Eunji Ban – “Because it’s you”

I wrote this story in May 2014 for Korea Today. They don’t have their content online and it was a very personal story so I have finally got around to posting it here. I originally posted an opinion piece here the day prior, and as I was on the train from Brisbane after the memorial, the editor of Korea Today emailed me and asked to use the photographs and accepted my much nicer tribute. I’m glad that I wrote this version of it in addition to the original because this story paints a more beautiful picture and really brings me back to this moment.

“I never knew Eunji”

by David Lyonz.

I’m sitting around in a park at midnight listening to Korean music. That’s not exactly an unusual thing for me since Korean music is one of my favourite things in the world. But I’m not completely alone. There are at least three of us.

I’m here watching a possum (that’s like a squirrel for you non-Australians) sitting nearby eating some bread I’ve thrown to him. I’m also laying on the grass beside Eunji Ban’s memorial which was unveiled today. I know she’s here because as I lay in front of her memorial stone, I can look up, and in a tiny square between the tree branches, a bright star is shining right in the middle and I know it’s shining for her.

I’m listening to “Because it’s You” by Davichi, covered by the wonderful Hannah Cho, looking up at the stars high above the Brisbane city skyline, while two possums sit eating bread so close to me that I could reach out and touch them. I know possums adore bread because when I lived in the hills of Brisbane they used to sneak into my house all the time and tear into my loaves of bread right on the kitchen table. One of them comes right up to me, begging for more, literally sitting on the edge of my iPad bag and looking at me. I throw him a quarter of a slice and he picks it up in his tiny front paws, looks at me, and then scurries back a meter to eat it.

I’ve been listening to the same song on repeat for about an hour now because unusually, it’s the only Korean song I have with me right now. I just think that Eunji would love this song so it seems like the most appropriate thing to play. The possums don’t seem to mind. They become so brave that while one sniffs at my shoes, another comes right up and nibbles on the corner of my iPad screen while a third, and even a fourth sit nearby nomming pieces of bread that I’ve thrown out for them. Within a short space of time I realise there’s five or maybe six possums sitting around me eating my loaf of bread. I know they’re wild animals and you shouldn’t feed them, but I think tonight is special, and I wonder if Eunji ever got this close to a possum. I guess if she’s watching she’s probably thinking “awwww, so cute !”

At first I was sort of angry that she’d even come to Brisbane thinking that it was a place of safety, beauty and peace, only to die so tragically. But laying here in the park well after 1 o’clock in the morning looking at the stars and the city and the natural beauty of the local wildlife coming in for something to eat I think that maybe I’m being unfair. Maybe she saw the beauty here that I can’t see anymore. Maybe she loved the beautiful parklands that I have seen being enjoyed tonight almost exclusively by young South Korean couples. I suppose that for her, this was a place of wonder and mystery and strange creatures in the same way that I would be equally as fascinated if I visited Seoul or Incheon or one of the cities in her country.

I’ve placed my Buddhist bracelet on top of her memorial stone which is surrounded by flowers. It has a small metal charm on it in the shape of a circle with a square in the middle. In Buddhism the circle represents heaven so I have put it there to symbolise her ascent to heaven.

I never knew Eunji, nor did most of the citizens of Brisbane, but that was surely our loss. I am doing this not because I knew her, but because I wish I had known her. I wish I’d known why she came here and what she saw and what she found beautiful. Like the half-dozen possums sitting around her memorial, sniffing at the floral tributes and eating most of my loaf of bread. As I look upward I see that the stars have moved from earlier in the night and I now see the Southern Cross, emblem of Australia’s flag, framed clearly in the sky between the trees. If she was Buddhist then there’s a bracelet on her memorial stone, and if she was Christian then there is a cross of stars hanging in the sky above it.

Even if I never met you Eunji, somehow, sitting in this park as the chilly early morning cool sets in, I feel closer to you in such a way that I can finally see this city through your eyes. Laying here beside your memorial, only a short distance from where you died, you have shown me something I forgot a long time ago… how Brisbane can be beautiful. It’s tragic that you died as you did, but at least you came. At least you saw it. And at least you reminded me of what I had forgotten years ago. I hope you are at peace. The possums of Wickham Park will keep you company from now on. Your life was not a loss. You came, and you lived and you loved. And you opened the eyes of even those who never met you. And for me, this song will be forever yours. “Because it’s You”.

My photos were also used by the editor in the article above. I have included the full set that I took here.

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