This is a blog post to explain to people what it is like being in Korea and in a Korean home at this time. Even though we are in Korea we can’t really give any extra information because there have definitely been problems with reporting in Korea. Rumours are spread and reported without any proof. We’ve been following both Korean and international news.
When it first happened no one realised how bad the situation was. Because many people had been rescued it was somewhat assumed that most people would be rescued and the death toll would be low. I was in our room working for a few hours or so and later I went downstairs to the living room. By this time the news was showing only the tip of ferry coming out of the water. It was then I realised that so many people hadn’t been rescued. I looked at the footage in disbelief saying, “But those people must be dead now”. However the news was still reporting only 2 people dead, how many had been rescued and everyone else as “missing”. While this was technically correct that they were missing, because there wasn’t bodies yet, I was surprised that there wasn’t an estimated death toll. Now I could be wrong about this but I feel like in Western media the estimated dead is said quite soon. I can’t be sure because I am also relying on translations from my husband but the media seemed reluctant to estimate deaths which possibly could have led to a lot of false hope and later fueled the anger of the victim’s families.
By evening we were very distressed about it. The news was playing the same footage over and over again. I’d been crying on and off. Seeing the parents of the school children distraught was what upset me every time. By the early hours of the morning we were emotionally drained but not able to sleep. We watched a movie together and eventually got some sleep. In the morning I expected there to be more people rescued but there wasn’t. So passed another day of watching the news constantly and seeing the same footage over and over. It’s a kind of torture to watch the news. These images get burned into your brain and you know they are affecting you psychologically in a bad way, but you are watching hoping for that one bit of good news. If they just found one person, you reason. You think, if they could just save one person, maybe this feeling would lesson slightly.
It became pretty clear that there was complete lack of emergency procedures and safety on the ship. The fact that the captain left the ship so quickly and the students were not evacuated was shocking.
By this time the rumours were everywhere. People faked text messages, pretending to be people still alive in the ship. People said they were a civilian diver who said the military divers heard people inside but didn’t rescue them (completely made up). Tension was accumulating.
We haven’t filmed anything since it happened. The only videos we’ve put on the blog have been ones recorded a little while ago. We are unlikely to film for a little while longer. I still cry several times a day. The images are everywhere. We were on a bus to Seoul yesterday morning and the TV was on. It was 3 hours of the disaster news, over and over again. That is the only thing on the major networks at the moment.
However, although Korea is deeply distressed and in shock. The country is not frozen completely in sadness. People are still getting on with their lives. We went to a cousin’s wedding yesterday. Weddings, parties…. life is still going on. We went to Hongdae last night and it was super crowded as usual. It’s human nature to continue on. Even at home, we watch the news, we get upset and cry, but in the next moment we can laugh at something else.
There are been a lot of extremes. For example, some people have made horrid videos about this, people have made scams to get money from people, people made games where you gamble on what the death toll is. There are horrible people who are completely indifferent. On the other extreme there are people so worked up about it that they become completely illogical. They can’t understand that because people are continuing their lives that it doesn’t mean that they don’t care. They want nothing on TV but this, they want the whole nation to completely stop and lash out at people who they think are not mourning properly. One journalist reporting about it didn’t realise the camera was on and laughed about something else. Logically, perhaps a reprimand would be best for this situation, but there were some people calling for his death. Yes, some people thought he should die because he laughed at something else and didn’t realise the camera was on him at the time. The tensions have been rising and rising here and I think a lot of anger has been misdirected.
So that is what is has been like being in Korea while this has happened. It has been a very distressing time. There has been a lot of misinformation and rumors. We’ve been looking at international news as well to try and get a better picture. It has been heartbreaking. One BBC reporter said the father of a missing child had put on swimming trunks and goggles and was planning to jump into the ocean in a futile attempt to save his child and had to be stopped. My husband has been stressed not only by the tragedy, but the aftermath and accusations perhaps at the wrong people. There has been a lot of accusations from people who don’t understand the situation and the actual physics of dealing with a sunken ship.
From a western standpoint one thing I have been surprised about is the lack of support for the divers. They are doing an extremely stressful, disturbing and physically dangerous job, but little attention has been paid to their sacrifice and the strength they have. Instead they have been criticised and accused of letting people die. I feel perhaps in western society we feel the need to elevate someone to hero status in tragedies like this because we need to have something to hold onto. I have been extremely interested in what it has been like for the divers but find a lack of attention placed on them. Footage had to be released to actually show how dangerous it is for them, because people didn’t believe they were doing their job. I also feel like people haven’t thought about the fact that they have families too, and their families are living in fear of what could happen to them while doing this job. From my point of I have noticed differences in the way the media handles disasters compared to Australia. For me, the lack of attention and support for the divers is something that frustrates me, as well as the reporting of rumours.
This article in Forbes also outlines some important points
It is now Sunday night and the news is still only about this. The heartache in Korea hasn’t lessened at all.
So in conclusion, it’s a very difficult time in Korea. Not only the heartbreaking tragedy but the aftermath of tensions and anger. At this point I won’t be posting any new comics or videos at least for the next few days.
UPDATE: It’s now Monday evening and the tension is still high in South Korea. With not much to report but the number of bodies recovered, the Korean media is now showing much more of the divers and how they are recovering bodies. The footage of them is so dark and murky that they have been using computer animations to show what is is like. Even basic computer animations with no real detail are quite chilling when you realise the divers are swimming through water filled corridors filled with debris. I hope now people realise how dangerous it is for the divers.
As I mentioned before, there have been some huge differences in reporting around the world. We’ve found Korean news to be reporting speculation and rumours and giving very one sided views. Personally I think the BBC has been giving a pretty balanced view of the situation.
I spoke to SBS PopAsia on the phone for the radio show in Australia earlier today which I think will be played tomorrow. It’s supposed to be a weekly chat about Kpop but this time we had to focus on how this disaster is affecting the entertainment industry. For international Kpop fans it can be confusing as to why all entertainment has completely halted. The feeling inside South Korea is so tense at the moment that any idols or celebrities promoting or participating in anything light-hearted will be severely condemned and will be risking their career. Radio DJs here are saying as little as possible in case anything they say is taken the wrong way. Everybody in the public eye has to be extremely careful as there has been a type of witch hunt where thousands of netizens (Konglish word for those who are prolific online commentators) are targeting anyone who is seen to not be grieving properly. There seems to be a big double standard of what is expected from public figures compared to the general public. The general public is continuing as normal. No businesses are shut, and the country has not come to a standstill in the aspect of daily life. I have seen estimates that the entertainment industry won’t be doing anything new for 2 weeks, but it is hard to say at the moment. The problem is, no one wants to be the first one to continue as whoever continues as normal will be immediately criticised. The online hate is rampant and extending to those barely even connected or related to Korea. For example, a photo showing Australian model Miranda Kerr laughing with her son was bombarded with comments like, “How dare she laugh at a time like this?!” Logically although South Korea has been weeping for the tragic loss of lives, people are still laughing from time to time. I just ate dinner with my husband and in-laws and we laughed hysterically as he tried to trick his parents into eating extremely sour candy. The news then came on showing only the ferry disaster and the mood turned somber again.
I think the constant replaying of distressing scenes has been quite emotionally damaging. My husband has been reading the online attacks and hate of anyone and everyone even though I’ve urged him not to. He is showing signs of stress from it. Although we are only a small blog and not in the public eye like entertainers here, we have sympathised because we know how stressful it must be to be targeted by netizens. At one point today he changed the TV channel from the news to a repeat of a variety show and breathed a sigh of relief saying, “I think I need to watch something like this”.