The scenes of crowds gathered in protest in front of the presidential Blue House in recent weeks are reminiscent of those in the months following April 16, 2014. While today, the protestors are mostly youths pouring into the streets full of energy, anger, and frustration, two years ago, the protestors were mostly grieved and dispirited parents who had unjustly and intolerably lost their sons and daughters in a matter of a few hours. On this day, the nation lost some 300 of its people, most of whom were high school students.
Citizens have started sharing their memories of that traumatic day on an online forum.
“Since my brother is a marine police, our eyes were all the more fixed to the television screen. Half the tears that my family shed were from seeing my brother cry tears of guilt.”
Though disappointing and frustrating news surrounding President PARK Geun-hye’s political scandal are continually being revealed, details of the president’s seven-hour absence while the Sewol ferry was sinking remains a mystery. President Park has denied rumours that she was undergoing plastic surgery or was otherwise under sedation, but she has yet to offer any alternate explanation.
On November 21, a news report revealed that the doctor who was presumed to have treated the president stated that he does not recall whether he treated her on the day of the Sewol incident.
In contrast with these vague statements, the memories of the people are extremely vivid. Citizens across the country reacted critically to his response. This criticism spilled over into a group chat room created by SNU students and alumni interested in joining the candlelight rallies. Some members of the chat room conceived the idea of creating a website that would allow people to record specific memories from that day.
The project website, ‘We Remember’ (werecall.org), is where the citizens’ ‘memory notes’ are shared and saved. The site launched on November 26 and by the 29th, 1,300 posts had been shared. People are encouraged to record the details of what they remember from that day – the clothes they wore, who they were with, and where they were during the seven hours, and so on.
One post reads, “It was a foggy morning and I had just hurriedly sent my husband and my children off to work and school. The gas inspector told me that something tragic had happened. In disbelief, I had to accept the news and let the children go, and spent the next few days staring blankly into space.”
Another poster wrote, “I feel bad that I had felt so readily relieved at the news that all the passengers had been saved.”
Another poster admitted, “I am very embarrassed to have felt relieved at that moment, that my daughter was safe.”
Though these messages encourage more sharing and help people console one another, its other purpose is to collect these memories in order to make the authorities involved in the incident feel embarrassed and pressured. If people can recall “the memory of my hands shaking as I stopped eating my breakfast” vividly, why is it that President Park and the government officials are unable to remember ‘that day’?
An office worker who was applying for jobs at the time, confessed, “Honestly, I was initially not concerned with the president’s seven-hour absence, but after reading the ridiculous news these days, I am writing here because I am absolutely speechless. I wish someone will read the truths contained in these sincere messages and blow the whistle on the people involved in the scandals.”
The creators of the website are currently deciding whether to publish the messages in book form and donate them to families of the victims, or to the 4.16 Archives (참사 희생자 추모 조직인 4ㆍ16 기억저장소).
Published in Hankook-ilbo.
Written by Hye Bin Lee, SNU English Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by Professor Travis Smith, Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations, email@example.com