South Korea: Spa mogul reaches out to Yeonpyeong Refugees

Since the artillery attack by North Korea last week on the populated South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which killed four people and turned the island into a ghost town, offers of help for the desperate islanders have come pouring in from everywhere in South Korea.

After the shelling by North Korea devastated Yeonpyeong island, most of its residents fled to Incheon, the nearest city, leaving their homes behind. Luckily, around 1,300 residents who were rendered homeless were given a helping hand. Currently, about 800 Yeonpyeong refugees are staying in Inspa World, one of Incheon's finest spa facilities, thanks to the generosity of its owner, Park Un-gyu. Park has generously lodged and fed the refugees, at his own expense with no strings attached, for over a week. Local newspapers estimate the cost of hosting the refugees to be around 100 million Won (US$88,000). Though donations have been offered to those in need and numerous volunteers and aid groups have shown up in the area to assist, Korean citizens are displeased with the city government's lukewarm response. While Park struggled to host the refugees all by himself, the Incheon city government merely promised that they would reimburse him later for his expense.

According to local media reports, an hour after hearing the news of the deadly skirmish, Park picked up the phone and called the Incheon city government and offered to host the refugees at his facility. Inspa World, a gigantic complex offering a variety of spa treatments, is quite a lucrative business, receiving around 3,000 customers daily on weekends. In order to be able to accommodate the refugees, Park turned away paying customers and even hired extra staff. It was revealed later by local media[ko] that Park had also opened his doors, also free of charge, to members of the coast guard and volunteers who came to the city to handle the aftermath of the Cheonan incident, which killed 46 South Korean marines.

Twitter user @barunsori6, who works in the media, posted an exclusive interview with Park[ko]. In the interview Park said that even though he was delighted to host the refugees, it had been more than eight days and the burden had become a bit overwhelming. Barunsori has initiated the first-ever tweet donation concert to help the Yeonpyeong refugees. Though the concert is not until December 14, donations reached almost 8 million Korean Won (US$7,000) in just three days, and several top singers and celebrities, including South Korean rock legend Kim Jong-suh, have pledged to show up at the event. Barunsori tweeted:

[연평도 주민을 위한 All기부콘서트]모든것이 제작비 0.올기부로 진행합니다. 장소 기부완료,기획진행 기부완료,중계 기부완료, 디자인 기부완료. 이곳에 참석해주실 가수나 연예인분 12월14일 저녁7시30분 신도림 테크노마트입니다. 함께해주세요

[All Donation Concert for Yeonpyeong Residents] Everything is purely based on people's donations. The concert location has been donated, the charity event production has been donated. The live transmission service—donated. The design—donated. Any singers and entertainers who wish to join us, it is at Dec 14, 7:30 pm at Sindorim Techno mart. Please join us.

One medical community went to Inspa World to do medical volunteer work. Kim Gil-woo posted an article with pictures titled “In Incheon Inspa World, Doctor Kwon Tae-wook and Doctor Lee Dae-hyun have cured 66 seniors in our first round [of volunteer trips to the location]”. The writer of the article, Lee Dae-yeon, wrote:

밖에서부터 차량이 여기저기 혼잡스러웠습니다. 정문을 들어서니 여기저기서 도착한 각종 구호물품들이 곳곳에 눈에 띄었습니다. 들어가보니 촘촘하게 불편한 자리를 지키고 계신 연평도 주민분들이 보니, 저도 모르게 울컥했습니다[…]

[in front of Inspa World] It was bustling with cars parked outside. As we entered the main gate, we saw various relief aids scattered around here and there. As I entered, I was faced with Yeonpyeong islanders who sat there so uncomfortably in such a crowded place. I was suddenly overcome by a strong emotion.

진료소를 차리자마자 1주일이란 긴 시간을 불편한 자리에 계셨던 주민분들이 줄을 서서 접수를 하시기 시작하였습니다. 한분 한분 아프신 곳을 치료해드리다 보니 두시간이 훌쩍 가버리고 점심 시간이 되었습니다. 점심 때는 각지에서 보내주신 후원금으로 마련된 식사를 할 수 있었습니다[…]어느덧 정신 없이 진료를 하다보니 4시반이 훌쩍 넘어버리고, 66분의 환자분들이 다녀가셨습니다. 한편으로는 조금이나마 도움이 되서 기쁜 마음도 있었지만, 생활 터전을 잃어버리시고 찜질방에서 지내시는 주민분들을 생각하니 마음이 무거웠습니다.

When we opened our (makeshift) medical clinic, people who had been living over a week in discomfort lined up and started to be registered. After tending to them one by one, two hours passed very quickly and the it was a lunch time. We lunch on food that people from various places had donated. […] The treatment continued and it was past 4:30pm and we had attended to 66 patients. I felt happiness about the fact that I have helped these people somehow, but also felt gloomy at the thought  that they have lost their home and livelihoods and were staying at the spa.

Many Koreans have expressed gratitude to Inspa World's Park for being extremely generous in time of emergency and for confirming that warm hearts still exist in Korean society.

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