OpinionOpinion | The Immensity of Seoul’s Sadness

Opinion | The Immensity of Seoul’s Sadness


If the rituals of public grief are effectively established, nevertheless, the rituals of the vacation that the Itaewon victims have been celebrating are pretty new in South Korea — new sufficient that information anchors needed to preserve explaining, for the presumably older viewing demographic, what Halloween is. It’s solely been a decade or two because the American custom, as a part of the English studying increase, entered the cultural lifetime of Seoul in full pressure. Alongside the best way one thing was misplaced, or maybe gained, in translation. The vacation was partly co-opted by Korea’s selfie era for what they name “cospre” — an abbreviation of “costume play,” after the same custom of Japanese youths within the Harajuku district — wherein they gown up as characters from animations and laptop video games.

Halloween now exists within the shifting house — cultural and geographic — between the USA and South Korea. These shifts are nowhere extra seen than within the Itaewon neighborhood itself.

Located within the coronary heart of Seoul on the foot of Namsan, or “South Mountain,” hilly with slim alleys, Itaewon is a horny backdrop for enjoyable in addition to the setting of a blockbuster Ok-drama. It’s a neighborhood recognized for unique eating places, counterfeit items, homosexual bars and classy golf equipment. Up to now, I’d typically wander its winding roads looking for pretend designer baggage to deliver again to the USA as presents. Later, because the neighborhood gentrified, the seedy atmosphere gave strategy to nightlife with a global aptitude. But via most of South Korean historical past Itaewon was generally known as a playground for American G.I.s; inside strolling distance was Yongsan Garrison, a 617-acre compound made to appear like an American suburb for over 20,000 navy personnel till 2018, when the USA, after seven many years, moved its base out of Seoul.

I visited Yongsan Garrison in its ultimate days and was shocked on the immensity of it, a large overseas navy headquarters within the heart of the nation’s capital. The place had been off limits to the South Korean public since 1910, when the Imperial Japanese Military constructed it throughout the occupation. In Could, President Yoon started his time period and moved the presidential workplace from the Blue Home to the previous protection ministry constructing adjoining to what was the garrison. The large compound can be changed into a public park, peaceable and welcoming. But the Halloween deaths in Itaewon, of so many younger Koreans who have been following a Japanese twist on an American vacation in probably the most American a part of Seoul, are an uncomfortable reminder of the stress between South Korea and overseas powers.

After the 2014 ferry sinking, President Park was finally convicted of abuse of energy, coercion and different felony expenses. One of many prosecutors was Yoon Suk-yeol, who rose to political stardom consequently and now leads the nation. In response to the Halloween tragedy, he declared a interval of nationwide mourning, throughout which flags have been lowered and public altars have been arrange throughout the nation to pay respect to the lifeless. Nationwide measures similar to these had solely been undertaken as soon as earlier than, when 46 navy sailors died in what was doubtless an assault by North Korea. Already the Yoon authorities is being accused of each inaptitude and taking part in politics. Name it belated crowd management or easy pandering, however Mr. Yoon certainly has not forgotten the tragedy that led to Ms. Park’s downfall, and neither has the era of oldsters left as soon as once more with a wound that may by no means heal.

Suki Kim, a journalist, novelist and essayist, is the creator of “With out You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the many Sons of North Korea’s Elite.”

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