Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Don't fret: North Korea's got shells but South Korea's got Seoul.

As many people have seen and heard through media drama, there is growing tension between North and South Korea this week; paramount to this situation was the shelling that occurred on Tuesday. Sadly, two South Korean soldiers died in this incident, and perhaps other North Korean casualties.

In my opinion, this is not going to be a proponent to battle. South and North Korea have been at war since the 1950's and, sadly, will likely continue to be at war for years to come. The media is creating an image of all-out war zones from an incident that, although horrible and destructive, did not have any major effect on our day-to-day routine.

I don't want to ignore the potential severity of this situation, nor do I wish to make light of the fact that there are families grieving for the loss of men who laid down their lives to protect this country, as well as thousands of displaced South Koreans who fled Yeonpyeon island and the two civillians killed. However, I'd like to discuss two points of view: that of the Koreans (not all the Koreans, of course; but those I talked to this week), and that of the foreigners. As you can imagine, our reactions-- although nervous at times-- are much more satirical.

When my co-teachers and I discussed the shelling today, there were mixed emotions. A couple of my co-teachers seemed legitimately concerned.

"You should go home to America!... Can I come with you? My family is only three."

"We don't need to sleep in your house! I have a tent."

Although these were said in jest (I think), it was strange to see my co-teachers show serious concern about this issue. So I nervously laughed and changed the subject.

I also took the opportunity to ask Mr. Woo, my 'Korean father' about this incident while her enjoyed his afternoon coffee with me. This led to a really enriching discussion about the relationship between the people in North and South Korea, and for the first time I got a closer insight into the way Korean people view the North. In essence, they are sad that their people are divided. The following is paraphrased from our discussion today:

"When I was younger, I visited North Korea one time... I had hopes we would become one country again and this expectation grew bigger and bigger. Over time this turned to disappointment. Now when I think about North Korea and our people my mind becomes sad and serious. Before I die I hope we are reunited. That is my hope and wish." 

Hearing Mr. Woo talk about this made me realize what a hole many Korean people must feel in their culture. It is like a family divided. The people of North Korea are not bad; many times in the US we mistake the citizens of North Korea for being the enemy, when it is the opposing government (and leadership) that is the cause of war and strife. In the US we also may not feel that same sense of unity because we are such an ethnically-diverse population. In Korea, there is so much history and unity through ethnicity. To have half of that missing... it weighs heavily on these people's minds at times.

According to Mr. Woo, there are plenty of South Koreans who do not share this view for economic reasons. Sharing government with North Korea would be a huge hit to their economic standing (which has progressed exponentially in just decades). So, as with many other important issues, it depends on who you ask.

The same goes for us waygooks. Today the internet was filled with fear, anxiety, frustration and humor from foreign teachers trying to make sense (or jokes) of the North Korea attack.

Here's one person who decided to make it clear to everyone just how far away they were from the shelling (thanks waygook Chris Morin):

Another entertainment I found was everyone's escape plans. A foreigner networking site procured a thread entitled, What to do if North Korea attacks. Here is one of my favorites:
"I've got my escape plan sorted... I don't think I can rely on my embassy either and heading into Seoul [as I think] that's the main place NK would bomb. So, I'd head straight down south and catch a ferry to Japan. I wouldn't think Seoul is a good place to run to especially if you live out of Seoul think about the traffic congestion the craziness at the time.
That's my plan, or you can choose to stay behind and stick it out and round up all of the Koreans with their weapons set up a plan of attack... Rambo, Arnie, Predator, Kungfu hustle, Terminator style.
I think I've watched too many action movies...but hey [it] could work."
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  1. it is interesting what mr. woo said, it reminds me of 'promises' - that documentary of the children of the palestine/israel conflict. when the children met they realized they were just fearful of each other for no reason and in the end they just wanted to get along! stay safe!

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