Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Defenders of the Planet in Gangjeong, South Korea

I am re-posting eyewitness reports from Carolyn about the struggle to save Jeju Island from having its coral reefs turned into a port and military base for South Korea and the US and NATO. 

The Gangjeong villagers and their supporters are exceptionally dedicated, strategic, and filled with love. The writings here do a wonderful job of reflecting this. Thank you to Carolyn!

A Thousand Bows

We will try to do a thousand bows in Seoul and on the bridge [in Gangjeong], a man tells me. 
We will try.
A light snow covers the ground.
He writes the word peace in Chinese characters in the snow. 

The bows begin at 9 a.m.
Three of us are on the bridge;
another, in front of the gate.
The wind snaps the yellow No Naval Base flags behind me.
After two bows, someone scoots an extra cushion 
beneath my knees.

Hands to the heart,
knees to the mat, 
hands and head to the ground, palms facing upward,
then a return to standing.

Despite the repetitive motion,
our hands and shoeless feet grow colder and colder.

Chimes bring to a close the first one hundred bows.
Mr. Rhee gives M. and I hugs.
He stays on the bridge, kneeling in prayer,
while M. and I walk across the road to the barrel stove
to warm ourselves.

The budget for continued base construction passed the next day.

The Rock Wall

A petite woman begins to unfurl a sheet of plastic atop a wall of volcanic rock.
I stop walking and grab the edge of the plastic to try to help.
She speaks to me, but I don’t understand.
Two activists behind me laugh. She wants to give me oranges, they say. 
Leaving us to make a tent of the wet plastic so that it can dry out,
she enters the grove on the other side of the wall to collect oranges in a round basket.
I accept a couple, so does Lou.
But she wants to give us more.
They’re organic, she says, and gestures for me to open my bag. 
After a dozen I pretend that my bag has become very very heavy.
She smiles and lets us walk on.


New Year’s Eve in Gangjeong

Women drummers lead a march from the village center to the port. Behind them are men and women with flags and streamers, some wearing papier-mâché conch shells and sea gulls on their heads. 
From 5 p.m. when the march begins to beyond midnight, the celebration continues. People visit the activist tables, eat rice cake soup and sweet pancakes, and visit with friends. Empty bottles of rice wine cover the tables. With the wind blowing in from the sea, some find warmth by standing beside fires; many, by dancing.
Dozens line up for the arrow-throwing contest. After the first participant lofts all five rubber-tipped arrows into a large ceramic vase, the line of contestants shrinks. Winners receive gift certificates to the farmers’ cooperative. 
Between singing acts, short videos show the struggle against the naval base, a labor organizer gives a brief solidarity speech, and people chant Hai GunGiJi GeulSaBanDai. (No Naval Base!)
When midnight arrives, flying paper lanterns are lit and sent with a prayer into the sky.
A bonfire blazes,
people hug
and dance some more.

The more joyful, the more powerful, said Mr. Rhee.


Yuri told me she was so afraid of the police. Still, she stood with a sign in front of a cement truck, demanding that it back up and make a sharper turn into the construction site to avoid hitting her.  

Gangjeong had the tradition of pumashi, a work party. During harvest time, perhaps ten people would go to a family’s orchard to help, and the next day, to another family’s land. Conflict over the base has strained such collaboration. This year, it was difficult to find people to help.
As four of us de-seeded peppers today, the cook said pumashi makes the food taste better.

Before a member of the Save Our Seas team got into one of five tandem kayaks, she said, “I can’t swim.”



chrisrushlau said...

"She said she was so afraid of the police." I assume the subtext for this all is that South Korea is a police state, a typical client of the US and Israel, so that the only safe political outlet is very oblique, indirect criticism of the government. What could be safer than standing up for coral? What would happen if someone kayaked up to one of the flashpoint islands, heavily militarized by the government of the South, that the North is constantly challenging the South about, and put up a sign reading, "This island is north of the DMZ, so it belongs to the North". Would the kayaker be arrested for treaason?

chrisrushlau said...

Where's my other comment?

chrisrushlau said...

I said, I'll bet you'd get arrested in South Korea for treason if you said that the islands we're always hearing a fuss about, ships sinking and so on, are north of the DMZ and thus belong to the North. The fortification of these islands by the South is the best evidence of South Korea being a police state. It's like if the UK put nuclear missiles in the Falklands.
Likewise, when Europeans go to Korea to help, why don't they deal with that big issue, instead of this little issue? Or if they deal with coral in the southeast, mention that the purpose of coral destruction is to distract attention from Israel by making China the latest target of the distraction tactics of the Israel movement, as before were Chiapas, Darfur, and currently, not so successfully, Syria.
If you're going to "moderate", you can't be losing comments "pending moderation".