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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Korea link takes concrete form

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hard realities and hopeful aspirations are the stuff of the immigrant experience in America, and they're at the heart of a memorial to Korean immigrants taking shape in central Honolulu.

Rick Towill, owner of Towill Track Tech, hoses down a sculpture commissioned for Pawa'a Park to mark a century of Korean immigration to Hawai'i.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Two rough-hewn granite boulders tinged a rusty hue catch the eye of people driving or walking past Pawa'a Park, bounded by King, Ke'eaumoku and Young streets.

The more monolithic, 7-ton piece on the 'ewa end symbolizes Korea, said artist Bou Chan Park. The second, 5-ton granite boulder resembles Diamond Head. Along with the polished pyramids of black granite scattered nearby, it represents Hawai'i, Park said through an interpreter.

The work will be dedicated Jan. 13 as a physical testament to the ties of history that bind Korea with the Islands, ties that are now a century old.

Jan. 13 marks the centennial of Korean immigration to Hawai'i — the first stop in their journey to America — and Hawai'i is the focal point for a year of celebrations commemorating Korean culture. The observance actually began with a series of preliminary events last year, becoming bigger with every passing month.

Donald Kim, who has been chairman for all the planning, wanted something that would last long after the hoopla is over, something with more visual impact than a plaque or slab.

"I thought it would be more interesting to have an art piece outdoors, something we're desperately lacking in Hawai'i," Kim said.

His family is paying the estimated $150,000 cost of the installation. Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi, who chairs the centennial cultural events committee, bird-dogged the arrangements, from the selection of artist to permit approvals.

Park came to the national centennial committee's attention, Murabayashi said, because he had been commissioned to create the memorial for the No Gun Ri massacre, in which U.S. troops killed refugees at a South Korean village early in the Korean War.

Although the artist will return for the Jan. 13 dedication, Park went back to Korea on Saturday, where he is a professor retired from Kaywon Art College near Seoul. Before leaving, he donated a smaller sculpture, a depiction of a Korean laborer that was installed quietly last week in Pu'uiki Cemetery, where Waialua plantation workers are buried, including those of Korean ancestry.

The sculptor cast the cemetery piece in a realistic style, but centennial planners said they were pleased with the abstract approach used in the Pawa'a piece. The centennial memorial is mounted on a concrete foundation surrounded by a sea of white stones representing the ocean.

The rough boulder surfaces are finished only with oxidation through a treatment applied by Park "in order to show the hardship that immigrants encountered," Murabayashi explained.

The rocks are set off with bronze elements chemically treated to produce a green patina. The one nearest the Korea boulder suggests the shapes of plantation tools and a laborer bent over; the one nearest "Diamond Head" evokes a sail swept skyward in a tribute to immigrant hopes for the future.

All the pieces are linked visually with another green bronze, a circle that unites Korea with Hawai'i.

Originally the committee discussed putting the work in Foster Botanical Garden, Murabayashi said, because the Palama area was a hub for the first wave of immigration. But that proved impractical with garden renovation plans, she said.

Kim said city parks officials thought the Pawa'a location would be ideal.

"Foster is away from the tourist center," he said. "A city park is an ideal place to be. A lot of Koreans lived there in the past, and a lot of Korean businesses are there now, too."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8053.