It’s been a little while since I last posted… In the blink of an eye, things suddenly became very hectic – between trying to prep & take the writing portion of the GRE, language course starting, getting used to the commute to SNU which is roughly over an hour to attend a class that I really can’t understand, but which I will continue to attend because it seems really interesting & I actually think I will be able to glean a lot of good information – and then there was also the 가야금 (gayageum) class Saturday morning, immediately followed by a two day Mongolian dance workshop, also held at SNU. Though this had nothing to do with my research, I promised to videotape for Professor Lee, and it was interesting, even through the total lack of linguistic understanding on my part. With the combination of more grad school prep (aforementioned GRE, applications, as well a required research paper for the apps) and adjusting to life here, the research, etc. life has felt just a little bit schizophrenic.
But — I can say that through the chaos and running around all over town, I have experienced a few moments of harmony with being here. In these moments, something clicks, and suddenly I’m here, really here, living in Seoul, and I understand it – feel I understand it more and more until it feels like the place I call home. For now at least. It is the place where I am, not the place where I’m just here as a visitor to do some work and waiting to leave. These moments come and go, but they definitely come, and that is a good thing.
Speaking of displacement, I am working my way through Roy Richard Grinker’s Korea and Its Futures: Unification and the Unfinished War, which discusses – many things, among them – Korea and modernity, a concept that addresses issues related to diaspora, displacement, separation (as in separated families from the War), shifting identities, the loss of tradition. Modernity: something that promises the new, exciting, seemingly boundless, and yet threatens everything a culture has identified as being; everything it has held sacred in defining itself. And here we are in Seoul - a place that is now so far into modernity, what I think of as deep modernity. There is just no turning back. So what does that mean for unification? The South goes farther down a path of globalization, and the North remains frozen in time – in a time of pre-modernity, so far away from what is happening in the South, and the world, now. If unification seemed a complicated goal before (at least to outside critics), where does it stand now?
As I sat in a cafe near Ewha Womans University reading about unification being a sacred goal of all (South) Koreans; a goal assumed to be inevitable, but whose very achievement also threatens the foundation of S. Korean national identity, which is greatly based upon and defined by national division – I looked out onto the streets, full of young college aged women wearing the latest street fashions of Seoul, and I thought, Do any of these people even care? Most of them were born in the 1980′s and after – they are the children of a globalized and globalizing Korea. How do these issues that have so wracked their country for decades affect any part of their lives? The generations of people directly affected by the Korean War are beginning to fade, and I think that with that is the loss of something very, very important to the national, collective, cultural memory and psyche of this country. A recent survey from the Korea Peace Institute reported that out of over 1,000 S. Koreans aged 19-59, about half said that they could accept Korea remaining divided, so long as it is peaceful. This is a very different portrait than Grinker’s book (published 1998). It is too early to tell… I’m realizing a lot of the literature I have, though incredibly insightful and very important for my work, may also be outdated, even after just ten years. Things move fast on the road of deep modernity.
I can’t say if at this point unification would be a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thing – or possible/impossible – or if those questions are even relevant anymore. So much of discussion around unification just seems rhetorical. Not to sound like a pessimist, I want to believe in the possibility, but… I can say that the unification discourses that have been allowed to take place have been problematic for various reasons which I am too tired to go into here (i.e. – Germany).
And I can also say that I noticed how Koreans seem to really like Waiting for Godot. Unclear if it’s so much Beckett they like, or just the play itself. The latter would make sense. If you insert ‘unification’ as the ‘Godot’ that we await, but which never comes.
Then on the other hand, hundreds of families prepare for a much anticipated and very fleeting reunion with loved ones across the 38th parallel; a reunion that is most likely the last for many of these people. A complicated picture. Heartbreaking, really. All this Han!
Korea is such a deeply complex mystery to me – but I have the sense that understanding the nature of its mystery on a kind of gut level is going to be key to opening up some doors…
Non sequitur: some new words I learned this week
우주 (oo-joo) = The universe; cosmos
원리 (wol-li) = A principal, theory, fundamental truth => 우주원리
영가무도 (young ga moo do) = Spiritual dance
경과 (kyoung gwa) = Progression
There are a few other random thoughts I have had, but I cannot remember them now, so I will leave you with that.