Korea is not Korean enough
By Brother Anthony
Like any other President, you hope to make the people of Korea happier.
There are too many lonely, unhappy people in Korea today, not all of them old or handicapped although many are.
When you were born, in February 1952, Korea was in the midst of terrible events. The decades that followed, too, were full of tears. Those tears continue to cast dark shadows and they remain the main cause why simple, total happiness is barely possible for so many Koreans.
You grew up in a country whose traditional culture was in many ways still alive. When you were 10, and your father had become President, you must surely have traveled outside of Seoul and seen the villages.
Do you recall the beautiful harmony that existed between the natural landscape of fields and hills and the soft curves of the roofs of houses, almost all of them thatched with yellow rice-straw?
In the autumn, pumpkins ripened on those roofs, in springtime birds nested in the thatch. The houses with their thatched roofs were uniquely Korean. Around the houses, the irregular banks of the rice fields formed soft curves following the contours of the valleys, again in harmony with the curves of the roofs and the stone walls around each house.
In every village there were groups of farmers who disposed of a communal set of gongs and cymbals, percussion instruments with which they would perform musical “gut,” public celebrations traditionally marking the important moments in the farming calendar. Somewhere on the edge of the village there would have been a shrine to the village tutelary spirit, there were sacred trees, spirit posts, and almost every house had sacred places where simple offerings were placed.
Most villages had a local “mudang,” a shaman summoned to perform exorcisms with a team of skilled musicians accompanying her traditional songs and dancing. Some mountains, Mt. Gyeryong in particular, were revered as sacred mountains; hundreds of mystics, shamans, Taoist hermits and recluses used to live there peacefully, meditating in search of enlightenment or immortality or truth. In many places there were still older people who could sing ancient ballads they had learned as children, work songs for example. In Seoul there remained many magnificent old buildings that had survived the Japanese and the war.
All these traditions constituted a truly Korean cultural heritage, unique and specific. Their destruction was a tragic loss.”
There is probably not much you or anyone can do to bring back the lost beauty of traditional Korea.
During your presidency, one of the urgent questions will be the future of Korean agriculture, now that the majority of the farmers in so many rural villages are already old.
They are in many ways the last survivors of the old Korea, excluded from the urbanization and industrialization, and financial prosperity.
It may be too late to revive the culture of old Korea but there is perhaps still time to find ways of bringing greater happiness to the elderly farmers who continue to labor for so little reward to provide Korea with its rice and kimchi; proper health care, free public transport, improved subsidies and pensions?
But how many of them, when they die, will be borne to their rest in a flowered bier, with songs and streamers and the whole village walking behind them?
There are too few people left in most villages, they are too old to carry a coffin and the traditional biers have mostly been broken up. How Korean is Korea today?