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Floating Dreams: One Dream, Many Stories

Thu 1st Sep 2016

Have you seen Ik-Joong Kang's large-scale installation Floating Dreams on the River Thames by Millennium Bridge?

Constructed from 500 drawings and illuminated from within, the three-storey-high lantern structure acts as a memorial to the millions displaced and divided during the Korean War (1950-53), and a poignant symbol of hope for the reunification of North and South Korea. The images recall joyful and sorrowful memories of lost homes and broken families, illuminating the pain of displacement, and raising hopes for reunification in the future.

Read the first in a series of stories from Floating Dreams participants, Park Yun Ok's shares her story here...

My name is Park Yun Ok. I was born in 1921. My hometown is a small village called Oh Eun outside of Hamhung City. I have not returned since I was 24 years old.

During World War II, I was living in a town in Manchuria, Japanese-occupied China. When one day fighter airplanes that I could not see, but that I could hear attacked the village - dropping bombs and spraying bullets. In the chaos I hid inside my home and huddled close to my infant daughter trying to protect her. One of those airplanes shot me in the leg. It was only after the village was destroyed that I realised my leg was bleeding. My daughter and I were alone.

For four days I walked carrying my daughter on my back. My leg was bleeding so much that my foot kept slipping inside my shoe. The skin on my sole peeled off. I was trying to return home. It was so far... A stranger who saw me walking brought me into his home. I was bleeding to death. He took one of his chickens, slaughtered it, and used its flesh to absorb the bullet poisoning from my wound. With his wife, they nursed me back to health until I could walk again to leave to return home. Back in Oh Eun, I reunited with my family when my husband found me there. Korea was dividing between North and South, war was imminent again. My husband decided life would be better in the South so I followed him, while most my family decided to stay behind. The borders closed behind us - borders to this day we cannot cross. We settled in Seoul, and then immigrated to the Americas - first Paraguay, then Argentina and finally the United States in search of a better life. Seventy years later, I live in New York. My mother and my father have passed on. Many of my brothers and sisters have passed on too. In the chaos of war, we each had a choice to make: to leave or to stay. But we never imagined we would never be able to return home. All I have left of my family, of my home are memories, memories that are fading in my old age. I can never return. I will never return.

Floating Dreams by Ik-Joong Kang, September 2016, River Thames by Millennium Bridge.