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Friday, August 13, 2010

Pacific Rim Park, Jeju

Aug. 13 (Jeju Weekly) Seafarers and historians alike know the Pacific Ocean frequently fails to live up to its tranquil name. Sailors on its surface often encounter storms and its waters and surrounding land masses have borne witness to many conflicts and the loss of countless lives. The Pacific Rim Park Project hopes to foster understanding and goodwill in the region through the creation of friendship parks, the sixth of which, named “The Stepping Stones of the Pacific,” was completed on Jeju Island in early August.

During an intensive one-month class, students from Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the Philippines, the United States and Mexico designed and constructed the park under the guidance of PRP founder and president/artistic director James Hubble and PRP president Kyle Bergman. The first park was built in Vladisvostok, Russia, in 1994, followed by parks in San Diego, U.S.A. (1998); Yantai, China (2001); Tijuana, Mexico (2004); and Puerto Princesa, Philippines (2009). “Now we hope to do 41 in total,” Bergman said. “One in each country and every island nation that touch the Pacific. We think it’s kind of a 50-year art project.” “More like 250!” Hubble interjected.

The park in Sangmo village sits on the edge of the ocean just west of Songaksan and adjoining Alddreu Airfield, which was built by the Japanese in the 1930s during their occupation of Jeju. Koh Seong Joon, a professor of politics at Jeju National University, worked with PRP and the Jeju provincial government on the project in his role as chairman of the Jeju International Council.

He said the area is historically significant because of the legacy of Alddreu Airfield, much of which was built with the forced labor of Jeju residents, and other events. It was a site of slaughter during the April 3 Uprising, used as a training center for Korean soldiers during the Korean War and also housed prisoners of war from the Chinese Red Army.

Yet many of the working students on the park came from countries that were in conflict in the past, he said. “For example, to build the park in Vladivostok, Russian and American students worked together in harmony.

“It takes about a month to get done, in which they work together, room together, eat together and form a community with a shared sense of achievement.”

Bergman said the intensity was an important part of the process, which seeks to build community at three levels. One is on a regional scale: “We try to make these connections around the Pacific, ultimately trying to change the myth of a Ring of Fire to a String of Pearls.”

The pearl element was built into the first park and has been added to each subsequent park design. Russia and America had difficult political relationships at the time and the students from both countries were surprised at how many similarities they found with each other, Bergman said. “So the pearl has a lot of significance, it’s connected to the ocean. It started out as the idea of something that started as a point of irritation but turned into something beautiful.”

The second level of community was local, he said. “We try to bridge communities together as we do these as a community project with lots of people involved.”

The third, most intimate level is that of the participants and students. “The people who come together for this are mainly architecture students and a lot of them haven’t been out of their country or have very little outside experience outside their countries, and it’s a way to bring them together for a month and have them intimately connected with each other and have them realize that their cultures and countries have differences but also a lot of similarities.

“If we’re going to have peace in this world it really comes from young people moving forward in the world with a sense of optimism and hope and knowing their neighbors. If they know their neighbors and become friends with international people, war is less likely.”

That sense of community was obvious throughout the project as the 29 volunteers worked side by side on hard physical jobs, whether mixing concrete by hand, breaking rocks or laying paving stones. Even those with poor English skills when the class began on July 11 had improved by the completion ceremony on Aug. 7 and their colleagues, whom most described as now “family,” helped with any communication difficulties.

Tomohiro Iko of Shizuoka, Japan, a graduate student in International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, was filming the process and managing the blog. He said he saw the project as a small proof that with a common goal, people can overcome their difficulties.

“If the world can find a common topic to fight against,” he said, “there will be peace.”

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