Landing in Gwangju at sunset, 23 December 2017, looking west at Yeongsan River and Boeing 737 engine. The people of this region, 'the cradle of civilization in Korea', have been repeatedly invaded and suppressed, and invariably pushed back. Under the Japanese, and then Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee, South Jeolla Province became economically and politically marginalized, its people the butt of jokes. Nevertheless this pocket of South Korea, and particularly Gwangju, played a central role in resisting colonialism and authoritarianism. I have Han Kang's novel Human Acts on my lap: I have traveled to Gwangju for this, for Kang's agonizing exploration of the ghosts of 1980 Gwangju Uprising, for her brutalized and inconsolably sad survivors Eun-sook, Jin-su, and Seon-ju, who I can't get off my mind.
This is what I thought was my farewell taxi ride to Gwangju Airport. Memories of my stay weaved through my thoughts as I looked out the car window. As it turned out I had to return to my hanok guesthouse as I forgot my laptop. I was having coffee and a sandwich in the airport snack bar when I made the chilling discovery of its loss. There was no lock on the door of my hanok room, so before going out that morning to buy gifts I had hidden the laptop under a big wooden cabinet. The second taxi ride was a nail biter as there was more traffic and I came within 30 mins of missing my flight.
On my third day in Gwangju I climbed a small mountain to get a better perspective of the city. It was raining on and off, and just after I took this photograph the clouds burst and I got soaked to the skin. Near the bottom of the mountain was a shelter, and in it was a young couple cooking bulgogi on a camp stove. They offered me a cup of hot rice wine and a bowl of bulgogi and it warmed my body and my soul. The man's name is Yeoung Jin-yim. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and that evening he wrote and said 'You seemed so cold because of the rain. Travel well and be healthy'.