Azaleas, one of the early blossoms of spring time, make me smile back at its wide open pink petals. After the persistently cold winter, the flower buds appear on the branch that endured the winter in between the rocks, which finally come to surface under the snow.
To the city-people, they are just pretty flowers; to me, however, my sentiment towards the azaleas is somewhat different as they refresh my memory whenever I lay my eyes on them. Back in my time, there was a period of severe food shortage called Borit-gogae when the fall harvest from the previous year ran out, which began around the time azaleas blossom. My eyes become tearful, as I remember the time that birthed unfathomable sorrows and painful memories.
Azaleas are one of the most memorable things in my life. Perhaps the azalea is a memory about me. As the remnant of the cold winter’s breeze brush through the flower petals, the painful songs of the azalea begin. Back then, the sorrow of the azaleas was the sorrow of our village, but the now the song of the azaleas is nowhere to be found in this generation. As more and more people are groaning in pains throughout all four seasons instead of just spring, I wanted to make myself known better to my descendants, my disciples and those who cherish me.
The one who fails to know about himself cannot make a beautiful lifetime masterpiece. I have always missed my old hometown that I ran away from, leaving behind Mount Wolsan where the azaleas blossomed exceptionally more. Though only my parents’ graves remain there keeping the old memories, I have never grown out of it.
Sometimes I feel as if I sleep on the memory as if it’s a bed and walk with the memory as if it’s a friend. At times, I am ashamed of my memory, but that is all that I have, nothing more, nothing less. Thus, there is nothing to hide and no I way I can avoid; I am just loving my azalea life.
As I keep reciting quietly to myself “Jin-dal-lae” (which is azalea in Korean), I have found a new spiritual meaning for the flower’s name. “As for the Truth (Jin), I will understand in full (dal) when the day comes (lae)”, and the tears in my heart will well up onto the pink petals of the azalea…
“Father! Mother! I cried as I recalled the memories of the time of year when azaleas blossomed on Wolsan. Brothers! I have not forgotten about the time azaleas blossomed, and do you still remember it too?”
As long as azaleas blossom on the earth, I will not be able to forget what had happened in those times. When I seldom find azaleas on the streets of Seoul, tears well up as a thought flashes through my mind: That flower is me. In the stories of the azaleas there is nothing to brag about. But these stories I cannot forget, and these stories I have to leave behind in this world, which is why I wanted to write about them despite my clumsy writing.
the Preface of ‘Azaleas of Wolsan’