ANSAN, Gyeonggi Province ― Tears, sighs and quiet loomed over the city of Ansan after last week's Sewol tragedy left more than 300 passengers dead or missing ― most of them second-year students from Ansan's Danwon High School.
Mourners in black laid white chrysanthemums at the altar set up inside the Ansan Olympic Memorial Museum, where photographs of the deceased students and teachers surrounded by flowers are placed. Several visitors sobbed as they read the numerous Post-it notes that covered the walls, wishing for the safe return of those still missing.
Outside, some of the mourners, tears streaming down their faces, were being comforted by volunteers inside tents set up by relief groups. More than 55,000 had paid their last respects at the Ansan Olympic Memorial Museum as of Friday afternoon.
"Just … come back," wrote one visitor on a note.
"I've lived here for 35 years, and I've never seen the town this dark," said Lee Hyoun-woo, a local historian working at the Ansan Cultural Center.
Residents voluntarily suspended all events that would evoke the slightest feelings of joy or laughter.
"To give you an idea, the adults taking the accordion, guitar and folk song classes at the (Ansan) cultural centre have either cancelled their lessons altogether or postponed them indefinitely," Lee said.
Scheduled festivals in the city are also being dropped. The fifth annual Ansan Valley Rock Festival was cancelled while Buddhists cancelled ceremonies celebrating Buddha's birthday on May 6.