Class­mates cel­e­brat­ing 60th birth­day among miss­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By YOUKYUNG LEE in Mokpo, South Korea As­so­ci­ated Press

Kim Jeong-keun woke up on his cabin bed to find out his friends had smeared lip­stick on his face while he had been asleep, a prank hark­ing back to their school days.

The 60-year-old Kim took it in good spir­its and washed his face. Af­ter all, they were trav­el­ing to­gether on a re­union voy­age aboard The Se­wol, cel­e­brat­ing their birth­days and re­mem­ber­ing good old days from their el­e­men­tary school in In­cheon, where the ferry de­parted on Tues­day evening.

Within hours, the 17 for­mer school­mates were fight­ing for their lives as the mul­ti­story ferry be­gan to list. Only five of them, in­clud­ing Kim, have been res­cued.

“We gath­ered once ev­ery three months. When we met last time in March, some­body sug­gested a trip to cel­e­brate our 60th birth­days to Jeju,’’ Kim said from a hospi­tal in Mokpo, where he was be­ing treated for a frac­ture in a rib bone.

In South Korea, as in many other coun­tries, 60th birth­days are of­ten cel­e­brated as a mile­stone in one’s life­time.

“We wanted to make some mem­o­ries with old friends,’’ he said, re­call­ing the lip­stick prank and the funny char­ac­ters his bud­dies drew on his arms while he was sleep­ing. One of his friends took a pic­ture of him and sent it to him on a mo­bile phone, but it too was lost as the ferry flipped on one side and sank in cold wa­ters.

Four­teen people, in­clud­ing five stu­dents and two teach­ers, have been con­firmed dead, 282 are still miss­ing and 179 have been res­cued. There were 475 people aboard, in­clud­ing 325 stu­dents on an overnight school trip to Jeju, a tourist is­land. They were from Dan­won High School in An­san, which is near Seoul. Kim’s group came from In­cheon Yongyu El­e­men­tary School.

For Kim, who works in the food busi­ness, it was his first sea jour­ney, and his first big trip since he trav­eled to China on a plane a decade ago.

He said that his 12 miss­ing bud­dies were like broth­ers and sis­ters to him — they’ve re­mained close for about 50 years, meet­ing reg­u­larly, mak­ing plans to­gether and car­ry­ing their child­hood friend­ship into old age. They had been plan­ning a much big­ger over­seas trip in the fall, this time with their spouses.

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