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Inside the Gangjeong 'peace camp'An account of life with the anti-naval base protesters, just before they were forced from their camp
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승인 2011.09.12  21:16:38
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▲ Protesters raise masks and signs at Beophwan port, near Gangjeong, Seogwipo City during Play Play Gangjeong Play, a culture festival held within the village. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Father Moon Kyu Hyun at Beophwan port during the festival. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ People resting in the protester base camp located at the Jungdeok three-way interesction. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Father Moon Jung Hyun's van, a local symbol of protest. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Father Moon Jung Hyun gives a speech at Beophwan port before a peace march along Jeju Olle Course No. 7. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ A pony adorned with peace signs lies down within the main grounds of the Gangjeong cultural festival. Photo by Alpha Newberry
▲ An artist adds the finishing touches to a large painting for the evening's peace concert. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Barbed wire stretches across Jeju's coastline by the Navy office in Gangjeong. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ A festival participant wades into the water at the end of the 2 km peace march along Jeju Olle Course No. 7. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ Despite a police line, a man attempts to cross Gangjeong stream just meters from the construction site.Photo by Douglas MacDonald
▲ An area of the naval base construction site where archeological finds dating as far back as the Bronze Age and up to the late Joseon Dynasty were unearthed. Photo by Alpha Newberry

Fresh water bubbles up from springs to form pools in gureombi, a huge volcanic rock stretching along the ocean shore at Gangjeong on the south coast of Jeju Island. From the outside, the ancient ocean pounds relentlessly and powerfully against the same massive rock. I can’t help but draw a distinction with another scene; the recently-initiated battle for gureombi which is pitting villagers, environmentalists, and peace activists against the relentless and powerful government and corporations that wish to destroy the shoreline to make way for a naval base.

This battle has made local, national, and even international headlines in recent months, and it is not my purpose here to add to the debate. I would, however, like to recount my experience living at the Gangjeong peace camp established with the intent of preventing further construction of the base, which began around January of this year.

A number of things struck me when I arrived at the camp. First, the natural beauty of the area surrounding the site. Alongside part of the construction fence, a little river flows into the sea towards Beom Seom, a small but prominent island off the coast. Admittedly, hidden behind the trees on the other side of the stream lies a tourist resort — but it appears to have no ships or missiles parked anywhere near it. Then, walking down through what is already a destruction, I mean construction site, to the stark and beautiful gureombi, one is aware mostly of machines, grey and looming tetrapods, and the ground that has already been leveled.

Along the shore, where the actual camp is situated with rows of tents and three large communal living areas (in structures that match the citrus greenhouses which abound in the area), a different natural beauty shines through — that of the people who run and stay at the camp. Immediately warm and hospitable, it becomes apparent that not all are Jeju natives. There are activists from Seoul, Geoje Island, Gwangju, and other parts of Korea as well as volunteers representing international organizations and visitors from abroad. But it is far from chaotic. Volunteers record the names and telephone numbers of all who stay at the camp and include the duration of stay in their notes. A communications and information center looks out on the incredible sea view. There, other volunteers coordinate and provide information, access the Internet for news and to update Web sites, such as the Facebook pages connected to the effort, invite guests to sign petitions or write messages of peace, and provide general assistance to visitors.

And, should these visitors feel the pangs of hunger, a meal is always on hand — a “peace meal” if you will. For, next to the sleeping quarters is a kitchen and dining area that is always open and always permeated with the tantalising aromas of food simmering away in pots and pans. Taciturn Kim Jong Hwan is the chief cook at the camp, tirelessly producing traditional and delicious meals for those who stay at the camp, as well as for visitors. Other guests also take turns to help prepare meals, and I had great fun doing this when I stayed there. Sharing experiences and views over a pile of potato skins and onion peels and a bowl of makeoli is rewarding on many levels. Nobody is charged for their meal, however a donation box is on hand for patrons to contribute to the purchase of the food. [Note that Kim Jong Hwan was arrested by police on Aug. 24 and, at the time of writing, is still in custody].

Recent crackdowns by riot police at the behest of the government and the massive corporations, namely Samsung, involved in the construction sadden me. Without being drawn into the politics of this tense situation, the people I met in the Gangjeong peace camp were, without fail, kind, generous, friendly, peaceful, and passionate. They care deeply about the village, the island, and the country —including its people and its environment. I believe the government should hear their voices because Korea needs people like this, they matter to the future more than scary ships and menacing missiles.


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