A BITTERSWEET REUNION [Korea's separated families, Part II]

The last separated family reunions took place February 2014.

Leading up to this event, I was able to meet with one of the 82 selected in South Korea to attend these reunions in North Korea.

Hong Sin-ja shows me an early family photo album
Photo credit: HK

Her name was Hong Sin-ja, and at that time she was 84 years old. She was selected to meet her then 83-year-old younger sister, Young-ja, who had been living in North Korea.
Sin-ja last remembers her sister at the age of 15.

Just days before the reunions were set to take place, Sin-ja showed me the dark red dress she had planned to wear when meeting her sister for the first time in more than 60 years.

She also took out a long jade necklace and a matching jade ring. She will be wearing these “cherished accessories” to the reunions in hopes that she can leave them behind as gifts to her sister when they part ways.

She knows that it is highly unlikely that her sister will be able to keep these items herself, as the more expensive gifts are likely to be confiscated by Pyongyang guards at the end of the reunions. Warm clothing and socks are encouraged. Cash and jewels are not.

While she was ecstatic to meet her younger sister, she couldn't shake off the looming thought that she will soon have to say goodbye and be heartbroken, again, once the reunions come to an end. Although grateful to be selected for these rare reunions, Sin-ja was also angry over the fact that she and her sister will soon have to separate again—each going their opposite ways to their respective countries.

It's a heartache that most of the world cannot relate to, as Korea stands as the only country still divided. But not only is the country divided, people on both sides are barred from freely crossing the border, let alone communicate with one another.

Separated from sister who lives in N. Korea
Photo credit: HK

So as much joy as the reunions can seem to bring, it is yet another reminder of how deplorable this situation is, as it brings unnecessary heartache to the very people who've already gone through so much of colonization and war—two things that you wish no one experience.