Friday, December 16, 2011

Farewell Friday

Sorry for the less-than-usual-attempt at a cheery post to end the week on, but I felt like this was an issue in need of awareness. Over the last week or so there have been a lot of posts on the 1000th protest of the women mostly stolen or enticed away with the promise of factory work and all kept against their will as Comfort Women. These women are now grandmothers in their 80's and 90's and slowly dying off, but nevertheless congregate from all over Korea to stage a protest outside the Japanese Embassy once a week, every Wednesday, come rain or shine - not for the money or compensation, but just in the hope that they and what happened to them will be acknowledged and that they will hear an apology before they die. Here are the last two posts that give the best insight into their cause. Sorry about the swearing by the way.

The first is from the Ask A Korean! blog

Ask a Korean! News: 1000th Wednesday Protest, and a Comfort Woman's Story

First, a little bit of background. As many of the readers know, although the Japanese government recognized its responsibility for Imperial Japan's hand in forcibly recruiting Comfort Women, the Japanese government has not yet made any compensation out of government funds.

Some of the surviving Comfort Women in Korea -- there are only 63 of them, who are in their 80s and 90s -- protest in front of the Japanese embassy for the inadequacy of Japan's response every Wednesday. The "Wednesday Protest" to be held on this Wednesday, December 14, 2011 will be the 1000th one, after nearly 20 years of weekly gatherings since January 1992.

Dong-A Ilbo featured a story told by Ms. Kim Bok-Dong, who was recruited as a Comfort Woman at age 14. She is now 87 years old, and is the longest participant of the Wednesday Protests. The translation is below.

*                 *                 *

"Mom, how old am I this year?"

She said it has been eight years. I was 14 when I was taken, so I was 22. All my friends were married and left the town.

As I was being dragged around by the Japanese military and tortured, I completely forgot how many years have passed. One day, there was a commotion about liberation. I was in Bangkok, Thailand at the time, my last stop as a Comfort Woman. I took a boat with other women. We had almost nothing to eat on the boat, and it took us several months for me to come back home [which was Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.] It must have been around October when I got home -- the rice field was golden and people were harvesting.

I got home, and my mother was cooking in the kitchen. She was shocked, because I turned so dark. For so long, I was raped by hundreds and thousands again and again -- how could a 14-year-old child be right? My mother was in shock also because instead of crying my eyes out, the first thing I asked was: how old was I? I didn't really forget -- I blocked out the time when I had to deal with the Japanese soldiers.

When I was 14, someone from the local government office was in town, saying there was not enough people to make the soldiers' uniform. He told me, "you should go too." I said, "How could I? I never learned to sew." Then he said, "you can learn there. Don't worry, they will send you back by the time you got old enough to get married." I said, "I might go if I go with my mom, but I don't want to go." Then he scared me: "It's what the Japanese government wants to do. If you don't go, your family will be in trouble." I was scared, so I went along.

So I was dragged all over Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and went through hell. At first, I had hope that I would get back home they promised that they would send me back when I'm older. So I barely hung on, counting days, but they would only take me to different countries. It's not like I could speak with them. I would tell them, "please send me home. I think I'm going to die," but the damn Japanese only laughed. Nobody listened to me, so I was practically a mute. After molesting a young child like that, I thought they would say, "sorry, you can go home now" -- but no one did. Two years passed.

Afterward, I lived without counting days. I gave up trying to figure out what day was today, what year was today. I think the pain would have broken me if I was counting the days. You have no idea when the pain would end, so you just hang on one day at a time. When the sun rises, I would think: "I'm awake." When the sun sets, "I'm still alive. It would be great if I died after I fall asleep." And then I would wake up the next morning again. The pain was unspeakable. I couldn't even imagine that it would take so long.

Ms. Kim Bok-Dong (second from the left) attends a memorial of Ms. Noh Su-Bok,
a former Comfort Women. The memorial was held at the 998th Wednesday Protest,
held in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

I hear the 1000th Wednesday Protest is coming up. I am 87 years old. All my protest buddies died off, and now there are barely 60 some odd people. I was 68 when I first joined the protest. I was a young grandmother at that time -- I could at least stand up straight. Other grandmothers had a lot of energy too, saying "we should fight." I heard that in that January cold, women's groups were getting together to protest every week to help the old Comfort Women grandmothers. I couldn't sit still, so I was took the train up from Busan, where I was living. They already had seven protests or so. I really thought, "Alright, I'm doing this. They wouldn't just sit around if a grandmother comes out like this."

I thought I had a strong resolution, but I just burst into tears in front of the Japanese embassy. I was trembling all over. All I could do was yell. I knew I had to protest, item by item, but all I could do was scream. For the crime of being a Comfort Woman, I lived in hiding outside of my hometown for 40 years, running a tiny restaurant. I have no child who calls me mother. All I could do was yell -- just come out and look at me, look at this old grandmother, after you made me unable to live like any other woman, unable to wear a wedding garb. I had no other way. I thought these bastards would come out and say, "we're sorry grandmother, we are sorry."

But the police came and put the grandmothers' on a bus. We were crying and yelling, but they just carried us out and put us down at the City Hall square. So what? We would come back. I took the train back to Busan. I even thought in the train back, "I should see this one through. If I keep showing up, wouldn't they at least say they were sorry?" I had hope. It's not about the money. If they are human, they had to apologize.

I came up for every protest. At the 50th protest, we went to the Blue House instead. We yelled at the front gate, "Mr. President, please come out, we need to get this resolved." The police took us again to the City Hall square. At first, I really thought it would be resolved soon, as long as I kept it up. I yelled at the protest, rain or snow. Yell, taken away and let go at the City Hall and go back to Busan -- and the time passed like that.

At first, we kept count. I figured around the 100th time they would hear us out -- but no. The Japanese embassy has twenty-some odd windows. When we go, they put the curtain down and block out all the windows. They don't even peek. No matter how much we chant -- "apologies and reparations" -- they put this thief-catching cameras on the gate and hide, just looking at what those grandmothers are doing. Now I am too old to yell, so I just look at the embassy, trying to see if they at least opened up the curtain a little. I can't even stand up straight anymore, but no one would listen. It doesn't matter how much we plead and protest.

Since then, I didn't count the numbers. I couldn't live like that. Now, I just let the week pass. I would realize it's Wednesday, then I attend the protest. I get home, and think another Wednesday passed. I hang on, one week at a time.

As I was dragged around for eight years, I began drinking at age 16. I would drink whiskey and gaoliangjiou when I had to deal with the Japanese, because I could not stand being clear headed. I would smoke after dealing with a Japanese soldier, because there was no other way to take care of the anger and sorrow in my young heart. Now, after each protest I sit in my room and chain-smoke. Every Wednesday, because they won't even draw their curtains no matter how much this grandmother yells.

After I came back, my mother said I should get married, since I was 22. She thought I was at a uniform factory. I had to tell her the truth. She could only say: "How would I meet my ancestors after I die? What would I say after turning my child this way?" She said that every day, then died only six years later. The doctor said her heart was full of anger.

There is a big commotion around this 1000th protest. I am just frustrated. My cataract surgery went wrong, so I can't see out of my left eye and the image is distorted out of my right eye too. I wonder if I could see at least those embassy bastards coming out and saying, "grandmother, please don't be angry any more. We're sorry," while I can still see. I couldn't even imagine that it would take so long. Being dragged around, not being able to say anything and not being able to receive any apology -- it's the same as before. I feel so helpless. I wonder if my mother felt this helpless also.

I miss my mom all of a sudden. This can't go over the 1000th time. We can't wait much longer. I am too old now.

The second is from the blog of a woman who volunteers at the House of Sharing.

Why I’m lucky to know the Halmonis
First off, I just want to say how happy I am to see the 1,000th protest photos explode on Tumblr.  Thanks to everyone who reblogged to spread the word about this issue.  It warms my heart to know that many people have gotten to hear at least a little about these courageous women.
Next, I want to write about how grateful I am to have been able to know them for the past 2.5 years as a volunteer at the House of Sharing. These women are truly remarkable.
I’ll start with an anecdote to illustrate the attitudes these women face when they go public as survivors of “comfort stations”.  On my own FB wall, an acquaintance of an acquaintance commented (one reason you should not accept just anyone’s friend request) in regards to a post I made about going to the 1,000th protest.  He wrote something along the lines that these women need to stop employing “nationalistic rituals” in order to ask for free handouts from the Japanese government and stop distracting from Korea’s more “pressing issues” (North-South relations, rise of China, etc). Of course, this guy thinks he’s an expert in East Asian diplomacy, all because he lived in Japan for a couple of years. I don’t think I need to explain any further, right?
And then I remembered once again how amazing these women are.  Because they hear this bullshit all the time and they are STILL fighting.  I was ready to put my head through a wall after just that brief discourse on my FB wall and it wasn’t even in reference to anything that I’ve been forced to experience.  These Halmonis have to listen to people casually discuss the THOUSANDS of rapes that they survived as if it’s a nationalistic plot or should be discarded in order to promote diplomatic relations.  This is not a pawn for strategic relations, people. These are real women - over 200,000 - who were systematically raped, beaten, tortured, and killed. And they have to listen to dickheads like this guy flippantly reduce the rapes and torture that they experienced to political maneuvering.
He also made several references to them being similar to prostitutes, that they had volunteered to work in this “comfort stations” or were paid.  Let me just make two things very clear here: First, even IF you “volunteered” to work as a prostitute (how many 11-19 year old girls in 1930’s Korea would really knowingly do that??), once they are unable to voluntarily leave their “volunteering”, once they are physically forced to stay somewhere and have sex with people against their will, it is rape.  Even IF (big if), the initially went there as a volunteer, they ceased being a volunteer and became subjected to rape when they were unable to leave at their own will, unable to refuse sex at their own will, unable to avoid physical abuse and torture at their own will.  Secondly, even though most of these women never saw a dime of the money being paid (in official Japanese military coupons, by the way), being paid by your rapist does not make you a prostitute. BEING PAID BY YOUR RAPIST DOES NOT MAKE YOU A PROSTITUTE. Let me say it again - if someone rapes me and then throws $100 at me, I am not a prostitute and you are still a rapist.
And even though they face these attitudes EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY, they still fight!  That is why I’m lucky to know these women.  They teach me that women’s voices matter.  That no matter how little socio-economic power we have, if we demand to be heard, we will eventually be heard!
When they were abducted and forced into “comfort stations” they were the most vulnerable members - young, poor, uneducated females - of an already vulnerable society - Korea under forced Japanese colonial rule.  And yet they have created the longest-running human rights protest in the world.  These women have been fighting for 20 years to be goddamn heard.  And people have listened.  The US, Canada, EU, Philippines, and over 25 prefectures in Japan have passed official resolutions, urging Japan to resolve this issue.  And that is powerful people.  Old, poor, uneducated women - the most underrepresented members of our international community made people hear their voices.
Then this FB guy demanded that if I was so sure that it wasn’t a nationalistic issue, I’d better be doing everything I could do to stop it “in my own backyard” (Korea), where Korean women are suffering in the same ways, but this time, not by Japanese hands.
And here’s another reason why these women are amazing.  They do exactly that. They stand in solidarity with Korean (and now also Filipina) women who were coerced to work in the 기지촌 (US military camptowns) in Korea. They fight with these women, they understand the connection between their issue and what is happening in Korea today.  One of the 기지촌 survivors actually spoke at the 1,000th protest.  Our House of Sharing International Outreach Team will be holding a workshop today with Duraebang (a shelter for Filipina women trafficked into Korea), translated by yours truly.  More info on that event:
Finally, I want to say of the estimated 200,000 women who were forced to work as sex slaves in “comfort stations” during WWII, approximately 150,000 were Korean women but only 234 South Korean registered officially as survivors.
Of those 234, only 63 are still living. Japan must resolve this issue, but they are literally hoping that the issue will die away with the Halmonis.

As much as I'd love to see it or support a protest (impossible with a public school timetable), I have yet to visit the House of Sharing, but this is their website for any who are interested. It doesn't look like they'll have any English tours until the new year, but they have a calendar of events for those interested in finding out, or of course you can contact them.

On a side note, one of those bizarre conversations I just had that seem to occur quite often in Korea.
Paige (my official co-teacher who I don't actually teach with, having just gotten off the phone from another teacher): Do you have any English word puzzles?
Me: What kind of puzzles?
P: Umm like a word puzzle.
Me: Er.. I don't but I can show you the program I use to make them. (Show her)
P: Oh, I meant like word scrambles.
Me: Uh, well, no I don't have any prepared. There's no program for them because scrambles aren't really complicated enough to need them. Can the teacher not make them himself since presumably he'll know what kinds of words will be needed?
P: Well, you know it's hard because we're not native English speakers... Are you sure you don't have any?
Me: Do you mean you want me to make some?
P: ... Yes.
Me: Ok. What kind? What sort of vocabulary should it use?
P: Any kind.
Me: ... Ok, well is there any special thing this is for?
P: This is for homework for students in the holidays. Mr Jeong is putting the worksheet together.
Me: So.. what kinds of words do the rest of the worksheets use? Should it be basic vocabulary or should it be something specific like feelings, weather, etc?
P: Anything.
Me: *ㅎ-ㅎ* Ok, well is it for first year or second year or what?
P: It's for students coming to our school next year. So you can use any words.

So basically the other teacher had called her and said 'get Amy to make some crud to fill the rest of the worksheets this afternoon'. Just to give you some background, they've been making these worksheets for three weeks (I saw one of my actual co-teachers working on one and discussed it). Why this had to wait until 3.40pm on a Friday I don't know. Paige tried to make it sound vaguely less ridiculous a request than it was, but still. So I ended up making it from vocabulary from the first year textbook. Unfortunately, the other teacher also didn't specify that he needed this stuff in a certain format (a program that only exists in Korea) so it didn't go entirely smoothly. I hope he didn't need it this afternoon as we both left at 4.30 :p

Anyway, that's about it. Happy picture for the weekend though^^ Have a great one people!

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