I lived in Seoul for nine months while translating testimonies of “comfort women,” some 200,000 women forced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese military.
I believe that heartbreak is physical, a moment when your hand reaches your heart to brace for impact, to hold it in place to keep from bursting outwards.
To test my belief, I wrapped a heart-rate monitor around my chest to see if I could in fact record physical heartbreak. I found I could, and I did:
heart break data:
My heart, still for 32 minutes, while translating an account of how Japanese soldiers disembodied a girl for refusing to obey. They then piled her remains, piece by piece, into a burlap sack.
While in Korea, I sought to translate three words: Han, Jung, Heung, that have been said to, together, make up the soul of Korea. The people I interviewed: taxi drivers, street vendors, activists, were divided. While some maintained the three were intimately Korean sentiments, others believed the three were intimately human and belonged to all. I agree with the latter and have attempted my own translations here:
HAN (한): the embers of pain, a persisting sorrow caused by injustice;
the story of how We came to be — and who We can become.
HAN is most evident in the pain and resilience of “comfort women” for their ongoing, 70-year battle with the Japanese government to be undeniably acknowledged and memorialized in history.
HAN is often pain without resolution. My father once explained to me,
"HAN forms when the casket closes, because only then do all the ways in which you failed to love come to mind. This pain has no release, so it sits forever, deep inside your heart."
To live with HAN means to dignify our hurt and acknowledge that not all pain can be resolved, but also to maintain hope that we possess the resilience to transform our pain into beauty:
3x5 ft. biodegradable bamboo coffin
Here lies: sprouts grown from seed paper
planted in a ceremony
to bury the dreams that never came to be,
to offer them a chance at new life.