Sim Su-bong’s Roses

It happened this way.  No, it happened that way.  Does it matter which way it happened? Does it matter if a punctilious historian frowns, hauls a book off a shelf, moistens the tip of his index finger as he pages and proves that it didn’t happened this way?  A sad love story is true, any which way.

On the night of October 26th 1979, there was a dinner party for President Park Chung-hee of South Korea.  Five years before his wife, a graceful and well-loved woman had taken a fatal bullet intended for Park himself.  The assassin had been a North Korean.  But on this night Park, a controversial leader with love and hate in his train, had two beautiful women at his side.  Controversial because he had picked the country up economically, but had ploughed through civil liberties.

President Park Chung-hee

In the corner of the dinner chamber there was a curtain partly obscuring the young folk singer with her guitar, a performer that the president particularly liked and whose talents he had enlisted on a number of other occasions. On that night, to express his enjoyment of her music, he had given her a bunch of roses.  Her name was Sim Su-bong.

Towards midnight one of the president’s previous assistants and a former friend, Kim Jae-kyu, walked into the gathering, drew a pistol and saying that he was doing this for the country, he shot Park to death. Calmly, the man then left the venue and went home where he was arrested some hours later.  In the time to come he was executed by firing squad.

Did the folk singer’s guitar clatter to the floor?  Or did she put it down and stare, blinded by the horror at the blood-soaked table, through the screaming women and rushing men?  Did she, through tears, shock and chaos, helped from the room, forget the roses on the floor? We don’t know. Historians are not interested in that kind of thing.

What we do know is that Sim Su-bong went away and wrote a song called A Million Roses.  I listen to it as I write. I have a rough, incoherent translation.  I scratch amongst these fragments – “Don’t have a soul that hates…when I truly love, a rose blooms…Now I can return to the star world that I deeply miss”  Cryptic, perhaps, but not so obscure that one does not sense that she was deeply affected by the assassination, on a level that was more than that of a horrified bystander.  It seems that the music contract with the president was not the only thing between them.  Movies have speculated about the relationship. Koreans are reserved in their comment.  But the song… You don’t write a song of such seering poignancy for no reason.

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.comI look at the CD cover.  It’s a budget CD, not quite so fashionable anymore.  There she is, a face that I would think is late 40’s.  Of course she is in her mid-fifties now.  It’s been 28 years.  The mask smile, girl-like, the young skin and conventional hair style.  Pretty, rather than beautiful.  The music has the same quiet penetrating feel of Portuguese fado.  It lilts, though.  But there’s no mistaking the wound, no mistaking the urgency in this song, the unbearable ache.  One wonders what her life has been since that dark night.

She’s holding a bunch of roses, a dozen or so.

Will van der Walt ©

May, 2008

Image Sources: Pres. Park –, Sim Su-bong – zipstudios

To see and hear Sim Su-bong performing the song with Chang 


4 Responses to Sim Su-bong’s Roses

  1. Jo Koemer says:

    Jou ou kort-kunstenaar!

  2. purple haze says:

    An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I do believe that you need to publish
    more on this subject matter, it might not be a taboo subject but usually people don’t discuss such topics. To the next! Kind regards!!

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