Thursday, June 4, 2009

A tale of woe for Roh...

On our way to Busan on Friday, we came across large groups of people gathering at large memorials outside Seoul station where we were to catch the express train south. Previously having been shushed on the bus, and having used our limited access to the media here in Korea, we had known that something was up, but we didn't realize what a big deal it was. Koreans everywhere were in mourning, and its a story worth mentioning, so here it is. In a nutshell...

South Korea's most recent former president, Roh Moo-Hyun threw himself off the side of a cliff near his home while hiking a week and a half ago, and Koreans aren't happy about it. At the time of his death he was being investigated for corruption, especially accepting bribes -- $6 million during his time in office -- and was being hounded by the media and the current government day and night, to the point where his health had deteriorated and he could no longer lead a normal life.

During his time in office Roh Moo-Hyun was an advocate of South Korea's 'sunshine policy' of reconciliation towards the North and also was responsible for a free trade agreement with the United States.

He was elected on the promise to change Korean politics for the better, and rid the government of scandal and corruption, but it followed him until the day he died. Roh left a suicide note on his computer saying:

I am in debt to so many people. I have caused too great a burden to be placed upon them. I can't begin to fathom the countless agonies down the road. The rest of my life would only be a burden for others. I am unable to do anything because of poor health. I can't read books, nor can I write. Do not be too sad. Isn't life and death all a part of nature? Do not be sorry. Do not feel resentment toward anyone. It is fate. Cremate me. And leave only a small tombstone near home. I've thought on this for a long time.

It's a little bit strange to be on the outside and the inside of an event like this. On the one hand I'm completely on the outside. Until I really started researching the only information I really heard about this was from this article on that I happened across last weekend when I was catching up on news from home. It say basically that he committed suicide, that he was a crook, that the suicide and the corruption were related and that current President Lee Myung-bak payed lip service. It's pretty emotionless and to the point, a blip on the radar that goes relatively un-noticed by 99% of the Canadian population.

Meanwhile, I currently am in Korea, on the inside, when people are crying in the streets in front of makeshift memorials and my children are telling me that:
"Teacher, a great South Korean man died on the weekend."
It's anything but emotionless, and the facts and theories are so confused that it seems that no one really knows up from down. A week and a half ago, I was unmoved by the article I read on So some guy accepts bribes, kills himself to avoid the consequences... and? And, what?

And now, I feel compassion for that man. I feel for his family, and for the Koreans that saw the chance for a brighter future in him, even if they did only see him that way due to the tragic way his life came to an end. I feel compassion for anyone who feels that their lives are no longer worth living. Its so easy to forget that corrupt politicians on the other side of the world really are people to, and that even in their corruption they still have redeeming qualities and people who care about them. I would do myself well to keep that in mind more often.

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