Saturday, March 12, 2011
My first day with JFNK has come to a bittersweet end.
The directions were pretty straightforward: Anguk Station Exit #6. I call my Facebook friend who I have never met face-to-face. His voice is pleasantly and somewhat unexpectedly optimistic. His directions are walk straight into the famous street of Insadong. I have no idea what to expect. I suppose having no expectations serves as my ally in situations like this one. As instructed, I wait outside the corner convenient store and the insanity of the crowds make me feel somewhat at home. I figured I’d wait for my soon-to-be friend or be on the lookout for foreigners. I finally muster up the courage to ask a small eclectic group of individuals if they are here with JFNK. Sure enough, they are, and they are all extremely down-to-earth. The director, Peter, introduces himself and doesn’t even mention he is the director. He seems very sincere, curious, concerned, approachable, and it’s hard not to like him from the beginning. In fact, it’s hard not to like everyone with JFNK from the beginning! As another group (including my friend) approaches us with their awesome posters, Peter jumps into action. They briefly discuss where the campaign will take place and who will do what. Initially, I feel confused about my role and even question the necessity of my being there, but those thoughts are quickly pushed aside as we are equipped with informational handouts to pass out.
Many of us are hesitant at first because most of us know all too well just how obnoxious soliciting can be in Korea, but this was what we came for. As I start passing out the handouts, the real fun begins. In the midst of the diversity of touristy Insadong, I was a student of social anthropology for a couple hours. I can’t help noticing that many Koreans are commenting about the large number of foreign JFNK members (ones who don’t look Korean) who are involved in the campaign and some even ask each other why “they” would care about North Korea. One thing that really stands out is seeing adults so moved by the movement, adults who are accompanied by their children. Watching their parents take some time to listen to the speakers, to donate money - what a great impact that can make on young minds! Also, giving Koreans a different perspective of foreigners as not just some people who teach their children English during the week and get drunk at expat bars in Hongdae on the weekends. Another notable thing: seeing Koreans’ reaction to foreigners and native Koreans working together for a cause that we all care about.
The level of concentration and determination by the leaders (Dan and Peter) and everyone’s overall desire to help out on a chilly Saturday afternoon was a real inspiration and did not disappoint my first time working with JFNK. It was amazing to be in the midst of all sorts of people: people that cared a lot, people that had no clue what was going on in their neighbor country, older disillusioned Koreans, and even people who didn’t care at all. In fact, many Koreans seemed apathetic. Perhaps they think it’s too extreme to be affiliated with such a politically charged theme as “North Korea,” but we just see this as a human rights issue. Even the term “human rights” is politically charged. Maybe we just see “North Korea” as people, a people whose voice deserves to be heard by those with the freedom to use it.