Wednesday, May 29, 2013

세계평화의 종 - The World Peace Bell

Let's break that down:
세계 (se-geh) means "world".
평화 (pyoung-hwa) means "peace".
의 (eh) is a possessive particle.
종 (jong) means "bell".
Fulbrighters and Hwacheon Peace Forum campers at the World Peace Bell. (taken by Ammy)
The World Peace Bell, located in its namesake park in Hwacheon, was cast in 2005 for the 60th anniversary of Liberation Day (August 15th, 1945 -- the end of Japanese colonial rule). The metal in this 37.5-ton Buddhist-style bell was recycled from empty ammunition cartridges from the Korean war and various conflict-ridden regions of the world. This gives the bell a certain special significance in its symbolism of world peace.

Making wishes. Btw, this bell is huge.
During the Hwacheon Peace Forum, we visited the World Peace Bell Park and learned about the bell, the nearby Hwacheon Peace Dam, and a little bit about the hopes of those who created this park. The dream, of course, is peace, but then there's also Reunification (통일/tongil). The top of the World Peace Bell is decorated with pigeons (비둘기, which represent peace, just like doves do; it's worth mentioning that pigeons and doves are in the same bird family). However, one of the pigeons is missing half of one of its wings. The missing piece is being kept with the promise that when North and South Korea are finally reunified, it will be reattached, thus finally completing the bell.

In the style of Buddhist bells, this one is rung by being struck on the outside by a large wooden beam (a battering ram?) The beam is very heavy, and it takes many people to swing it. All of the campers got a chance to strike the bell. The sound it made was very deep and powerful. As soon as it was struck, we were supposed to gather around the bell and place our hands or backs on it to feel the resonance, as well as to make a wish. I rested the back of my head on the bell after I had rung it, and it felt like a nice massage. While I did feel to an extent that the symbolism was a bit tacky, I did learn later that it actually costs about fifty cents for tourists to ring the bell, and each year, all of that money goes toward a full scholarship for one Ethiopian university student to study abroad in Korea, as thanks toward Ethiopia for fighting alongside Korea during the Korean war. I feel much better about that.

HL and SY with an otter (수달), which I believe is Hwacheon County's mascot.
After visiting the bell and watching a short video about the Peace Dam (평화의댐), the camp participants had some time to discuss what we had learned over the past two days and share our thoughts about peace and Korean Reunification. My two student partners, HL and SY, were two bright girls who, despite being good friends, plainly disagreed on whether Reunification would be good or not.

HL, whose father is in the army, was against 통일 because she knew the risks were great: Korea would be plunged into an economic and humanitarian crisis if it suddenly had to take care of millions of refugees from the North. SY, on the other hand, was more idealistic and remained convinced that North Koreans are "our family" and that the current separation was neither tenable nor the desire of most South Koreans. We didn't have enough time to elaborate on these thoughts, but I could tell that both of them had actually thought through their positions, and I appreciated that.

Both did agree, during our discussion, that the conversation about 통일 was likely more often had in Hwacheon than in other parts of the country, due to the county's proximity to the De-Militarized Zone between the North and the South. It seems like the farther away you get from the border, the less people tend to think about the issue. I know it hardly comes up in my life, way down here in Changwon, but it's not hard to see why people who live a mere thirty kilometers away from an enemy state would be more attuned to this dialogue. So, it was no wonder that the students of the Hwacheon Peace Forum, some of whom have participated in the camp several years in a row, were capable of expressing themselves so well about a matter very important to them. I was both impressed and inspired.

That said, I don't have any grand, sweeping conclusions to make about world peace or Korean Reunification. Not yet, at least. I've learned a great deal about this issue over the past few months, and I'd like to get all my thoughts down in writing at some point, so stay tuned.

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