In 2004, Green Korea United (GKU) and 14members of GKU in China examined the current situation of pollution around the Tumen River by walking from the main stream of the river to the summit of Mt. Baek-Doo (250km).
Eearly summer of the Tumen River showed mountains and rice fields full of green and seedlings swaying gently in the breeze in rice-plated fields. It was a very familiar scenery that a plowing-cow followed a farmer. Streams which surrounded mountains reminded us a secluded mountainous district of Young-Wall, Kang-Won province.
At 개산툰, we encountered the Tumen River for the first time. Hoping to dip our hands into the water, we ran towards a levee. However, we could not. We were dumb-founded by the unbearable stink and enormous amount of the waste-water that was released by 개산툰 chemical textile pulp factory. Underneath the drains, a lump of chemical waste was decaying, and dark brown or purple-colored waste made the river seemed as if it was colored.
We walked to the upper stream of the river with not only weary legs but also sore heart. Up above the hill where we could have the complete view of Musan city, the Tumen River looked so gray as if trucks of charcoal werer stirred in the water. Musan mine was irresponsibly letting stone dusts which were left behind after the extraction and flowed into the river. Mountain ridges around Musan city were shaped in the form of stairs. On the layers, dozens of bulldozers were busy excavating iron ore from the open-air mining.
According to Kim, Il-Kyong whom we met in Insudong, where the stone-dusts water had flowed down since 1969. At that time, the Tumen River was as blue as the crater lake on Mt. Paektu, and fresh-water mussels and eels were as many as the gravels underneath the river. People have not been able to find them ever since 1973. Pollution in the Tumen River is making the nearby inhabitants’ lives even tougher. Hur, Bu-Ok(56), whose family has been farming for generations near the river, said that the water of this river could not be used for farming any more because it filled the rice-field bed with stone-dusts, with a sigh. In the past, the whole district was full of farming. However, the water is polluted and unavailable now. Right next to Mrs. Hur’s field, there was a pile of stone-dusts shoveled from farms around. If these dusts settle down and make the ground hard, crops would lessen because rice plants wouldn’t be able to root themselves properly.
When we were about to be disillusioned by the doubt that we could finish our trip with nothing but gray water, we witnessed the overflowing vitality and hope of the Tumen River on the 6th day. On the bank of Mt. Paekdu, there was the Tumen River revealing its crystal clear water in the midst of primeval forest of 천혜. We shouted but in silence. However, when we took the second visit to the Tumen river area last year, we couldn’t believe the scenery we saw. For the sake of cultural development,
the upper stream of the Tumen River and valleys of Mt Paektu were under construction for a four-lane road.
At that moment, the most important thing for China was economical development. China was developing at an incredible speed. From remote mountain villages to cities, activities for money were continuing. And Korean-Chinese tribe, one of several minorities living in China, were not exceptions in the middle of transformation. At the place we stayed, we met countless Korean-Chinese living in worries whether their husbands, wives, or children who went out to earn money in Korea would be not arrested as illegal immigrants.
The sad fact is that the breaking down buildings in every Korean-Chinese village were all schools. Kim, Woong-Ki, the principal of Beak-Gum elementary school explained the devastated situation of education in the village. “In 1992, we had 150 students. Each year about 20 students left school every year and now there are only 78 students are left here.” “Last year, the number of newly enrolled students was 9, but this year it was zero. Besides, one must go to Yongjeong area if he or she wishes to continue his or her study at a higher level. But the half of the graduate students cannot afford the tution fee, thus they end up with only elementary graduation certificate. The admission fee for higher education is about 1000 (160,000), which is too much for a farming village household to afford. On the contrast, there was a memorial tower in the center of Bukheung Huimang Elementary School playground saying that one Japanese donated 4,000,000 yen.
Right now, GKU Yenbian, the only environmental organization situated in Yenbian, is helping the elders and children in that are to learn about preserving the environment. In fact, many Koreans visit the Tumen River and the Mt Paektu for a sightseeing, and tourism development and health tours are devastating this area.
Every year, GKU visits the Mt. Paekdu and the Tumen River, and studies environmental preservation in the area with keen interests.
Just like the song ‘A rowing-boatman in the blue the Tumen River’, one of Korean elders’ favorite songs, the Tumen River stays blue in our heart. However, there is nothing blue nor a ‘boatman’ in the Tumen River right now. It lost its blue color 30 years ago. However, we can only hope that it will stay just as blue and romantic as it did 30 years ago.
There are Korean-Chiese who leave their living place and the Tume River, which are so polluted and of which water can’t even be used for industrial use. However, there are also people who stay there and strive for their better lives and the Tumen River.
We are waiting for you who can help students at Baek-Gum elementary school and a senior club in the village.