2012 (Pilot Project)

What does the national flag mean to you?

With pleasant cheers of encouragement, the audience breaks into rapturous applause as the athletes grandly enter the stadium. Each player has different appearance, different personality, and different background, but they have one thing in common: a small flag on their chest. The reflection of their responsibility to do their best, play fair, and respect other players through the whole game as a representative of each country.

After six years of living in Canada, I noticed I am exactly in the same position. I hope there is no misunderstanding though- I am not an athlete; in fact, I am more of an uncoordinated person who trips over while walking on even ground. What I mean is that especially in a foreign country, my behaviour and words directly affect the image of my home country. For example, if I habitually throw garbage on the ground, my Canadian friend would eventually have unfavourable impression on Korea and might even think Koreans have no manners. On the contrary to this, my small action, like being punctual, can leave a good impression of Korea to other people. Therefore, I concluded, each one of immigrants or travellers is a representative of his or her own country with an invisible flag on his or her chest.

For this reason, the flag of my motherland has been meaningful to me than ever, and I believe it also applies to many of you from other countries. So before getting into the actual stories, I thought it would be necessary to start off with the introduction of what exactly the national flag of Korea symbolizes.

By Various [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The national flag of Korea, “Taegeukgi,” consists of a white background, a red and blue taegeuk mark in the middle, and four black trigrams in each corner. The white background emblematizes brightness and purity as well as ethnicity of loving peace. The taegeuk mark in the middle represents harmony of yin (blue) which means “shadow” and yang (red) which means “light.” More specifically, it embodied the truth of Mother Nature that all things in the universe are formed and developed by the interaction of yin and yang. Lastly, there are four trigrams in the corners, and each of them has its own meaning. The trigram in the upper left corner is known as “Geon-Gwae,” representing sky, spring, east, and benevolence while “Gon-Gwae” in the lower right symbolizes earth, summer, west, and justice. Combining these two, it signifies desire of Korea that the national fortunes become as eternal as heaven and earth. Last but not least, the one in the upper right corner called “Gam-Gwae” symbolizes moon, water, winter, north, and intelligence, and in the lower left there is “Ri-Gwae” which indicates sun, fire, autumn, south, and courtesy. They illustrate hope that Korea always shines like the moon and the sun. Then as a whole, Taegeukgi represents peace, union, creation, brightness, and eternity.

What does the national flag mean to a representative of one country? From my own experience, I think it works as the carrot and the stick; on one hand, it establishes my identity as a citizen of Korea, but on the other hand, it forces me to tread my shoes straight so that I don’t bring dishonour to my country. What about you? What does the flag of your country mean to you?

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