn’t forget the all-consuming loneliness and desperation that he had felt to reunite with them. ‘My direct family weren’t separated but as a Korean, I regard those in the North as family too.’ A collectivist nation, thousands of Koreans regard the North and the South as one blood and thus their passion for reunions and eventual reunification is irrefutable.

‘Obviously there are right wing Koreans who don’t want reunification as they believe it may be damaging to the South socially and economically. I personally believe that the only effective way to heal all of the wounds caused by the war is for the countries to reunify and for the separated families to live together again indefinitely.’

With predictions of reunification happening in the next 10 years, and over half of the people separated on the waiting list over the age of 80, time is undoubtedly of the essence. Chances of many of the dispersed families still being alive are slim and in fact thousands have already passed away. ‘This is an incredibly urgent matter, we have to be patient but action absolutely needs to take place very soon! Those separated in the war are now very old.’ Ingoo carefully reflects this great sense of both urgency and uncertainty throughout his song and asks questions the respective families are undoubtedly asking themselves ‘should we resign ourselves to fate for now?’ Given the unpredictability of the North this dwindling sense of hope and impending doom is an accurate depiction of how the dispersed are feeling. Furthermore with only about a hundred families or so selected for each reunion thousands of families have been, and inevitably will be, left waiting in vain.

Nonetheless, in the face of prospective struggle, Ingoo remains hopeful. ‘Whether the families are able to reunite in this lifetime or not I believe that the descendants of the dispersed families have time to build and nurture relationships.’ He has an absolute sense of inter-connectedness to the people in the North and an unfaltering faith that the two Koreas will soon be one, however his song is an honest reminder of the pain and tragedy that continues across the peninsula for so many Koreans.

Song lyrics:

이제 다시 볼수 없니
너무 짧은 너의 기억
흐르는 시간이 야속 한데

지우려 해봐도 안되

아후 아후 흐느껴 울어 보지만

아후 아후 그댄 기억에 남아

이제 그만 헤어져야하니?
숨죽여 기다려야하니?
놀부밑에 너를 생각하니
눈물이 멈추지가 않아

Can’t we meet anymore?

My memory of you is short

I hate this time floating without an end

Even though I try to erase my memory of you I can’t,

Ahu, Ahu, although I’ wailing, ahu ahu, you have been engraved in my memory

Should we resign ourselves to fate for now?

Or should we wait a while more?

Since I think of you under the dictator,

I can’t stop crying.

By: Megan Odell

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