I am glued to a TV providing news in a language I don’t understand. The images are both easy and impossible to comprehend: a sinking ferry with over 200 youth still on board, trapped inside the submerged wreckage; a room full of parents wrapped in beautiful pink quilts holding out hope that somehow their child is still alive; people collapsing in grief over corpses. Today, three days after the ship first crashed, coverage of funerals begins. I read online coverage of the tragedy in English and wonder if the ages of the youth – 16 and 17 – represent Korean years or American years. You see, in Korea, people are born at age 1. So if the youth on the ferry were 16 in Korean years, then they were only 15 from my perspective. It matters and it doesn’t.
The other thing I understand on the TV is the numbers permanently fixed in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. First, the death toll so far: 28; number missing: 268; number saved: 179. Accompanying numbers represent the high school students in those categories: 11, 239, 75. These numbers haven’t changed in 24 hours. The disproportion of missing and saved among the young is not lost on me, nor do I think it’s lost on anyone else. The captain chose to save himself and the crew over protecting the lives of the passengers; he told them to stay put while he disregarded his own command in an act of self preservation. Like well-behaved youth representative of this culture so respectful of elders, they obeyed. A few rebels gave into their instincts and jumped into the waters and are now reunited with their parents. I would like to think that more American kids would have told the captain to shove his orders up his ass and gotten the hell out.
The news anchor looks like a Korean John Oliver; not sure if that comic relief is a good or bad thing. The on-the-scene reporters wear red life jackets and stand in front of a green screen which projects a choppy sea behind them. A fan blows their hair ever so slightly for effect.
All of this is happening in the country that I currently call home.
The day goes by and I notice that my own grief is turning into anger. I do jumping jacks as fast as I can until I fall over. I turn off the TV and go outside to the park even though the sun has set. There I mount the exercise machine and push myself hard in the waning light. A mother and her two children pass by; the son is old enough to have been on the ferry, the daughter a few years younger. Together, all three carry groceries home. I wonder what is going on in their minds and hearts. Are they treasuring this simple family activity, or do they feel the weight of both the bags and the grief across the country? Maybe they’re just thinking about what’s for dinner. They made me feel better. I got to witness a Korean family, together, experiencing a normal day.