by Miles Rost
(Dedicated to the memory of all the students and passengers lost in the Sewol ferry disaster last week. Please make sure to play the music while you read.)
(NOTE: This is a work of fiction, designed to help people think about and work through their feelings regarding the Sewol ferry sinking.)
(Written on sheets of rice paper, and found on the desk of a fisherman on Jindo.)
Clouds. Happy as clouds.
That’s is how I see them now. All of them are in school up there, learning about love and life, learning their new assignments and how they will do new things. Learning, while in the cloudland.
I live in Sinyuk, just off the main coast of South Korea. My family has lived here for many years. That day will be burned into my mind.
I was on the shoreline, finishing the rigging up the nets that I would use for crab fishing during the night. I always do that after the day’s work is done. I was going to go to sleep soon, and wake up again in the afternoon to do the fishing checks all over again.
It was just after 8:30 in the morning when I went to my home and sat down for my supper. I ate, and felt good about the upcoming catch that would come in the night. I went to my room to pray and honor my wife. Long ago, we were a happy fishing couple. She died a few years back, and it was a sad time for me. But, still, I live on with her in my memory.
It was around 9:45 that I heard the phone ring. This was unusual, I didn’t normally get a call when I was just about to go to bed. I picked up the phone and answered like I normally do. It was Byeong-jun, the harbormaster here. He told me that there was an all-call for all fishing vessels, that a ferry was sinking just off Gwanmae.
It was like second nature to me. I was in the Navy during my days in the military, and whenever a call for assistance was made, it was my job to alert the captain and to help direct where we needed to go. I immediately ran out to my boat, and started it up. Or, at least I tried to start it.
I couldn’t start it. The boat that helped me check my pots did not start. And I needed to get out there and help out, as it was my duty. I got on the radio and called around to see if anyone was still in port and could use an extra man. My friend Sin-Gil, a very good man who sold fish for use in hoe called back and told me that all boats had gone. There were none left in the harbor.
At that moment, I stood in shock. And I started to cry. I cried because I felt like there was nothing I could do. As I dried my tears, I hurried over to the harbormaster’s office and volunteered to help coordinate the rescue boats. Since Sinyuk could not hold many people, we decided to send the rescued passengers over to Jindo, the closest big island that would get them to where they needed to go.
It was too late for some of us, and for a lot of those passengers.
As I write this, the count of the people that are dead is 84. There are over 200 more passengers still missing, and in my mind, likely no longer here. 250 of those passengers and dead are kids. Kids. Going on a vacation like they always do, every year. That sticks in my mind. A simple fisherman like me, who didn’t have much education, can see in my mind how a child’s eyes lights up when they are told they will be going to Jeju for a field trip.
Now, I see these kids as students up in the cloudland. Their fellow passengers who aren’t in school, they too are there. They’re assisting, helping out at the big school up in the cloudland. They’re laughing, with no pain or fear, nothing of what they felt down here. The young lady, the worker on the ferry who helped so many students that survived, I see her as a teacher up there. She’s showing them about what it means to be brave. Some of the other men and women who died, saving all those students, they’re up there as well. In the cloudland.
This tragedy is affecting everyone. I hear my friends, fellow fishermen, cry for those who are lost. I can imagine all of the parents, and the classmates in the different grades at that school in Ansan. I can even imagine the foreigners here, the ones who see this and whose hearts break for those who are gone. Every person in this country, whether a Korean or not, is affected by this. The dark cloud of sorrow will be over us for a while. The cloud already took a few people’s lives after this, and more will be taken before the cloud is lifted.
After today, I can no longer be here. I have family on the mainland, a sister and her nephew in a big city, with small kids of their own. I will take what I have earned, and go to them. I will help those small children as much as I can, to show them not to be afraid. To show them that there are people who are heroes, and that there will be a brighter day.
To whoever reads this: Whatever is here, sell and donate to the families of those who have lost everything. It won’t be much, but the house and the land are valuable. The boat can also be sold, all of the deeds are with the harbormaster.
Remember the kids and adults in the cloudland. They are the ones who we must mourn today.
(a stamp, an injang (인장) was embossed at the bottom)