Families in Tears after Confirming Kin in NK - 109-Yr-Old Mother Still Alive

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), July 29, 2000 | Go to article overview

Families in Tears after Confirming Kin in NK - 109-Yr-Old Mother Still Alive


Chang I-yoon abandoned the hope that his mother could be alive in North Korea 0 years ago, and has been performing an ancestral rite for her since then.

Assuming that his mother was dead, Chang, 71, hoped to meet his 84-year-old eldest brother, when he was picked among 200 South Korean candidates for family reunions with their relatives in the North on Aug. 15.

To his shock, however, he was informed Thursday that his 109-year-old mother is still alive in North Korea. ``It's unbelievable that my mother is alive at that age. I feel like dreaming,'' Chang said in tears upon hearing the news.

Chang, who now lives in the southern port city of Pusan helping one of his sons run a small kitchenware factory, was separated from his family in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, in December 1950, when China sent legions of troops to the Korean War.

As the United Nations forces retreated from North Korea, driven by hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops, Chang, who then was attending a high school in Pyongyang, fled to South Korea alone out of fear that he might be conscripted into the North Korean Army. His mother, Koo In-hyon, encouraged him to leave his hometown temporarily.

``I headed for the South believing that I would be able to be back in 3 or 4 d ys. But it was the tragic beginning of a 50-year separation from my family,'' said Chang, who still remembers the elegance of his mother vividly. When they parted, his mother was 60.

Chang recounts that his mother was strong enough to raise her 10 children without her husband. ``She used to narrate fairy tales whenever I fell asleep during my childhood. I feel thrilled at the thought that I might get a chance to see my mother after 50 years.''

``If I meet her, I will first make a deep bow. From now on, I will try my best to offer my filial piety to her,'' said Chang, who got married in South Korea and has two sons and a daughter.

Chang was among the 138 South Korean candidates who had the whereabouts of their relatives in North Korea confirmed Thursday, through the exchange of list of families and relatives by the two Koreas. Chang's 109-year-old mother, the eldest, was included in the North Korean list.

The lists contain a host of heart-breaking stories that have resulted from family separation for half a century.

A South Korean couple in their 80s also confirmed that their relatives are alive in the North. But the husband and wife confirmed their families separately, because they remarried in the South after having their respective marriages in North Korea.

Lee Sun-haeng, 80, the husband, confirmed that his wife and two sons are alive. ``I was split from my family in 1950 near the Taedong River in North Korea while we were fleeing to the South. Because a bridge over the river was cut off, I was the only one who could board a vessel. …

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