My Years as a Cement Plant Laborer

Hwang Jang Yop's Memoirs - 13
 |  2010-02-04 07:30
When we arrived in Busan, a government official was waiting for us. He checked over the list of names from the police station in Tokyo. Finally, he took us to the train station and put us on a train bound for Seoul. I had not felt that much racism towards us back in Japan, but as soon as we arrived in Korea, the fact that it was Japanese colony could be felt strongly.

The arrogance of those with Japanese swords at their sides could be seen on the train. They looked at us with contempt, though they did not dare to provoke us for we had a high standard of intelligence. They just showed us obvious hostility.

It took almost the whole day to get to Seoul. In February the city was still very chilly, as if the thaw was far away. Military trucks were waiting there at the station to take us to a training center for volunteer soldiers.

“Take your clothes off and pack them so they can be sent home.”

It seemed that these people were finally trying to force us into the army. However, we were not people who would be willing to fight for Japan; I had never once thought of taking up a gun for Japan, although I was not able to reveal my feeling to them, of course.

At the training center, I witnessed how certain families wielded power over the army. Somehow they started to find out where their relatives were located, and there came unending visits from then on. In the end those people whose families had a connection to the Japanese government general all got out. While they were getting out of the army, we went through incredibly harsh training.

After about ten days of training, we were divided into two groups of “drafted laborers;” about 30 went to a cement plant near Cheonnae-ri in South Hamkyung Province and the other 25, including me, were sent to a different cement plant in Samcheok, Gangwon Province.

If there was anything to be thankful for, it was the fact that I could visit my home for a moment. Seeing my parents at home really broke my heart. It was much worse than just a “hard time.” The situation was miserable. My ageing parents were barely surviving, always worrying about food. The delight at finally seeing their son choked them with emotion. Mother was glad to receive my food distribution from the draft, while my father talked about the time when my brother died. He also admitted that he was worried I might turn Japanese, but felt relieved to see me unchanged.

After the short meeting with my parents, I had to catch a train at Seungho-ri Station to go to Samcheok. There were already many laborers coming in from Anju and other places on the train. The only food my mother gave me was radish, which had been buried underground for months; anyway it filled many people’s empty stomachs, not just mine.

Until August 15, 1945, when my country finally regained its independence, I worked as a laborer in Samcheok. At the beginning there were 26 laborers including me, but they started to leave one by one, and only eight people witnessed the coming of independence alongside me.

Laboring for a year and six months did help me in some ways, though. As a student, I had almost never had any contact with other people. I did not know anything about social and personal relations, and it was very awkward for me to express my opinion. But while I was laboring, I had to live with different people from Pyongan, Hamgyung, Jeolla, Kyungsang provinces and so on, so naturally I had to hang around with them. I learned many things.

While in Samcheok, I also tried my best to correct my accent. My comrades all teased me because of my strong Pyongan sound. After trying hard for one and half years, I did manage to correct it a little.

Among the laborers, I was the youngest. Besides me, there were many from the elite, who had studied in Tokyo Empire University, which was the former Tokyo University, Kyoto Empire University, the former Kyoto University, and Doshisha University.
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