|Four-member homeless band Spring Day performs during its concert at Red Big Space in Seoul in this June 2017 file photo. / Courtesy of We Wish|
By Park Jin-hai
Near Seoul Station passersby sometimes give money to the homeless that roam near the area, but they often just nonchalantly otherwise rush by.
There was a rare event at the former Seoul Station building from May 30 to June 1, where the homeless people could enjoy music at a series of concerts for everyone.
Band Spring Day, comprised of three former homeless people, sang their self-written songs during the three-day event designed to bridge the gap between the homeless and the rest of society.
"Although it was a free concert open for everyone, the homeless of Seoul Station hesitated to step into the music hall at first. But, seeing them wearing the same blue t-shirts handed out to all participants, mixed in with non-homeless people and enjoying the music made me feel like walking on the clouds," said Seo Myoung-jin, a 46-year-old former homeless person and now drummer, of Spring Day, during an interview with The Korea Times at a music studio in Yongsan, Seoul, Thursday. "When they came up to give us high fives and thanked us for reaching out to them, I felt like the purpose of our band has been finally fulfilled."
Formed in April 2013, the four-member band consists of vocalist Lee Dong-jin, bassist Seo, drummer Ku Young-hun and keyboardist Seo Bo-kyung who had been living on the streets.
After Seo Myoung-jin's small family-run book store went bankrupt, he was going between being temporarily hired and getting fired. When he made a mistake at a job, he had to pay for the damages and leave his job with no paycheck. After a while, he gave up looking for jobs and when he couldn't pay for the rent, Seo Myoung-jin started his life on the streets about eight years ago and that lasted for three years.
"For those times, I moved to different places every day looking for free meals. Alone, I realized to the bone that my existence can disappear, not just by my death, but by my being erased from others' memories. I was desperate to do something and then I met volunteers for the homeless and began a new life as a musician," said Seo Myoung-jin.
He practices music with his band members on Thursday and Friday and spends the rest of the time selling monthly magazine The Big Issue, intended to help the homeless become independent at an exit of the Gwanghwamun subway station.
Although the government has expanded financial support for the homeless to support their monthly rent, homeless population has been rising steadily. According to Ministry of Health and Welfare's data released last year, there were 11,340 homeless people in Korea in 2016.
Ku, 52-year-old drummer and songwriter, says he had no will to live anymore. His business went bankrupt during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. He started working as a delivery man to make ends meet but he lost his wife in a car accident on his first payday.
"We were supposed to go on a date that day. After I lost my wife, I lost all hope and stayed on the streets. I overdosed on sleeping pills to end my life but that didn't work either," said Ku.
After two months on the streets, he received help from volunteers and began a new life. He's written songs including "Longing" which speaks about missing his late wife and "Blooming" singing of hope. "Hearing my songs, I cried a lot. But those songs also gave me solace as well."
"People frown upon homeless people and point their fingers. But, what they don't know is that they can also be reduced to become homeless at any time in their lives. I see people throwing coins to homeless, but I think it is ruining their life, not helping them," said Ku. "What they desperately need is not economic help but love from others," he added.
Ku has been working as a volunteer for years now during the cold winters between November and March to visit the homeless, make friends with them and assist them in seeking medical help.
Lyrics of the "Blooming" reads: Oh the beauty of waiting. Life is like an unbloomed flower. A late-blooming flower has strong fragrance and beauty. Like winter waiting for the spring, I'm waiting for my spring day. It's okay if my heart gets pricked by thorns of the world. Because, I have a dream.
Bassist Seo Myoung-jin says his band is one that might have lesser musical prowess but one that sings with heart. "If our songs change just one person's life, we have all the reasons to sing our songs," said Seo Myoung-jin. "Although I might get tired physically, my heart is always full of hope. As we received a lot from others, now we want to return something back to the society."
The band now is planning to release its first album within this year.