DONGDUCHEON, South Korea (AP) – Ninety-three-year-old Ham Sung-chan’s eyes widen with pleasure as he describes the shock and euphoria of reuniting along with his child brother, now 79, throughout three days of household reunions in North Korea.
However there is a deep and bitter remorse, too, and it stems from a easy little bit of math: After almost 70 years of a separation pressured by a devastating 1950-53 battle that killed and injured hundreds of thousands and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South, Ham and his North Korean brother solely bought a complete of 12 hours collectively.
Ham was one of many 197 South Koreans who visited North Korea’s scenic Diamond Mountain resort from final Monday to Wednesday for uncommon reunions with family within the North. The center-wrenching photos of aged Koreans embracing one another for the final time continued in a second set of reunions involving round 300 South Koreans that befell from Friday to Sunday.
FILE – On this Aug. 20, 2018, file picture, South Korean Ham Sung-chan, 93, proper, hugs his North Korean brother Ham Dong Chan, 79, in the course of the Separated Household Reunion Assembly on the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea. After almost 70 years of a separation pressured by a devastating 1950-53 battle that killed and injured hundreds of thousands and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South, Ham and his North Korean brother solely bought a complete of 12 hours collectively. (Lee Ji-eun/Yonhap by way of AP. File)
“There’s a big sense of dejection that has set in,” mentioned Ham, who described the main points of his journey in an Related Press interview in his house in Dongducheon, north of Seoul. “The time we spent collectively was too quick, means too quick. It wasn’t every week; it wasn’t 10 days. Simply after we met, we needed to depart.”
This is how Ham described the temporary however intense time he spent along with his North Korean brother after so many many years aside:
SLEEPLESS IN SOKCHO
Born in japanese North Korea, Ham was in his 20s, promoting fish and cosmetics within the South when battle broke out in June 1950 and prevented him from returning to his hometown.
Ham thought his mom was nonetheless within the North till he met her within the South in 1983, a number of years earlier than her loss of life. However he didn’t anticipate any of the three brothers he’d left in North Korea to be alive. In the event that they weren’t killed by the battle or North Korea’s devastating 1990s-era famine, he thought they’d have died of previous age.
One among his brothers, nonetheless, 79-year-old Ham Dong Chan, was frail however nonetheless alive and keen to satisfy his oldest brother. However Ham’s pleasure when he discovered of this quickly gave option to nervousness. His thoughts raced with limitless questions.
Who’s this particular person they are saying is my brother? Will he resemble the thin, quiet child I keep in mind? What if I do not acknowledge him? Did he have a tough life? Does he have grandchildren?
Ham’s two daughters and son purchased items for his or her uncle, filling 4 massive luggage with underwear, lengthy johns, duck-down parkas, medication, nutritional vitamins, sugar, sweet, prompt noodles and 5 packing containers of “Choco Pies,” a model of South Korean-made chocolate-covered desserts identified to be widespread amongst North Koreans.
The day earlier than the reunions, Ham, his spouse and youthful daughter drove to a resort within the South Korean coastal city of Sokcho the place the South Korean individuals spent an evening earlier than crossing into North Korea by bus.
Pink Cross officers organized well being checkups for the individuals, who have been informed to not criticize North Korea’s authoritarian management and damaged financial system and to not level at portraits of the three leaders of the Kim dynasty that has dominated the North since 1945.
“I could not sleep in any respect that evening,” Ham mentioned.
DAY 1: ‘BROTHER, IT’S ME!’
On Monday morning, Ham’s bus crossed into North Korea. Ham mentioned he felt “spooky” when three North Korean troopers, in olive-green uniforms and enormous spherical hats, got here aboard his bus throughout a border test.
“They solely requested me after I had crossed over to the South,” Ham mentioned. “I informed them it was earlier than the battle.”
After arriving on the Diamond Mountain resort, Ham marveled at how the fashionable facility differed from the underdeveloped environment, the place small, crude houses have been scattered round fields and on hills. The resort was constructed by South Korea’s Hyundai enterprise group throughout a interval of rapprochement within the 2000s. Analysts say North Korea, which has lengthy rejected South Korean calls for to extend the variety of reunions and individuals, retains the conferences at Diamond Mountain to restrict North Koreans’ consciousness of what is going on on within the outdoors world.
Ham unpacked in room No. 512 on the Kumkangsan Lodge on the resort. It had good beds, air con and scorching water, however the cumbersome tv didn’t work.
The primary conferences befell at about Three p.m. Ham’s coronary heart trembled as he walked along with his spouse and daughter towards the banquet corridor the place the North Korean family have been ready at white tables. As Ham approached a desk marked with the quantity 90, a slim, deeply wrinkled man in a swimsuit and tie sprung from his seat. The brothers embraced tightly, smiling broadly, tears streaming down their faces.
“He yelled, ‘Brother, it is me!'” Ham mentioned. “I acknowledged him immediately. He was nonetheless that skinny, quiet child. Perhaps our bloodlines pulled us collectively.”
For 4 hours, Ham and his brother principally talked about household, explaining to one another when their dad and mom and brothers had died.
DAY 2: FROM THRILLED TO DEVASTATED
Ham had one other sleepless evening after the assembly. He was thrilled to see his brother however devastated that one-third of their reunion was already over.
On Tuesday, the brothers had deeper conversations over lunch in a room at a close-by lodge, away from North Korean authorities watchers and the handfuls of South Korean reporters masking the occasion.
Dong Chan, who got here to the conferences along with his 72-year-old spouse, had thought that his oldest brother was useless. He didn’t know that his mom had made it to the South, remarried there, and lived for many years.
Dong Chan mentioned he had been hospitalized in Pyongyang to deal with migraines when he obtained phrase from North Korean authorities that his brother in South Korea was searching for him.
“He informed the authorities that it should be a unique particular person with the identical identify as a result of he was so satisfied that I had died,” Ham mentioned. “When North Korean officers requested once more, this time mentioning the names of our dad and mom, he was shocked.”
Throughout these three hours of talks Tuesday, staff introduced Ham’s luggage of items. Ham additionally gave Dong Chan an album containing dozens of pictures of him, his household and their mom. Dong Chan gave Ham three bottles of liquor constituted of ginseng and a silk tablecloth.
Staff then delivered boxed meals of rice desserts, grilled rooster and octopus, stir-fried mushrooms and pickled cucumbers.
“It did not style good; I could not end it,” Ham mentioned.
Ham informed his brother about how he overcame poverty in his youthful days and the way proud he was of his three U.S.-educated youngsters. However due to the anti-American sentiment prevalent within the North, he disregarded that he labored at a U.S. army base in Dongducheon for almost 20 years as a civilian worker.
Ham mentioned Dong Chan was equally happy with his life as a retired North Korean authorities employee. Dong Chan mentioned he is dwelling in an residence within the capital of Pyongyang, which itself is a standing image in North Korea. He additionally talked a few grandson who was finding out on the prestigious Kim Il Sung College.
“As soon as I heard that he was dwelling in Pyongyang, I used to be relieved,” Ham mentioned. “As brothers, we had a lot to speak about over so little time. However different South Korean family have been assembly North Korean nephews they’d by no means seen – a few of them informed me it was exhausting to maintain a dialog going after 30 minutes.”
DAY 3: ‘EXPLODED WITH TEARS’
Ham tried exhausting to be cheerful throughout his final lunch with Dong Chan on Wednesday. He laughed, clinked glasses of beer along with his brother and shouted “good well being is the very best!”
Ham promised Dong Chan that he would be the first South Korean to use for a North Korean visa if relations enhance to the purpose the place cross-border travels are allowed. Dong Chan informed Ham that North Korean chief Kim Jong Un’s relationship with South Korean President Moon Jae-in was so shut that the Koreas will be capable to unify in three years.
However Ham’s spirits sank because the clock ticked away. After organizers introduced that the assembly had ended, Ham mentioned goodbye and walked out of the banquet corridor alone, sobbing all the way in which to the bus ready to take him house. Ham’s spouse and daughter lingered a bit longer on the corridor, tearfully embracing the North Korean family they have been simply attending to know.
Later, outdoors the lodge, Ham, nonetheless in tears, waved each palms from contained in the bus as his brother got here out to see him off. The bus slowly rolled out of the resort and headed again to South Korea.
“I had informed myself, ‘I will not cry, I will not cry,'” Ham mentioned. “However I exploded with tears.”
Observe Kim Tong-hyung on Twitter at @KimTongHyung
On this Aug. 23, 2018, picture, Ham Sung-chan, 93, watches items he obtained from his North Koran brother Ham Dong Chan throughout an interview at his home in Dongducheon, South Korea. After almost 70 years of a separation pressured by a devastating 1950-53 battle that killed and injured hundreds of thousands and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South, Ham and his North Korean brother solely bought a complete of 12 hours collectively. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)
On this Aug. 23, 2018, picture, Ham Sung-chan, 93, watches items he obtained from his North Koran brother Ham Dong Chan throughout an interview at his home in Dongducheon, South Korea. After almost 70 years of a separation pressured by a devastating 1950-53 battle that killed and injured hundreds of thousands and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South, Ham, 93, and his North Korean brother solely bought a complete of 12 hours collectively. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)
On this Aug. 23, 2018, picture, ID playing cards of Ham Sung-chan, left, and his spouse Kim Hyung-ae for the Separated Household Reunion Assembly are proven by Ham throughout an interview at his home in Dongducheon, South Korea. After almost 70 years of a separation pressured by a devastating 1950-53 battle that killed and injured hundreds of thousands and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into North and South, Ham, 93, and his North Korean brother solely bought a complete of 12 hours collectively. (AP Photograph/Ahn Younger-joon)