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A day of security men, shocked visitors, mindless taunts, hope & despair and an irate Korean official…
Personal account of the London Korean Festival by NoToDogMeat campaigner Audrey Connor.
As soon as I heard about the London South Korean Festival I was so outraged I immediately booked my return bus tickets for the 850 mile round trip. I simply couldn’t believe it – a country that routinely tortures dogs and cats being given a platform to promote itself in Trafalgar Square? Pretending to be a modern nation that decent people might want to visit? I was also so incensed that I fired off an angry email to London mayor, Boris Johnson demanding to know how he can justify allowing this country centre-stage in our capital city at any time, let alone during the heartbreaking horror of the Bok Nal Dog Soup “festival”. Tragically, many of us are only too aware of the horrific cruelty suffered by our furry friends during this annual mass slaughter. Defenceless dogs – some former pets – tortured by people who believe that the more these animals suffer, the better their meat will taste, and the more health benefits they will gain from eating their tortured flesh. I doubt it is possible for a lie to be more wicked and more preposterous.
This was my second such trip to London on the overnight bus. I had never attended a protest in my life until last month when, at the age of 54, I was driven to undertake the journey to hold banners aloft and shout at the top of my voice outside the South Korean Embassy at Buckingham Gate. The distressing images of puppies trying to climb out of pots in a futile effort to avoid being boiled alive and dogs with their mouths tied shut being cooked alive with a blowtorch were keeping me awake at night. The monsters carrying out this viciousness cannot possibly have a heart, a conscience, a soul.
So I packed a few essentials in my rucksack, then headed into Glasgow for the overnight bus to London hoping to catch some sleep en route. A couple of laughing young girls got on and one of them took the seat next to me.
“Are you off on holiday to London?” I asked, chattily.
“No, we’re going to the Korean Festival.”
Thinking I had quickly found an ally I said, “Oh, great, I’m protesting too.”
She looked at me blankly so I mentioned the hideous wickedness of Korea’s dog meat trade.
“Well, we’re going to watch a pop group,” she sniffed. “Anyway, other countries eat dogs as well,” she added dismissively as if somehow two wrongs made a right. Awkward journey ahead…
I arrived bleary eyed at Victoria Bus Station, freshened up as best I could, grabbed my city map then set off in search of Trafalgar Square. This famous London landmark was sectioned off with partitions emblazoned with colourful photographs of Koreans in national dress, flag fluttering in the breeze against a blue sky and the proud proclamation “London Korean Festival 2015”. I was many hours too early for the rendezvous time with my fellow campaigners. A lone voice of protest, I sat on a wall at the entrance in the hot sunshine wearing my No To Dog Meat vest and clutching a small, homemade placard showing my revulsion at Korea’s dog meat cruelty. A queue had formed and a group of six local girls were at the front. Buoyed by the safety of their number and egged on by each other, they began to taunt me, calling me a racist and a “stereotyper”. I told them this cause has nothing to do with race and asked them if they had pets at home. One told me she had a cat. “Do you know that in South Korean kittens are boiled alive in a pressure cooker to make cat juice?” I asked. “Well, it’s not my cat,” she snorted. To say I was stunned by her heartlessness would be an understatement. They proceeded to ridicule me, mocking my compassion saying I was one person and they planned to eat as much dog meat as they could find. “Well, I hope you choke on it,” I concluded, perhaps a tad uncharitably, as I realised there was no point wasting another breath on selfish idiots.
I wandered around the event passing stalls where visitors could try on traditional Korean costumes and paused at exhibits by LG and Hyundai. In the background, guitars twanged as a band rehearsed on stage. A stand sold Korean food and I wondered, they wouldn’t dare, would they? The realisation that I would not be responsible for my actions were I to find man’s best friend on the menu stopped me from approaching the vendors. Well, I had to be at work on Monday – not appearing in court! A female English-accent voice boomed from the stage welcoming everyone to the Korean festival saying we are all friends and what a great day was in store. Perhaps not such a good day if you are fur-coated, four-legged and live in their homeland, I thought.
Finally, the troops arrived and it was a relief to see support in the shape of No To Dog Meat activists and Korean Dogs campaigners. We formed a procession along the edge of the Korean bunting where we unfurled our banners, held placards and posters and handed out leaflets. There was even a poignant shrine to the slaughtered dogs. I was chatting with a fellow supporter when a London Bobby approached us. Oh no, were we going to get a telling off, even arrested? Far from it, rather than getting out his notepad, he produced his mobile phone, proudly showing us pictures of his beloved dog. No words were needed; we knew we had his support.
Some of the campaigners had brought their dogs with them and visitors to the event stopped to stroke our pets.
“Do you know that in South Korea two and a half million dogs are tortured and slaughtered every year?” I would ask. My intention was to raise awareness, not to upset people but many were visibly shocked. Clearly they had no idea of the depth of depravity and horror inflicted on defenceless animals by the nation that was hosting the event they were attending on a sunny Sunday in August.
I’m pleased to say that many attendees approached us, asking to sign petitions, requesting copies of our literature. In fact, the overwhelming majority were appalled and disgusted and couldn’t believe that such evil exists in the 21st century. I spoke to a few young Koreans who were friendly and welcoming and insisted that they personally had never eaten dog. Indeed, a few had pet pooches of their own. They, too, were keen to sign petitions to bring an end to this barbaric business in their homeland. I found their attitude encouraging. Sadly, my optimism dwindled somewhat when an older lady supporter showed me her poster highlighting the dog meat trade – she had kept this picture for twenty years… I thought of the pain and agony of millions of helpless dogs butchered over the last two decades and I wished with all my heart that we could do more.
Security turned up – at the behest of the South Korean organisers I assume. Apparently, our presence was not welcome and we were told to leave. I asked what law we were breaking and was fobbed off with the excuse that we were at an organised event so couldn’t hand out leaflets. I said we would stop giving the leaflets but he still demanded we leave as our T-shirts displayed slogans.
Undeterred, we amassed at the entrance which actually made our task easier as we were able to speak to tourists as they waited to get in, that way, we didn’t miss as many people. Perhaps the organisers realised they might have inadvertently done us a favour. Without warning, we were confronted by an extremely angry South Korean woman who ranted at us that our dog meat protest had brought embarrassment and shame to her country. Mission accomplished, then madam!
Never in my life have I wished to intentionally offend, shame or embarrass any person or nation. But until South Korea outlaws this unspeakable cruelty, I will continue to speak out and write letters to politicians demanding action. I will plead with celebrities to add their name to the cause, send emails and correspondence to Ban Ki-Moon as well as to South Korean politicians. I will post on facebook appealing to everyone to boycott Samsung, LG, Hyundai, Kia, Daewoo, etc and I will spend every spare moment tweeting to raise awareness.
On my earlier trip to London, when we loudly protested outside the Korean Embassy getting toots of support from passing motorists, I went into the reception and asked to speak to the Ambassador, or at least his PA. However, as soon I’d answered the young Korean man’s ‘what’s it regarding?’ I was told that I would have to make an appointment.
“I’ve telephoned this embassy five times over the last couple of weeks,” I told him calmly. “I’ve left messages and my phone number at your press office and I’ve emailed twice. Nobody has bothered to return my calls or reply to my emails. So now I’ve travelled all the way from Glasgow.”
I was told to take a seat and he would see what he could do. Sometime later he called me over saying both the Ambassador and his assistant were too busy but if I left my mobile, he’d ring me to return later in the day. That was weeks ago and I’m still waiting. Sometimes I try not to think of the suffering inflicted on South Korea’s helpless dogs. But deep down I know my efforts to find peace of mind are doomed to fail until the powers that be in this country outlaws this barbaric, merciless savagery once and for all. Our fight still has a long way to go.