The Han of Being Kyopo -or- Korean, interrupted…
I’m taking a crash course in Korean. Han is not one of the words on my vocabulary list, but I’ve known Han all my life.
The Korean poet Ko Eun describes the trait as universal to the Korean experience: “We Koreans were born from the womb of Han and brought up in the womb of Han.” Han connotes both despair at recognition of past injustice and acceptance of such matters as part of the Korean experience.
The Television show The West Wing also referenced the trait in Episode 5.4 (entitled “Han“). The episode concludes with Bartlet, the President of the United States, realizing his own personal understanding of the esoteric concept; “There is no literal English translation. It’s a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there’s hope.”
As part of the Korean Diaspora, the over 160,000 children sent abroad for adoption, it is natural that we, too, carry Han with us, deep in our souls.
Recently on the K@W (Korean Adoptees Worldwide) board was the following post:
The words Kyopo <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_diaspora> and Dongpo
are general terms that refer to Korean-blooded people who’ve lived the
majority of their life outside of Korea. The “literal” meaning of Kyopo is
derived from the Chinese characters “KYO” – meaning vagabond or wanderer and
“PO”-meaning placenta where one can translate this to “leaving the mother’s
The Kyopo adoptee, therefore, was born in the womb of Han, forced to leave the mother’s womb and sent abroad as vagabonds and wanderers.
Han has been, for me, like the kryptonite fears of Superman. Again, from wikipedia:
When Superman followed the time trail of a piece of red rock that weakened him, he was able to trace his origin back to Krypton for the first time
Soon I will return to my mother country. Soon I will learn what it is to live literally in the womb of Han. This kryptonite that handicaps me here in the United States – will it be my source of strength in Korea? Is it the key unlocking my origins, my sense of place, my identity?
I always thought of Korea as a coarse place, a rugged, inhospitable place. In all things, it seemed less refined aesthetically than Japan; less diverse than China. I would look at photos of Korea in the Lands and People geography encyclopedia of my youth and be disappointed it wasn’t as cultural as Japan or as historically rich as China. But now. Now I am beginning to think of Korea differently.
Just their word for greeting, for instance, is so civil, has such depth and meaning: annyeonghaseyo, which translates literaly to, “are you at peace?” I am beginning to appreciate the rough-hewn nature of their aesthetics, which are boueyed by an esoteric sensibility forged from persisting against all odds. There is nobility and beauty there. That, despite fighting off continuous attack and colonization by marauding hoards throughout history, being almost continuously on the defense in a state of seige, they choose to greet one another with, “are you at peace?”
It’s a profound question, a good question, one that instantly makes me care about those I am sharing this troubled Korean experience with.
I have hope.