Saturday, 10 May 2014

Of Yellow Boats, Yellow Ribbons And White Chrysanthemums



Yup. That's what you'd see if you visit the mourning altar for the Sewol ferry disaster victims at the Seoul Plaza. It was set up for everyone who wanted to offer flowers and prayers for the dead, and to condole and sympathize with their families.

Messages from children and adults are written on the yellow ribbons and yellow boats. The ribbons are hanging on the walls, while the boats are sitting on the lawn as if waiting to set sail. 


I went to offer a white chrysanthemum at this altar today. I walked under the white canopy and followed the line. The mourners stood in front of the altar in groups, and before our group went in, each of us was given a white chrysanthemum, a flower that symbolizes grief.  There were two lines in our group and luckily, I was in the second one. A Korean gentleman in black standing to the right of the altar gave instructions to each group and I was able to observe what the mourners on the first line did before our turn. 



                                  (The mourning altar)

The standing in line, the waiting for our turn, the bowing at the altar and the laying of the white chrysanthemum were all routine, but done with a sad message of sympathy and a prayer for the victims' eternal rest.  And I wondered.  Was the greed and craving for more profits and money at the expense of the safety and lives of these children a routine, too? And what  message does this say to everyone?




Well, the message has always been loud and clear, but I guess nobody was listening. All these decades of advancement and development, the Korean society has become materialistic. It seems to me that everyone loves to flaunt new 'this' and new 'that' to friends, relatives and neighbors. Everyone wants to earn lots of money so they can buy 'this' apartment and 'that' car. And I guess, if the owners behind that ferry company scrimped on safety and loaded the boat with more cargoes because of this greed, then this national tragedy IS the message. 

                           (A mother explaining to her son)
                                      (Yellow boats)

As I was leaving the altar site, I passed the white tents clothed with thousands of yellow ribbons with messages. On the open area were hundreds of yellow paper boats with messages written by children. And perhaps, like most visitors and mourners at the Seoul Plaza these days trying to understand this tragedy, I see not only yellow, white or black. I also see one other color. The color of greed. 




I hope everyone wakes up and realizes this, as it seems the society has forgotten what it actually treasures the most. Because all the time, we're always late to realize what's important to us...until it's gone.

We couldn't be writing messages in yellow ribbons, or even put up altars and offer white chrysanthemums every time there's an avoidable tragedy.  



                      (The white chrysanthemum I offered)

Though those responsible must be held accountable, the authorities should ensure everyone's safety in all modes of transportation so that accidents like this don't happen again. 

Though yellow and white may be the colors that are most obvious these days, it's that other color that is causing all the grief, pain and anger. 
                          (At the Sejong Art Center entrance)

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