A Visit to Saemangeum
by Desiree Vea

In June 2005, Nial Moores (Birds Korea Director) and Park Meena (Person responsible for National Membership) were asked to organize a two-day Birds Korea educational program at Saemangeum for 20 hand-picked high school students from Hawaii, as part of a longer tour to South Korea (see: July 1 2005 entry on Birds Korea: Saemangeum Reference Page).

All the students were asked by the PAAC coordinators to write a daily journal as part of the experience. One, Desiree Vea, typed up some of her journal page to share her thoughts with us. As someone who has already become active in a wide range of issues in Hawaii, we wish her all success at university in New York and beyond, and thank her for giving us permission to post her journal entry on our site.


Journal Entry, Desiree Vea

Wednesday, June 26, 2005

"Sometimes people can get so caught up in what they're doing that they develop the “I” problem, and everything around them doesn't seem as important as what they want, or what they think they need or must do. I don't blame those who get caught up in their own life because it's so easy to think about they want instead of what others want. These past two days have been like that for me, and I feel like I've missed out on everything, on life. Luckily the gods smiled upon me and knocked some sense into my head. Today I was blessed with a messenger; the message being- “There are more important things on this earth; things that need your care and support. Listen! And stop being so self-centered.” The message, though quite rough, was necessary, and gave me a kick back to reality.

This morning I met a man named Nial and a woman named Meena. Nial talked to us about tidal flats, what creatures live there, and how they contribute to the overall ecological system. Then he began to talk about Saemangeum and the Saemangeum Reclamation Project. He spoke about the creatures and people who depend on the 400 square kilometers of tidal flats; he spoke to us about the reclamation project, the building of a 33 kilometer sea wall to separate the sea from tidal flats and shallows created by the Mangyeung and Dongjin Rivers, and how it's destroying the plant and animal life that the tidal flats support. He also spoke about the local fishing village and the hardships they are experiencing due to the project. I began to tear up because it reminded me of Hawaii, Kauai, and the different development projects which threaten the plant and wildlife. I began to remember the small town of Koloa where I grew up, and how the building of time-shares and condominiums has caused it to grow and become impersonal- I don't know my neighbors anymore. I imagined the beautiful mountains and open fields of Hawaii gone, in its place development. As Nial and Meena finished the presentation and we started to get ready to visit Saemangeum together, I was left with a feeling of sadness.

When we arrived at the tidal flats I quickly got off the bus, I wanted to keep close to Nial for I was very interested in the mudflats and what knowledge he had to share with us. At first I was disappointed, I couldn't see anything, but then the tidal flats came to life and we saw birds, crabs, and mudskippers. I've never seen a mudskipper before- they looked like quite interesting creatures. It was so peaceful as we walked and observed Saemangeum - I enjoyed it greatly. There is something so beautiful and special about life and nature.

After lunch we had a local resident speak to us about Saemangeum and then his feelings about the reclamation project. It seemed to be a subject which he felt strongly about and you could hear it in his voice and see it in his facial expressions- yet through the translation his feelings and passion must have gotten lost. Shifting my eyes between him and Lara (the tour-guide/translator), I got mixed messages - Lara tended to smile and giggle, while his face was full of sincerity and seriousness. I guess I wasn't the only one who noticed the difference, for Meena interrupted Lara and gave her interpretation of what he was trying to say. As Meena spoke she began to choke up and I began to feel what I felt through his eyes while he spoke.

When we left the restaurant to board the bus I caught up with Meena and told her how much I appreciated her interpreting for us, and how I felt that sometimes emotion gets lost in translation and how emotions are so vital to portraying the overall message. I hope Meena understood how much what she did means to me. Lara is a great tour guide, but sometimes I wish she would translate emotions.

When the bus stopped, we got off and walked to the tidal flats. The flats were bare, the water gone. We took off our shoes and experienced the mudflats close-up: it was amazing. Every step I took I was worried about stepping on a creature; they were everywhere. Lara was adorable and I enjoyed watching her play with the creatures and dig in the mud - the mud felt so nice and cool between my toes. As I stared into the miles of open mudflat I remembered a story I was told as a child about a fisherman who spared a fish and was told when the tide would be out; it had a sad ending for the fisherman gets greedy and dies because he does not go back to shore when the fish says so. For a few seconds I stopped and thought about when the tide was coming back in; then I began to walk back with everyone else.

Our last stop was at a high school. It was nice. They greeted us by performing traditional drumming and we in turn shared with them a hula. Then they had students greet us in both Korean and English. When that was finished we were surprised by a questions and answers session. I don't know how it happened, but Joey and I somehow ended up representing our group and stood in front asking and answering questions. Joey and I took this opportunity to ask them about Saemangeum, like ‘how were they affected' and ‘if they were, or are, participating in the protest.' Joey and I were kind of disappointed. It seemed like they just didn't know what was going on or they didn't care. In either case, it was sad, and we felt that it didn't have to be that way. I began to think - maybe we can educate them or motivate them. I also thought that maybe some people were embarrassed to speak up - many people are afraid of publicly speaking or drawing individual attention.

I left the school wondering about the future - what happens to a future that no one really thinks about till it becomes the present?

Today was a long day, but very enjoyable. I leaned a lot and experienced a whole array of feelings. I just wished there was more I could do - I wish those students were more involved. I have many wishes…"