The trip began with a baseball game full of dancing girls, loud music, highly choreographed cheers from the home town Samsung Lions vs the Doosan Bears. The air was crisp and the stadium was full of fun on Tuesday night. Last night I went to another game of the Bears vs the Hanwha Eagles. There were no music, people didn’t clap home runs, no dancing girls, no t-shirt cannons, there was nothing. I didn’t know who was coming to bat as there were no public address announcement. Since Wednesday morning, I have been traveling through a country in mourning. I feel like I am in funeral, everyday I am here.
It has been almost 13 years since a news event has affected me but the sinking of the Sewol Ferry off of Jindo Island is one of the most emotional events I have been part of since a September in 2001. A vast majority of the 376 passengers on board were secondary school students heading to the resort island of Jeju. It is feared they are no more.
When they started removing the bodies from the ferry, I was in a cafe. The cafe held maybe 50 or 60 people. All of them were crying looking at their phones/tablets. Strangers were consoling strangers. It’s the saddest moment I have ever had, not personally related. The TV’s are broadcasting 24/7 all the details and showing the mothers and fathers and I can’t watch. I just turn away. If I catch a bit, tears well up.
There is sadness and there is anger. The thing I fear the most is in a few months they will forget. They will forget to make the changes necessary to ensure something like this never happens again because well this happened before. Korea has a long history of bridges collapsing, department store collapsing. This is the second ferry which has sank. Here 31,000 people, including 3,000 students, die every year in accidents accounting for 12.8 percent of the country’s total annual deaths, the highest amongst the major developed nations.
I just fear the nation will blame the captain and the 20 something year old woman driving. They will not look at the structural changes in regulations, safety inspections, and other precautions. If they don’t, then the thing I fear the most is it will happen again.