Day 4 was Friday, which was when I was leaving Gwangju to see a friend in Busan. I had to do at least one May 18th related thing while I was in Gwangju (see my reason for choosing to visit it at all), so I decided the best one would be the May 18th National Cemetery. I kind of wish I had done something for the April 19th protest as well, but truth be told there wasn't that much.
The bus that goes to the cemetery (and the surrounding cemeteries where I think other victims of the May 18th massacre are buried) is the number 518. 518. 5/18. I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.
I totally spaced out on the bus and accidentally rode it to the end of the line, which is an old folks' home.
Putting the old folks' home next to a shit load of cemeteries? Really?
Anyway, I had an awkward little moment where I got out of the bus, sat at the bus stop and read for a few minutes, then got back on the same bus with the same driver, but whatever. Fortunately I hadn't overshot the cemetery by nearly as much as I thought I had, so it was all good.
I kind of lost it at the cemetery, y'all. Maybe it's because I'm a big baby, but it was an awfully sobering couple hours. I've been to war memorials before (trips to Washington, D.C. much?) which are in the same vein, but none of them have been as serious and real to me as this. Everyone who died in the May 18th massacre were civilians, or students (at least, everyone buried in this cemetery; I don't think the police officers or paratroopers who died are buried in this cemetery), which to me makes it entirely different. Soldiers are expected (sadly) to die; students are not. Especially not at the hands of their own government. Plus, so many of them would be my parents' age, about, if they had survived: all of these people would have been someone's father or mother, if things had been different. They could have been the parents of someone who would have been my friend. Not to mention even younger casualties: small children inadvertently caught in the crossfire.
In case it's hard to read:
Here in the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising lie the meritorious persons who fought and sacrificed themselves during the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and those laudable victims who died in the aftermath of the physical or mental injuries they sustained.
The bodies of the victims were carried in garbage trucks and carts and buried without official reognition in the Old May 18 Cemetery (the 3rd graveyard of the Municipal Cemetery).
With the completion of a 3-year conservation project (1994-1997), all bodies were moved and reburied together in this new cemetery. In accordance with the Act on the Honorable Treatment for Meritorious Persons of the May 18th Uprising, this cemetery, which had been managed by the Gwangju Municipal Administration, was promoted and renamed as the National Cemetery for the May 18th Democratic Uprising on July 27, 2002 by the Korean state.
This cemetery will function as an education center, promoting the conviction that injustice and dictatorship should never return to this country, so that the spirit of the May 18th may be engraved on the hearts of all people making this a sacred place for democracy forever.
Beyond the "gate" is the cemetery proper.
Oh, Gwangju! The Cross of Our Nation! by Kim Jun-tae
Oh, Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Our city of eternal youth
that sheds blood tears
Where has our father gone?
Where has our mother collapsed?
Where has our Son died and been buried?
And, where does our Daughter lie dead, her mouth gaping?
Where have our soul and spirit
gone, torn and broken into pieces?
Gwangju, which both God and birds have left!
Our blood-covered city
where decent people
are still alive, morning and evening,
collapsing, falling down, and rising again!
Ah, the phoenix, the phoenix, the phoenix
of the South Province full of wailing
that has tried to drive away death with death,
and to seek life with death!
When the sun and the moon nosedive
and all the mountain ridges
stand shamelessly high,
ah, the flag of liberty
that nobody can tear down
or take away!
The flag of humanity!
The flag, hardened with flesh and bones!
Oh, our city
where at times our songs, dreams, and love
roll like waves,
and at other times we are hidden in graves.
Oh, Gwangju, Gwangju
who carries the cross of this nation,
climbing over Mudeung Mountain,
and walks over the hill of Golgotha!
Oh, the son of God,
whose whole body is covered with wounds,
and who is the emblem of death!
Are we really quite dead?
unable to love this country any more,
unable to love our children any more?
Are we absolutely dead?
On Chungjangro, on Kumnamro,
At Hwajungdong, at Sansoodong, at Yongbongdong
At Jisandong, at Yangdong, at Kyerimdong,
And, and, and . . . .
Ah, the wind that blows over,
gobbling up our blood and flesh!
The hopeless flow of time!
Should we now
just collapse, fall, and cry?
Terrified of life, how should we
breathe a breath?
Oh, all those survive
lower their heads like sinners.
All those still alive have lost
spirit, and they find it difficult
even to face their rice bowls.
Afraid, they don’t know what to do.
(Dear, I was killed
while I was waiting for you,
waiting for you outside the door.
Why did they take away my life?
Though we lived in a rented room,
we were quite happy.
I wanted to live, loving you.
Oh, my dear!
But I was killed like this,
pregnant with a child of yours.
I am sorry, my dear!
They took away my life from me,
and I took away everything of yours,
your youth, your love,
your son, and all.
Oh, my dear! In the end,
did I kill you?)
Oh, Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Our city of eternal youth
who breaks through deaths
and flutters the ends of white clothes!
The phoenix, the phoenix, the phoenix!
The son of God of this nation
who climbs up the hill of Golgotha again,
carrying the cross of this nation!
Jesus is said to have died once
and been resurrected,
and to live till this day or rather forever.
But our true love
that would die hundreds of deaths
and yet resurrects itself hundreds of times!
Our light, glory, and pain.
Now we will be revived ever more.
Now we become ever stronger.
Now we – ever more.
Oh, now we,
putting our shoulders to shoulders, bones to bones,
climb the Mudeung Mountain of this nation.
Oh, we rise up to the oddly blue sky
to kiss the sun and the moon.
Gwangju! Mudeung Mountain!
Oh, our eternal flag!
Our dream, our cross!
The city of youth that will get younger
as time goes by!
Now we are firmly united,
surely and surely,
we hold each other’s hands tight
and rise up.
To the one side there was an indoor photo memorial, with photos of everyone interred and either white or yellow artificial flowers. To the other was a "tree memorial," a rather nice, bright contrast to the dark and serious photo memorial. It's basically a nicely-manicured garden.
On the same side as the tree memorial was the May 18th museum, one of the more modern museums I've seen in Korea. Since the cemetery was dedicated in the early 2000s, its modernity makes sense. I would have gotten more out of it if my Korean weren't terrible, as they had short documentaries playing at every exhibit, but I did absorb as much of the English signage as I could. (I have to say, I don't think I could stomach an old school Korean version of a May 18th museum: those would be the bloodiest, most upsetting dioramas of all time.)
The one that stuck with me the most, for whatever reason, was a very small display containing wrist watches. These were the old fashioned kind that needed to be rewound, and since their owners were shot, no one rewound them after May 1980.
The whole time I only saw a handful of other people, which made everything even more serious, somehow; loads of families and shrieking kids would have taken away from the atmosphere.
That was the entirety of my day; after this I had a couple hours on buses before I got to my next destination: Kimhae/Busan.