Monday, June 6, 2011
Had a really good day today. The rabbit's father went fishing, but the rabbit and I ventured South with her mom's side of the family to Anseong, about an hour south of Seoul to observe Korea's Memorial Day - a day to remember those lost in Korea's military conflicts.
It was also a day for the rabbit's mom's family to mark the loss of rabbit's grandmother - who passed away about a month before I first arrived in Korea, way back in the summer of 2007. It would have been Halmoni's 99th birthday just over a week ago.
15 of us drove out to a fairly new memorial hall, about 20 minutes East of Anseong - through some winding roads and up some green hills. The building is pretty big, and its halls house smallish rooms which in turn hold glass display cases for the personal affects of those lost.
I've never seen anything like this before. Though there are other more traditional means of burial for some Korean families (under a tree, in a rounded tomb on a hillside), many are turning to cremation and internment in one of these rooms.
Roughly $5,000 will buy you a square display case about 30 cm x 30 cm, while double that will buy you a rectangular space. Prices go up or down depending on where the box is in relation to common eye level.
This is a very public thing. Looking in these little dioramas of lost lives, you can see a lot of love. I couldn't help but be sad while I was there. The whole family wandered into the room where rabbit's grandmother's urn was now sitting beside that of her grandfather, who was lost in the Korean War. There was some rearranging to be done after grandmother passed-away, so that they could move grandfather's urn from his original square into a larger one to be shared. In contrast to most of the other boxes in the room, the rabbit's grandparents' case was sparsely decorated with only the two urns, a small photo of grandmother turned slightly to her husband (no photos exist of grandfather), three small dog figurines, and a tiny toy bottle of soju (grandmother reportedly loved both).
The family was upbeat as they said their hellos to grandmother, and then they moved outside for some food and conversation. The rabbit and I joined them later, but we spent some time in this place - wandering from room to room and looking at some other cases, before coming back to halmoni.
I wish I had met her. I wondered what she would have thought of me. I wondered if she were anything like my mom's mom - short, feisty, and accepting of hugs. At any rate, I said thanks and promised that I would take good care of her granddaughter.
I'll be posting more about the place when I get another chance - maybe tomorrow. But it was very unique, and very thought-provoking, and so full of longing. Powerful stuff.
In all, it was a good day with a really warm side of the family. I was grateful to be included, and they seemed genuinely honored to have me there. There was an immediate closeness that seemed to take them a bit by surprise. I am grateful for that, too.