About the Author
View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Families from North and South Korea on Wednesday bid an emotional farewell following three days of reunions at the DPRK’s Mount Kumgang resort.
A total of 185 North Koreans and 197 South Koreans, comprised of 89 reunion applicants and 108 companions, participated in a total of 12 hours of meetings beginning on Monday – the first of their kind in almost three years.
Wednesday’s final round of reunions — held from 1000 and 1300 — saw families tearfully say goodbye and express their hopes to meet again, according to the Joint Press Corps at Mount Kumgang.
The 88-year old Kim Byeong-o — who had reportedly stayed silent for much of the morning — began to sob after seeing his 81-year-old sister Sun Ok and 38-year-old grandnephew Kwang Ho.
“Brother, don’t cry. You shouldn’t cry,” Sun Ok said holding his hands.
During the first day of reunions on Monday, Sun Ok — a doctor and graduate of Pyongyang Medical College — expressed her hope that she could live with her brother after unification.
“Let’s live together, even if just for one minute, before we die after unification, brother,” she said.
77-year-old Kim Chun Sil and 71-year-old Chun Nyo from the North wept after seeing their 80-year-old South Korean brother Chun-sik again on Wednesday morning.
“We can meet again only when we live longer,” Chun-sik said, breaking the silence.
99-year old Han Sin-ja, aware that this would likely be their last meeting, gave advice to her two North Korean daughters, 72 and 71-year-old Kim Kyong Sil and Kyong Yong.
“You should eat a lot of food like glutinous rice as it’s nutritious,” she told her daughters.
“I’ve been praying that both can live happily, Kyong Yong and Kyong Sil. You should keep it mind… that I’ve been praying that my granddaughters and sons can live a happy life.”
Kyong Sil and Kyong Yong became tearful after listening to the story.
“Please, stay healthy,” Han said, asking her daughters to remember that she prays for them. “My wish is that both stay healthy and live long.”
The 91-year-old Lee Gi-sun, who was separated from his son Kang Son when he was just two years old, had hoped to find out if his son was also fond of alcohol.
The two quietly drank soju together.
Following the meetings, the South Koreans took a bus to cross the inter-Korean border where their North Korean families see them off.
They will likely never see their relatives again.
“If we are able to visit each other, I want to bring you to my home, feed you and make you gain weight… Please come to my house and have a meal together before you die,” 92-year old Shin Jae-cheon told his 70-year-old North Korean sister Kum Sun.
He said Kum Sun lives in Kaesong while he lives in Gimpo, adding the two are only about 40 minutes’ drive apart.
“Gimpo is not far away from Kaesong. The day of unification should come as soon as possible,” his sister responded.
Separated families from the two Koreas took photos together and shared addresses and phone numbers.
Before his final meeting with 86-year-old brother Yong Son and 79-year-old sister Yong Ae, 81-year-old South Korean Kim Yeong-su said it hadn’t yet “sunk in” that it would be their last meeting.
“But I think this would be my last time to meet them as they are old. This is the one thing that has been weighing heavy on my mind,” he said.
82-year-old South Korean Bae Sun-hui said she was thankful to have met her sisters, the 87-year old Sun Bok and 75-year old Sun Yong, although she felt sad ahead of the last reunion.
“I hoped to meet my sister who was born one year after me and with whom I squabbled a lot when we were young, but I’ve heard that she passed away last year,” she said regretfully.
Sun-hui said she couldn’t recognize her younger sister because her face had “a lot of wrinkles.”
“But I can see some traces of childhood features from her face after meeting her for several hours yesterday and the day before. I am grateful for meeting them even for three days.”
Seoul on Tuesday announced that the participants would have an extra hour of reunions, following the North’s acceptance of a proposal from the South to extend today’s meeting for two to three hours.
South Koreans were previously scheduled to be reunited with their North Korean relatives six times for a total of 11 hours over the three days, including a three-hour private meeting yesterday.
A second round of reunions will be held between Friday and Sunday, during which 83 North Korean applicants will meet South Korean family members, according to the unification ministry.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Blue House/ Joint Press Corps at Mt. Geumgang