Highrise: Digital Storytelling
By Kim Minji
Thanks to the internet network, I visited a woman’s home in Istanbul, Turkey. The woman, Durdane, is a benevolent looking lady in her late thirties or early forties. Her apartment is a bright cozy place with lots of personal items. She seems to like red very much, as most of her apartment features it. Sofas in the living room are covered with reddish satin, and there are blooming red roses printed on the curtains. Even the wooden cupboard is coated with dark red paint. Yellow warm sunshine is passing through the window and shedding light on all these things in the room.
This was such an unexpected scene to me, because I happened to imagine Turkish life as a tough, solid one, with rooms covered by grey concrete, walking on a bare cement floor, and scenery with a lot of dark muddy color in it. However, Durdane is living a warm, cozy life with her favorite furniture and friendly neighbors who enjoy tea and pastry with her. Maybe my image of Turkey was distorted because of the many Social Studies classes in Korea that depict Turkey as a chaotic, unhappy region. Just by a simple glance, I hastily judged that those images were nothing but a mere prejudice.
That said, soon after I realized that I was wrong again. Durdane seemed to maintain her life more happily than many other people in the world, but she hides many painful memories under her brightness. She was parted from her son when her he was just 10 years old, and he is now living in Germany. She always keeps her son’s letters near her, and rereads them again and again. Also, her parents were dead before growing old because of the departure to Germany. All these harsh consequences owe themselves to a common Turkish reality; some members of a family often have to depart to Germany and work there to support their loved ones. During this time, many separated families, just like Durdane’s, came into existence.
As well, her reminiscence about the past of her hometown reveals further grim details about Turkey. Her hometown was originally the “gecekondu”― which refers to an area of self-built squatter homes. At first, people dwelled in this area by hastily building up their own homes. Most were only one-floor with a small garden. However, after the construction process began to add stories to the buildings, apartments were dominant over the area. These apartments were mainly built to make money by saving it, so there aren’t many safety guidelines that are essential to saving lives in a disaster. These buildings do not have the earthquake proof system despite the fact that Istanbul is right on the line of an earthquake zone. To add to this, the process to make more stories to gain more money is still ongoing, and those apartments only grow more frail and weak. Unfinished structures are revealed outside the building, and cement walls are bare. It is certainly not a sufficient place for Turkish people to live a safe and cozy life.
Durdane’s life formed a complete contrast to my own. It was quite a shock to me knowing that many families have to break apart to make their living. A plane reminds me of great pleasures, such as my last vision trip to Europe or a family vacation to Guam. In contrast, it is a huge symbol of sorrow made of steel for Durdane.
Accordingly, though Koreans had the time of hardships just like the current situation of the Turkish village, I was born after “the miracle of the Han river” which brought Korea huge economic growth. This means that I've had no experience suffering harsh conditions, and never lacked a stable safety system or a proper shelter. Durdane’s story of squatting reminded me of the current situation which many people around the world are still struggling through to secure a better life.
Although Durdane’s life had few things in common with mine, I could see some aspects of my life in her routine. The Turkish tend to place their tea table right at the front stoop, which is a very unfamiliar style to Koreans who mostly keep their table deep in the house. However, Durdane’s act of maintaining a great relationship with her neighbors and considering them as her own family is also a general propensity of most Koreans. I could see myself making milk tea and cookies for my friends when they visit my home, sitting together around the table, and talking to each other at Durdane’s front stoop.
As well, as Durdane is reminded of her own childhood by the copper plates, I can look back upon my own childhood by my old teddy-bear. Unlike Durdane, I had no sisters or brothers, but there is no doubt that childhood memories have a significant meaning to everybody. My teddy, “Bosong”, has been with me since I was a 5 year old kid. I took “Bosong” everywhere; the playground with my kindergarten friends, elementary school classes, ski trips with my parents, a vacation to Europe in middle school, and so on. Now my sweet teddy is worn out, but she has all of my childhood memories inside her fluffy cotton. When I see her eyes, I feel like I’m traveling back to my childhood. I’m quite sure that Durdane is sharing the exact same feeling with me when she is looking inside her cupboard.
Now, I want to share some of my own world. At the inside corner of my desk, there is a box full of tea. Unlike many friends who enjoy coffee, I like to drink tea with full milk. After “Honjoung” time (the evening snack), I carry my mug and a tea bag to the cafeteria to get some hot water. We can’t have hot water from the water purifier installed in every dorm floor. I add sugar cubes to make the tea sweeter, and pour milk in. A cup of milk tea at night is a smooth pleasure.
Inside my closet, there is a small leather suitcase with lots of traveling stickers on it. I made it myself. I used a delivery box as the structure and glued brown leather fabric over it. Many visitors ask me where I bought it, and are surprised when I tell them I made it. I really like to make things.
Right next to my laptop, there is a DSLR camera. I take a lot of pictures with it. I photograph my routine, my roommate’s routine, outside the dormitory, events such as school parties, and objects that I want to maintain the presence of. I used to draw things, but I have few tools with me to facilitate art in the dorm. Instead, I started to take pictures. I cannot simply judge which form of expression I like better.
Outside my window, there are two school buildings, the school ground, the highway, and mountains. I lived in a large city, but I moved into the dormitory because of my school. Still, it is very strange to look out at the mountains and huge sky, an uninterrupted sight without any disturbance of high-rises. Maybe our dormitory is the only thing that intercepts the view of the sky around this area. I sometimes miss my parents very much. They are living in Busan, a big beautiful ocean-side city 6 hours away from here. I will make a call to my home tonight.
The life of the Turkish woman, Durdane, is clearly different from that of mine. She was forced to break up with her family while I have no such misfortune around me. I am living a happy life in a safe house, but Durdane and her neighbors have to repair their houses to create and maintain a suitable dwelling. At first, these obvious differences made me think that maybe Durdane and I might never be able to understand each other. However, as I explore through her highrise story, I feel some virtual interaction between us through the flat screen. Her harsh reality was equal to Korea’s severe past. Through her storytelling, I realized that my cozy world is built on the pains of my parents and my grandparents, and I should appreciate their struggle to escape from the inferior situation. Thanks to Durdane, connecting with her story was a very meaningful experience for me, and not just a simple exploration of another culture, but rather an in-depth investigation that made me think of my origins. From such a woman, there is valuable life wisdom to be gained. I would be honored to make Durdane Korean style tea if she were to visit my highrise someday.