sorrow of returning home

After three years of closely observing COVID-19 restrictions at home in the United States, with five vaccinations and a decline in the number of illnesses in both the United States and South Korea, we decided it was time to return to South Korea. After that, I learned a lot about Korea, but of course the most unfortunate thing was the tragedy in Itaewon.

I like how serious South Korea is about wearing masks all the time. 90%) still wear masks outdoors.

It is estimated that 80% of South Koreans wore masks on flights arriving in South Korea, compared to only about 10% of Americans. I was impressed by South Korea’s diligence, but not by America’s distorted view of “freedom.”

For this trip, we rented a car – for extra isolation from subway crowds and added COVID-19 protection – and discovered a previously unknown part of South Korea: Seoul’s underground parking garages. number. And in many ways, “my old 1965 eyes” (my perspective when I first came to South Korea) are skyscrapers, straight arrow-like highways (tunnels and bridges), and foreign cars. Repeatedly impressed. We’ve seen Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, and even Bentley flaunt their wealth in South Korea. Amidst these signs of prosperity and order, Itaewon’s chaos and senseless deaths stand out even more out of place.

Coming from the vast American West, South Korea’s population density is consistent with overwhelming aspects of social order and social organization. Even if the traffic is light and stuck, the ‘navigation’ (GPS) in the car will let you know when you will arrive at a certain time. Other than the loss of many young lives innocently celebrating Halloween in Itaewon, everything seems to be working fine.

This month I thought I would write about my positive impressions of South Korea. The overwhelming order of this densely populated city, Seoul. But now I have to write about too many discordant scenes of death, despite the striking images of order that moved me on this journey.

I was in South Korea when the Sewol sank off the coast of Jindo in 2014, and my first impression was that the passengers would definitely be rescued. While at the restaurant that morning, I watched a news report on TV. A helicopter circled over the listed ship, watching the unfolding disaster. In my opinion, this is fine – South Korea has a good military, police and coast guard – they rescue passengers.

I had no concerns because I was confident that the South Korean security forces were competent and organized on the ground and could save the situation. Sadly I was very wrong. The sinking of the Sewol ferry became an immeasurable tragedy that led to the impeachment of the president, and it still hurts South Korea. The Itaewon tragedy has brought back to our hearts the pain of the Sewol ferry tragedy.

In the case of the Sewol ferry, schoolchildren died, and in the case of Itaewon, young people in their late teens and twenties died. The young age of the victim burdens the parents with grief and grief. In Confucianism, it is a crime to die before one’s parents, and this is a typical expression of “unfilial piety.”

Also, if a child dies before a parent, the parent can no longer entrust the child to care for the child in old age, and needs to be treated in the same way that the parent cared for the child from birth to adulthood. will not be able to respond to There is a saying that parents “never” get over the loss of a child. Life goes on somehow, but you never lose your sense of loss or grief. “Life goes on,” we say, but life is never the same.

We all mourn the loss of so many young lives from so many countries. 26 are from outside South Korea. But parents are in the greatest pain a parent has ever experienced. As a father of two children and grandfather of his four children, my heart goes out to the parents and grandparents of the young people who passed away. Most of them were old enough to have grandparents still alive. In the Confucian world, life and death are upside down for them.

But in my 57 years, I have seen so many tragedies in Korea. And we’ve seen how South Korea handles these things and come out stronger than ever. . But more importantly, remember. We remember and the lives that were lost are still with us, reminding us to be safe and do what we need to do to prevent this from happening again. We will mourn and we will remember.

Mark Peterson ( is Professor Emeritus of Korean, Asian and Near Eastern Languages ​​at Brigham Young University in Utah. sorrow of returning home

Show More
Back to top button