Protest at Japanese Embassy
Protest with the former Korean "comfort women." We were joined by some of the halmoni themselves, who have been protesting weekly since 1992, a number of regular supporters, and this week, a number of high school and college students who wanted to stand in solidarity.
So, it's been a busy couple of days since my arrival in Seoul. After a (mostly) relaxing day on Monday that was capped with a visit with an old friend from Fulbright, on Tuesday, I met with the first NGO that I'll be working with. Korea Women's Hot Line (KWHL)
is a non-profit that works to prevent domestic and sexual violence (particularly against women) throughout Korea. Though their main headquarters is in Seoul, they have a number of branches in various cities and provinces in Korea. I met with one of their staff members yesterday to learn more about their organization, their work, and the issues that Korean women are facing.
KWHL is very active, and they provide a number of services and activities around the issue of violence against women. First, they provide a hotline, counseling services, and a shelter for women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence. But beyond those important and basic services, they also work to raise awareness around these issues, monitor the government's dealings around women's rights, and host activities, such as an annual film festival about women's rights.
I met with one of their staff members, with whom I'd been in contact, and discussed what
French halmoni (grandmother) standing in solidarity
A French woman, who said she was about the age of the living Korean comfort women, spoke to the crowd in English (with a Korean translator) to give the Korean comfort women her support, to decry the horrors of war (which she said she experienced in France during WWII), and to give her love to the Koreans working in this movement.
I could do with their organization. I'll be working with them almost daily on their publicity/communications (for English publications and such), will be helping them come up with ideas for films for next year's film festival... And a few other things on a list that Ranhee, who I'll be working with, made for me. They were very welcoming, and I'm excited about working with them! I'm actually going to meet them later over dinner tonight in Sinchon to talk about film festival ideas. Ranhee said it'd be a good idea for me to join them and get a better idea about what feminism in Korea looks like ^^
Today, then, I met with one of the organizations I might be working with. The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan
is an organization that is seeking reparation and recognition from Japan for the Korean women who were "drafted" into sexual slavery by the Japanese during colonization/World War II. According to the information I got, it is estimated that between 50,000 and 200,000 women in Asia were drafted into the Japanese army's brothel system. In Korea, 220 so-called "comfort women" have come forward, and 89 of those women are still living. Thus, this afternoon, I joined some of these women and their supporters (along with this organization) to protest in front of the Japanese Embassy--a protest they've been holding weekly since 1992, in which they list their demands for recognition and reparation, which have largely, if not completely, been ignored by the Japanese government. For more information on this issue, see the website linked above or www.houseofsharing.org. I'll be visiting the House of Sharing (where a number of the halmoni
(Korean for "grandmother"--what these women are affectionately called) live, and where there is also a museum documenting the issue) next weekend some time and was able to talk briefly today with one of my contacts at the protest about maybe volunteering with the Korean Council. She told me to come by their office some time, and she could give me more information and discuss what I might be able to do.
As far as other things go, I'm still recovering from jet lag. In fact, I thought I was doing really well, but the exhaustion was somehow delayed--and also probably exacerbated by my odd sleeping schedules (trying to still do editing/grade-posting/etc. work at night that's due to folks in U.S., which is keeping me up late after busy days). The language is coming back to me--sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. I accidentally left a number of my Korean things at home (ex.--map of Seoul subway, subway card, etc.), and so have been trying to regather some of them. So, I went to ask for a subway map today at an information center and, though I couldn't remember it earlier in the day just thinking about it, suddenly recalled the word for "subway" in Korean, which was amazingly helpful. Other things like that have been happening throughout my few days here, which has helped me to communicate and get around. At the same time, I find my language skills falling short and wish I'd remember more. For example, I understood about 1%!o(MISSING)f what was said at the protest today and could barely hold a conversation with my contact there. And yesterday, with Ranhee, I understood most of what she was saying/asking, but largely only because of context and body language. We had to switch to English more than I would've liked... But I guess this is all a process...
I haven't had as much time to review Korean as I would've liked, but I bring my old notes with me everywhere and give them a once-over whenever I can.
I like the hostel where I'm staying a lot, and it's great to be back here. Though I never lived in Seoul before, Korea feels like home in a strange sort of way--and is different from any other home I've had. Yet, I know I have "homes" in a lot of places...
A few observations before I sign off: before coming here, I got my hair cut, but was careful not to get it too short (because Koreans tend to have pretty particular standards for femininity and masculinity, and I didn't want to be TOO out of the ordinary). I think that was still a good move, but I've been surprised to see more women with short hair than I remembered. Perhaps that's because I have short hair now and am looking for it (though I remember looking for it before, because I'd wanted to get my hair cut for awhile); perhaps it's also because I'm in Seoul, as opposed to Yeosu (think NYC as opposed to Columbia, SC)--there's more diversity just generally, including the ways in which people do their hair. Or maybe it's more in vogue now than a few years ago? I don't know. But I feel less out of place than I thought I might--at least, as far as my hair goes.
Observation #2: bicycles. Were there this many bicycles here before? I see them all around Seoul, but especially in Hapjeong (the neighborhood where I'm staying). Am I just noticing them because I bike now? Or are they more popular? I remember being surprised before that there weren't many (I had this idea that all Asian countries were full of bicycles), and the main cause is that the landscape is too hilly. But, again, maybe this is because most of Seoul isn't quite so mountainous as places like Yeosu? Or is it legitimately more popular?
Well, I think that's about it for now. I'm going to get some work done and then prepare to meet my new KWHL friends/colleagues. Here's to a good week so far, and to Children's Day (National Holiday) tomorrow!
(Note: I have some videos from the protest as well but am having a hard time uploading them. I hope to upload them soon, so check back later to see them!)
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