Hardly Noticeable

Monday, November 07, 2005

I'm a king amongst kings

The story goes like this:
At the end of the Korean War, all Koreans were allowed to choose which side of the DMZ they wanted to live on. The men were lined up on Freedom Bridge, and each man in turn could either walk across the bridge to North Korea or stay back and live in the south. I suppose it was inevitable that there was going to be some problem with the last man to cross, since that’s how stories about the war seem to work.

This man was not a brave man. When the Americans were near his village, he hid with American sympathizers. When the Russians were near his village, he hid with Russian sympathizers. Because of this, he didn’t want to go to either side, since he’d be branded a coward wherever he went. He had had one son, but the boy had frozen to death during the previous winter. During the next spring his wife took a boat across the East Sea and was granted asylum in Japan. So, not only was he a coward, but his wife had defected to the country that had previously started a war on Korean soil.

When the guns were pointing at him, pushing him to go to one side or the other, he made the decision to do neither. Instead of choosing North or South, he spent the rest of his life living on the strip of land under Freedom Bridge in the DMZ. Even as the Americans and the Russians—I mean South and North Koreans, of course—were putting land mines all around him, he stayed under the bridge and was safe. He only lived for two or three years, but during that time good-hearted people from both sides would throw him scraps during the winter, when he couldn’t fend for himself.

I asked Eun Hwa and Son Mi if the man brought messages from one side to the other, since that would seem to be a logical thing to have happen, but they said no. If he would have brought messages, someone might have shot and killed him. He became a type of phantom, a ghost feeding off the leftovers of the living.

Tomorrow I have to teach the kindergarteners. I don’t know how I’ll deal with it. Perhaps it will be okay


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