Ninety-three-year-old Ham Sung-chan’s eyes widen with pleasure as he describes the shock and euphoria of reuniting along with his child brother, now 79, throughout three days of household reunions in North Korea.
However there’s a deep and bitter remorse, too, and it stems from a easy little bit of math: After almost 70 years of a separation compelled by a devastating 1950-53 battle that killed and injured tens of millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South, Ham and his North Korean brother solely bought a complete of 12 hours collectively.
Ham was one of many 197 South Koreans who visited North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort from final Monday to Wednesday for uncommon reunions with family within the North. The center-wrenching photographs of aged Koreans embracing one another for the final time continued in a second set of reunions involving round 300 South Koreans that occurred from Friday to Sunday.
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“There’s a big sense of dejection that has set in,” stated Ham, who described the small print of his journey in an Related Press interview in his residence in Dongducheon, north of Seoul. “The time we spent collectively was too quick, method too quick. It wasn’t per week; it wasn’t 10 days. Simply after we met, we needed to depart.”
Right here’s how Ham described the transient however intense time he spent along with his North Korean brother after so many many years aside:
Sleepless in Sokcho
Born in jap North Korea, Ham was in his 20s, promoting fish and cosmetics within the South when battle broke out in June 1950 and prevented him from returning to his hometown.
Ham thought his mom was nonetheless within the North till he met her within the South in 1983, a number of years earlier than her loss of life. However he didn’t count on any of the three brothers he’d left in North Korea to be alive. In the event that they weren’t killed by the battle or North Korea’s devastating 1990s-era famine, he thought they might have died of previous age.
Considered one of his brothers, nevertheless, 79-year-old Ham Dong Chan, was frail however nonetheless alive and keen to satisfy his oldest brother. However Ham’s pleasure when he discovered of this quickly gave technique to anxiousness. His thoughts raced with countless questions.
Who’s this individual they are saying is my brother? Will he resemble the thin, quiet child I keep in mind? What if I don’t acknowledge him? Did he have a troublesome life? Does he have grandchildren?
Ham’s two daughters and son purchased items for his or her uncle, filling 4 massive luggage with underwear, lengthy johns, duck-down parkas, medication, nutritional vitamins, sugar, sweet, instantaneous noodles and 5 containers of “Choco Pies,” a model of South Korean-made chocolate-covered truffles identified to be widespread amongst North Koreans.
The day earlier than the reunions, Ham, his spouse and youthful daughter drove to a resort within the South Korean coastal city of Sokcho the place the South Korean contributors spent an evening earlier than crossing into North Korea by bus.
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Crimson Cross officers organized well being checkups for the contributors, who have been informed to not criticize North Korea’s authoritarian management and damaged economic system and to not level at portraits of the three leaders of the Kim dynasty that has dominated the North since 1945.
“I couldn’t sleep in any respect that evening,” Ham stated.
Day 1: ‘Brother, it’s me!’
On Monday morning, Ham’s bus crossed into North Korea. Ham stated he felt “spooky” when three North Korean troopers, in olive-green uniforms and enormous spherical hats, got here aboard his bus throughout a border verify.
“They solely requested me once I had crossed over to the South,” Ham stated. “I informed them it was earlier than the battle.”
READ MORE: Koreans separated by battle briefly reunited with relations after many years aside
After arriving on the Diamond Mountain resort, Ham marveled at how the fashionable facility differed from the underdeveloped environment, the place small, crude properties have been scattered round fields and on hills. The resort was constructed by South Korea’s Hyundai enterprise group throughout a interval of rapprochement within the 2000s. Analysts say North Korea, which has lengthy rejected South Korean calls for to extend the variety of reunions and contributors, retains the conferences at Diamond Mountain to restrict North Koreans’ consciousness of what’s occurring within the outdoors world.
Ham unpacked in room No. 512 on the Kumkangsan Lodge on the resort. It had good beds, air-con and scorching water, however the cumbersome tv didn’t work.
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The primary conferences occurred at about three p.m. Ham’s coronary heart trembled as he walked along with his spouse and daughter towards the banquet corridor the place the North Korean family have been ready at white tables. As Ham approached a desk marked with the quantity 90, a slim, deeply wrinkled man in a go well with and tie sprung from his seat. The brothers embraced tightly, smiling broadly, tears streaming down their faces.
“He yelled, ‘Brother, it’s me!’” Ham stated. “I acknowledged him instantly. He was nonetheless that skinny, quiet child. Possibly our bloodlines pulled us collectively.”
For 4 hours, Ham and his brother principally talked about household, explaining to one another when their mother and father and brothers had died.
Day 2: From thrilled to devastated
Ham had one other sleepless evening after the assembly. He was thrilled to see his brother however devastated that one-third of their reunion was already over.
On Tuesday, the brothers had deeper conversations over lunch in a room at a close-by resort, away from North Korean authorities watchers and the handfuls of South Korean reporters masking the occasion.
Dong Chan, who got here to the conferences along with his 72-year-old spouse, had thought that his oldest brother was lifeless. He didn’t know that his mom had made it to the South, remarried there, and lived for many years.
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Dong Chan stated he had been hospitalized in Pyongyang to deal with migraines when he acquired phrase from North Korean authorities that his brother in South Korea was searching for him.
“He informed the authorities that it have to be a unique individual with the identical title as a result of he was so satisfied that I had died,” Ham stated. “When North Korean officers requested once more, this time mentioning the names of our mother and father, he was shocked.”
Throughout these three hours of talks Tuesday, staff introduced Ham’s luggage of items. Ham additionally gave Dong Chan an album containing dozens of images of him, his household and their mom. Dong Chan gave Ham three bottles of liquor constructed from ginseng and a silk tablecloth.
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Staff then delivered boxed meals of rice truffles, grilled hen and octopus, stir-fried mushrooms and pickled cucumbers.
“It didn’t style good; I couldn’t end it,” Ham stated.
Ham informed his brother about how he overcame poverty in his youthful days and the way proud he was of his three U.S.-educated youngsters. However due to the anti-American sentiment prevalent within the North, he unnoticed that he labored at a U.S. army base in Dongducheon for almost 20 years as a civilian worker.
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Ham stated Dong Chan was equally pleased with his life as a retired North Korean authorities employee. Dong Chan stated he’s dwelling in an condo within the capital of Pyongyang, which itself is a standing image in North Korea. He additionally talked a couple of grandson who was learning on the prestigious Kim Il Sung College.
“As soon as I heard that he was dwelling in Pyongyang, I used to be relieved,” Ham stated. “As brothers, we had a lot to speak about over so little time. However different South Korean family have been assembly North Korean nephews they’d by no means seen — a few of them informed me it was arduous to maintain a dialog going after 30 minutes.”
Day three: ‘Exploded with tears’
Ham tried arduous to be cheerful throughout his final lunch with Dong Chan on Wednesday. He laughed, clinked glasses of beer along with his brother and shouted “good well being is one of the best!”
Ham promised Dong Chan that he would be the first South Korean to use for a North Korean visa if relations enhance to the purpose the place cross-border travels are allowed. Dong Chan informed Ham that North Korean chief Kim Jong Un’s relationship with South Korean President Moon Jae-in was so shut that the Koreas will be capable of unify in three years.
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However Ham’s spirits sank because the clock ticked away. After organizers introduced that the assembly had ended, Ham stated goodbye and walked out of the banquet corridor alone, sobbing all the best way to the bus ready to take him residence. Ham’s spouse and daughter lingered a bit longer on the corridor, tearfully embracing the North Korean family they have been simply attending to know.
Later, outdoors the resort, Ham, nonetheless in tears, waved each arms from contained in the bus as his brother got here out to see him off. The bus slowly rolled out of the resort and headed again to South Korea.
“I had informed myself, ‘I gained’t cry, I gained’t cry,’” Ham stated. “However I exploded with tears.”