Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy. ― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
Walking on Mapo Bridge of Life
A beautiful walk along the Han in Seoul leads to an unexpected yet eye-opening destination. Our path has exposed a darker reality that’s not so talked about in Korea. We reach the foot of Mapo “Bridge of Life” unprepared for what’s set to appear. Formerly known as Seoul Bridge, Mapo attracts an unfortunate sect searching for that escape from the lives they have struggled through to the point of ending it all. Korea’s suicide problem is an terrible epidemic and instead of pointing fingers or pointing out statistics, we are here to visit a place that’s trying to tackle it through helpful tools and messages.
Everyone talks about the Han Miracle while forgetting about the tragedies occurring here on an almost weekly basis. In a desperate re-branding effort, city officials name the Mapo a “Bridge of Life” to counter this tragic situation. As the Han gives, it also takes away.
It’s a black eye on the face of Korea but as with most problems, marketing campaigns are trying improve the image. The hope is for more unsuccessful suicide attempts through stringent patrols and heightened awareness. If you’re not seen or heard trying to kill yourself, the pictures of family and messages of love lining the rails should make one think again.
Emotions pour out as we encounter images of babies and parents plastered all along the rails. We tag along behind a couple of police officers patrolling the bridge. Friends and family pose for photos but hopefully for just a memory to prove that they’d been there. As some passersby scanned the pictures and read the messages, I hope they’re visiting and trying to understand the “Bridge of Life” effort. Hopefully this isn’t a personal reminder of someone they’ve lost.
Suicide doesn’t just affect the person but also those who surrounded them. It’s the loved ones that get left behind and hopefully the visitors are stopping by out of raised awareness towards suicide. Many have commented on Korea’s “Suicide Problem” and fingers usually point towards the stress, the culture, or the stress that Korean culture imposes on its people. Things might be changing but many people say they won’t. It depends on the person answering the question, is what I’ve found.
Reading the messages and seeing the pictures on the bridge remind me that we’re all in this together. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and neither will pointing fingers in an accusatory manner. Working with everyone to make this life a less stressful one might help reduce those venturing to places like the Mapo Bridge to end it all. We think about this as the sunset peaks to its most beautiful spot.
As the sun fully disappears, we walk back to catch a train and hope that the Bridge of Life, but I know that it can’t be the only solution. Something has to change about the pressure-filled culture that is Korea. It’s not just work but also family stress that pushes people beyond the brink and Mapo Bridge is the most prominent reminder of that. The visit prompted thoughts that Korea looks to tomorrow with hope coupled with caution. The country isn’t erasing the past but trying not to emulate its bad moments. It will always be tweaking things and trying to make the next day better than before.
The Mapo Bridge of Life effort is far from the only solution to the problem but at least it’s a sign that Korea is aware of this troubling situation.
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