Chan-wook Hwang Interview


October 6, 2017: During holidays or birthdays, the people you miss the most are your families. Today, I share the story of Hwang Chan-wook, whose father was abducted by North Korea during the Korean Air hijacking of 1969. To this day, she yearns to see her father again.

Hwang Chan-wook’s father was a TV producer working for South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC). After spending a few days in Gangneung to finish a Christmas broadcast, Hwang’s father boarded an airplane to return home. No one knew that was going to be a flight that would forever take him away from his family. He was 32 at the time of his abduction.

Hwang Chan-wook says that her mother still has not forgotten her husband. Separated overnight, Hwang’s mother spent decades waiting for her husband’s return as she raised her two children all by herself. Now in a frail state of health, she is looked after by Hwang’s older brother while living in a nearby nursing center. Hwang herself lives in the UK, having married a British colleague from her old workplace in South Korea. Currently living in Coventry with her husband and two sons, Hwang works as a counseling therapist for expats who carry pains similar to her own.

Q: How old were you when you were separated from your father?

“Ha… I have no memory at all. I was only one hundred days old. My brother was three…”

Q: When did you first learn about your father’s abduction?

“When I got older, I read an old newspaper article about the incident. It had a photo of my mother carrying me on her back, frantically visiting TV stations to find out about my father. The description above the photo said: ‘Where is my father?’”

Q: When did you first realize that your father was not coming back?

“Oh dear, I had no idea. Growing up, my mother and relatives always said that my father was working in the U.S… I think it was right before entering elementary school that I learned the truth… Until that point, I always believed that he was coming back.”

Q: When you learned about the abduction, did you think you will never see your father again? How did that make you feel?

“It felt really surreal. I was like, what were they saying? I was still young, so I could not express it, but I do remember how I felt. I felt I had lost something really precious…”

Q: How do you feel when you watch inter-Korean family reunions on TV?

“I feel like dreaming. To meet after all those years. Will that also happen to my family? If my father is alive, he would be an old man. How much would he have changed? Just looking at those families made me cry… It was so heartbreaking… Because I totally sympathized with their sorrow, their yearning to meet their loved ones from the North… It made me realize that the Korean War never ended. The two Koreas may have signed an armistice, but I felt this cannot truly be peace…”

Q: Growing up, you must have seen many children holding their fathers’ hands. Have you ever felt anger toward your father?

“I still do. But not with my head. I understand that he is at a place from which he cannot return. But in my heart, I sometime wonder if he purposefully abandoned me… It angers me, to think that I am an abandoned child…”

Q: You already spent decades without your father, observing each holiday without him. Do you still miss him?

“Rather, I feel like there is this empty hole in my heart. Is that what it means to miss someone? I’m not even sure whether it is okay for me to miss my father. I grew up not knowing what it means to miss one’s father…”

Q: You are now a wife and a mother of two children. What do you think a father is to his children?

“Someone I never grew up with, perhaps? An adult who should have been there to shield me from the rain, keeping me from getting soaked… (* Crying *) Looking back, I feel like I was robbed of my childhood. That I never really had a childhood, because someone forcibly took it away from me.”

Q: Do you still want to see your father again?

“If only I could see him in my dream… I may have dreamed about him already, but I can’t be sure… It would be a miracle if I see him again in real life. If only that can happen… Some say that the Korean War is over because there is an armistice… But if the war is over, there should be peace, and we should be able to see each other freely. Why can’t we do that, and why are there so many things keeping us apart? So I felt this cannot be a true peace. So many people were still living with their hearts torn apart by the war. Why isn’t anyone doing something about it, I wondered.”

Q: If your father is listening to this broadcast, what is the first thing you would like to say to him?

“Father, I want to call out to you… Fa…ther. For once in my life, I want to call you my father.”

Each year, as we celebrate holidays, we yearn to see our families, sit with them, talk to them, and feel their warm presence. But for the displaced people, the refugees from the North, and the families of the abducted, there is only coldness of sorrow in their hearts.

Ms. Curie of Germany once said that the only true happiness in this world is to be joined together as a family.

I pray for the day that such happiness also becomes a reality for the families of the Korean Peninsula.

Park Ji-hyun, reporting from Manchester, United Kingdom.

Original article in Korean is available here.