“An Arirang stone for Diane.
I would like to dedicate this Arirang stone to Diane Para. An inspirational woman, who found herself helping hundreds of people, when she didn’t expect it but when these people needed her the most.
With love and respect, Kitty
Her story, when I asked what her lifetime song is. How this question brought her full circle.
“I didn’t think of this song quite some time until now. Truly, it is amazing how this brings me full circle. To the work I unexpectedly found myself doing in Greece to help the refugees. The current generation of refugees who find their homeland torn apart and enduring hardships and in need of hope for a country they love.”
It is a song for Koreans that we learn from childhood that adults sing to us…. we sing it our whole lives after that. It is a song I would sing around the house (totally out of tune) and play on the piano with two fingers as a kid not consciously thinking about what it meant.
I find very comforting and it’s full of touching memories. It was sung to me by my grandmother and by my parents. I could feel the emotion it held for them, especially my parents who were living so far from “home.” (My grandmother traveled back and forth from Korea to visit us.)
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo…Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.
Nareul beorigo gasineun nimeun
Simnido motgaseo balbbyeongnanda.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo…
Crossing over Arirang Pass.
The one who abandoned me
Shall not walk even 10 li before their feet will hurt.
* It takes about 1 hour to walk 10 li, which was an old form of measure that is slightly more than
4 km…. so in other words, your feet will ache not long after you leave your home.
A song of hope, love, and longing for one’s homeland and for reunification.
I have heard this song sung in America from when I was a baby, in South Korea, and I have heard it sung in impoverished, totalitarian controlled North Korea by children and adults alike.
It is a song in which is embedded the hope for reconciliation and reunification and restoration of what was once the homeland of all the
I didn’t think of this song quite some time until now. Truly, it is amazing how this brings me full circle to the work I unexpectedly found myself doing in Greece to help the refugees. The current generation of refugees who find their homeland torn apart and enduring hardships and in need of hope for a country they love.
My great grandfather disappeared in the 1890s after going to join the resistance against Japanese influence over Korea (Japanese invaded and occupied Korean more than once Korea was a colony for 35 years until 1945), leaving behind a young widow and two very young sons. His widow and son (my grandfather who died before I met him) and my grandmother who helped raise me for the rest of their lives always invited the displaced and anyone who was poor and suffering from hunger into their kitchen to feed them.
After he became a successful entrepreneur, my grandfather had many business ventures and built an entire neighborhood of houses that he rented to people, and if his renters encountered some hardship in their lives and couldn’t afford to pay, he quietly gifted the houses to them.
My grandmother would laugh and say he gave about half the houses in that neighborhood away.
My grandfather died just before the Korean Civil War broke out and the remaining family fled as
refugees, leaving behind my great grandmother who was too old to travel. She stayed in the house as
soldiers and mercenaries from both sides came and went, taking turns living in the house, as power
continued to change hands. My grandmother and my mother and her younger siblings lived in a crowded refugee camp for years, before returning home to find their grandmother safe, the house still
standing, but most of their possessions missing or destroyed.
That is my mother’s side of the family. I don’t know the entire story of my father, but I do know it involved being stranded with other refugees in a boat with a broken engine crossing the ocean
between Korea and China, and he recalled suffering from terrible hunger and walking and walking,
and having to carry a younger cousin who was too weak from hunger to stand.
My parents survived, they returned to finish their university studies that had been interrupted by the wars, and both separately came to the United States for graduate studies and met and married here.
Both wanted to return to Korea to help rebuild their country, but their friends that were still there discouraged them from coming home, telling them to stay in the US.
Then, as they had children and increasing financial responsibilities, it became impossible for them to go home until decades later.
My father died still hoping for reunification of one Korean homeland, and my mother had high hopes in the 1990s that she might see her country reunited before she dies, but now after the succession of US Presidents starting with George W. Bush reversing the Clinton administration and Kim Dae Jong administration’s “sunshine” policies that had begun thawing relations between North and South, she fears that reunification may not happen in her lifetime.
Although I was born in a completely different sheltered atmosphere in safety and had never seen a refugee camp until I arrived in Greece, the song of Arirang, the song of the refugees longing for the home they love is deeply embedded in me.
Thanks for taking me down memory lane and bringing the seemingly very simple song Arirang back into my consciousness, at a time in my life when I can understand and appreciate it in an entirely new
and much deeper way.
I haven’t thought about (or listened to) that song in years—probably not since my last trip into North Korea about 13 years ago. Of course at that time, it was touching and moving to me as a song of Korean reunification.
Thinking about the song now and looking at the lyrics and what they mean, when I am at the age my
parents were when I first remember them singing it to me… and after spending this past 19 months
with the refugees… immersed in their stories, in their hopes and dreams, their longing for home,
glimpsing the depths of their suffering, and touched to my very soul by their quiet strength to endure beyond, by the humanity and generosity they have shown when they have nothing and still give of themselves to help others…
NOW I understand Arirang and how much more those simple words meant to my parents, my
grandparents, and now to me.”
This stone started travelling on 2021-11-13.