Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Once again: Why do this?

While I listened to Sherrin give an interview for a Korean national magazine 샘터 (“Saem Teo”), a few weeks ago, I remember her telling the interviewer she hopes after people hear about the Jeju Big Swim team and her specifically being single, 51, and never married that a few Korean women will have the gumption to live – if they want to – another life than the expected overbearing and “enduring” life demanded of them from their family and society, for example to get married “because it is that time” and make babies. It’s OK to be 100 percent Korean and be an individual. But many Koreans don’t believe so.

Social change is the slowest kind.

I’ve never told anyone this. But before meeting Sherrin, I met while volunteering about 6 months ago a civil servant woman - in her late 20s, or very early 30s - who works in Hallim. The woman asked me if I knew Sherrin. I knew of Sherrin, but did not know Sherrin. The civil servant had met Sherrin through the haenyo hakkyo and had said to me she wished she could be like Sherrin, in the way she wanted to be free, and do what she wanted, whenever she pleased.

She very bluntly asked me the question: “How am I supposed to meet a person within a year I’m expected to spend the next 50 years of my life with?”

I had no answer.

This story provides another reason to finish the Jeju Big Swim. Most things in Korea are secrets, such as the truth and expressing emotions. At least this woman had the moxy to express her feelings (to a stranger nonetheless), unlike many I know that just bottle it up and proceed to be the bitter and angry kind, openly defending the controlling aspects of Korean society, but secretly desiring something else, a free life.


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