Former Korean president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Kim Dae Jung died last week at 83. Coincidentally, we had planned to travel around his home province on a few of the many islands in Shinan County west of Mokpo. We first hit the much talked about island of Hongdo, then rode the curvy rode in Heuksando on bikes and finally met friends on the heart-shaped beach in Bigeumdo.
In front of every T.V. Koreans sat watching tributes to Kim. On Sunday, waitresses sat down in restaurants on Bigeumdo and a crowd gathered in front of Mokpo train station to tearfully watch his funeral.
Kim was born on the island of Hauido and spent much of his life in Mokpo. It was safe to say that the people of Shinan County and all of Jeollamdo were very proud of Kim Dae Jung. He was their native son who made it big. He was also a leader who promoted democracy, peace and friendly relations with North Korea. How can you hate a man who wants freedom and unity and non-violently promotes it?
Despite the loss of a great man, Lindsay and I took in the beautiful mountains and beaches of Kim Dae Jung’s home islands we have come to love so much and thought back on two wonderful years in Korea. More than once as we took in the beautiful sites and people of this country we exhaled out a loud and affectionate, “Ohhh Korea!”
On the ferry ride back to the mainland we watched the beautiful green islands disappear over the horizon. They moved from our view as beautifully as they entered it.
Similarly, our time at Songwon Elementary ended today much as it began. We shook hands, thanked and bowed deeply to our employers. Then, we ate lunch with our co-teachers at the very same restaurant we ate at the day after we arrived. But this time the food smelled a lot less strange, we knew what we were eating and our hearts ached a little as we ended an era. With one of my favorite students reading an English book nearby the entrance to school today, it was hard to walk out of Songwon Elementary. So now we must frantically prepare for the next chapter. We say goodbye to Kimchiland for now and make our way slowly back to Cornbread country via a little Curry and Fromage.
Annyong Haseyo Korea!