Meet some friends outside my building at 2pm, and catch a bus to the War Memorial Museum of Korea. Although it's not something I'd usually choose to do on the last day of the Fast, this year's Fast has been anything but usual. I've been five days in a state that's technically still at war and feel compelled to learn more about it.
The museum is flanked on both sides by tanks, planes, helicopters, missiles and anti-aircraft guns, some of which you can climb on top of or explore within. I'm surprised to find the majority of visitors are Koreans with young kids.
Entrance to the War Memorial Museum of Korea, Seoul
We set up a free guided tour and are paired with a Korean-American lawyer who just returned to Korea with her husband's work. We opt for the 90 minute tour on the Korean War, and are joined by a group of five French students studying in Seoul. Once the slight bias is accounted for, the exhibit and tour proves highly informative, and revives my faith in the UN - over 25 nations from all five continents participated under the auspices of the UN between June 1950 and July 1953. Curiously, there's no exhibit on the Japanese occupation. It's made clear however that Korean students are thoroughly acquainted with the facts in school.
Following an afternoon at the museum, we take a taxi to Seoul Square, where the Baha'i Naw Ruz celebration is set to start at 6:30pm. It's a buffet style dinner with over 60 guests from Seoul and surrounding areas, followed by a program including music, prayers and performances by the local youth. Many of the friends are curious to know the situation in Japan and assure me their prayers go out to the people of that land. I can tell the Koreans feel great compassion for Japan, and throughout my time in Seoul I've seen dozens of groups fund raising for various charities and relief organizations. From what I've read about earthquake and tsunami relief operations and the nuclear power plants, the situation is gradually improving. I sense this tragedy is providing a rare opportunity for healing and international understanding and cooperation between the nations.
Celebrating Naw Ruz with the Seoul Baha'i community was both brilliant and completely unforeseen. I had been looking forward to celebrating with friends in Tokyo, and now feel like I've abandoned the entire Japanese community, and failed some kind of simple test - do I serve humanity during a challenging time, or run for my own protection? I feel like I ran.
At the same time I do feel like I'm here for a reason. I feel like the earthquake shook me up and out of whatever spiritual-psychological rut I was in, and put me directly on a path I'd been too timid to pursue; namely, finishing my tour of the Far East. Attachments to the future which had earlier preoccupied my mind at once completely vanished. What I do six months from now is of relatively little concern.
The MCs, Seoul Baha'i Naw Ruz Celebration
Playing True or False Trivia, Seoul Baha'i Naw Ruz Celebration
Snippet from a youth performance, Seoul Baha'i Naw Ruz Celebration