It was the spring of 2085 and it was Soo Yun Kim’s birthday. She was ninety years old, but to a stranger she would have appeared to be not a day over sixty. She still lived alone in her spacious top floor unit, did all her own cooking and went for a three kilometre walk each and every day. However, today on her birthday, her unit was full of her children, grandchildren and an astonishing number of great-grandchildren.
The festivities were over and Soo Yun was reclining in her favourite chair near the window where she could look out over the city of Pyongyang. It was a prosperous city now with many fine buildings and the centre of government of the northern most province of the Republic of United Korea. She was surrounded by a group of her grandchildren and some of the older great-grandchildren who were pressing her to tell them the story of the Great Spectacle and her part in it. She had told this story many times before but her family never seemed to tire of it. After her usual reluctance she allowed herself to be persuaded and began.
“It was many years ago when I was just a young girl at school. As you know, our country then was divided into two and Pyongyang was the capital of North Korea which was ruled by a family of dictators who were always called, “The Dear Leader.” Well it was going to be the dear Leader’s sixtieth birthday and the government had decreed that a magnificent spectacle would be put on to celebrate. As I was a member of the National Gymnastics team I was chosen to lead our school in its involvement. There were to be nearly one hundred thousand school children involved just from Pyongyang and many others bussed in from other centres.”
“We had to practise every day for two hours as well as attend school as normal. Then on every Saturday we all had to go to the National Stadium for a joint practise. Our school was given large red flags that we had to wave as we danced back and forth. After each practise our political teacher would remind us what a privilege it was to perform for The Dear Leader.”
“I still had to keep up my practise for the gymnastics team as in the July of that year a group of foreign business people had been invited to our country and our team had to perform for them. When they left one of the women left her jacket behind on her seat. I knew it was wrong but I had never seen such a nice colourful coat before, so on the way out I put it in my gym bag and took it home. I was so scared that I would be arrested that I hid it for many weeks before I was game enough to look at it properly. Inside one of the pockets was a magazine. It was in Korean and was a weekly news magazine from the South. It was full of wonderful things that I had never even imagined or dreamt about. I read it over and over and then passed it to my best friend at school. It was eventually passed around to most of our school and then given to another school at our weekly rehearsal. Later I learnt that it had been copied and read by nearly every school child in the country.” “Eventually the great day arrived and we were all assembled in the Stadium. Row upon row of us with red and white flags. The stands were packed with workers who had been brought from their workplaces by bus. The Great Spectacle was ready to begin. I felt so small, so insignificant, amongst such a vast crowd. It was December and bitterly cold but we were told that we could only wear our usual uniform. We waited and waited for The Dear Leader to appear. After about an hour an announcement was made that he was not coming as it was too cold, but that the performance was still to go ahead”.
“As we waited in the cold I thought of the freedoms that were enjoyed in the South that I had read about in the magazine and how nice it would feel if I could put on that nice warm coat I had at home. Then I thought of the cold cramped one bedroom unit that I shared with my parents and three brothers. The two hours only of TV each night, the rationing of electricity to just eight hours a day and the frequent disruptions to the water supply. How anyone who complained vanished and was never heard of again. Then a picture of our political teacher came into my mind telling me how lucky I was.”
“That was enough. This was not right. I laid my flag on the ground and walked off towards the exit. As I was leaving the Stadium I looked behind me to see many others doing the same. That was the start of the movement that saw the youth of our country join with the workers to create a new beginning.”
The children were about to ask Soo Yun to continue when there was the sound of a band playing the national anthem and they all looked out the window to see a huge crowd gathering in the street below the building, many holding placards that read, “Happy birthday Soo Yun the first female president of a United Korea.”
Soo Yun turned to her family and said, “Well, that was twenty years ago, but it is nice of the people to remember. To finish my story, if you know something is wrong then it is your responsibility to do something about it. My story also illustrates how powerful the written word is and that one person can make things change.”
“The laying down of our flags on that day was the true spectacle.”