Tuesday, November 23, 2010

North and South Korea

A lot of people have expressed concern over the recent attacks from North Korea. I'll be honest, I don't know much about it. I don't have cable so I don't watch the news on television and I've only skimmed over a few news articles on CNN.com. But let me start off by showing you this picture.

I don't live anywhere near where the attack happened, but that doesn't mean people are not stirred up and anxious about it. Everywhere I went yesterday (restaurants, banks, stores, taxis) the news was on. I talked to many of my older students yesterday to see what they thought about the incident and it truly broke my heart to hear what they had to say.

I suppose I've been oblivious to the crisis these people are in. I have absolutely come to adore South Korea and its people. They are so kind and generous, seemingly unscathed by their neighbors to the north, primarily because we don't talk about the subject. It puts a pit in my stomach that these remarkable people may be in danger and they have to live in fear of what may happen.

Whenever I go into a class, I always ask "How are you today?" and I usually get the response "I am happy," or "so-so," but yesterday many students told me they were scared and angry because of what had happened. I have heard and read reports of South Korea being attacked but this is the first time I was in the country and got to see the reactions for myself. They cursed the north and their fear tactics, they told me their parents were angered and saddened, they told me they cried when they heard what had happened.

From what I've seen so far, South Koreans are very proud of their country. I think it angers them that their own citizens, even if it's a small number, are being killed and injured at the hands of North Korea. They explained to me that the rich in North Korea are very rich while the poor are very poor. They mourn, in a way, for the North Korean people. They talked to me about wanting the country to be reunited as a single Korea again, but that wouldn't be possible because of the corrupt leadership.

Because think about it. What if war broke out in America, for some reason or another, and every state west of the Mississippi River was one country and every state east was another. If you had family to the east and you lived on the west side, too bad. You can't see them again. No communication, no meetings, nothing. You become a victim of circumstance and you lose loved ones because of it. It's hard to believe that several families in South Korea have relatives north of the border and they might never be able to see them again. Could you imagine it? It makes you so grateful for all your freedoms.

So what's going to happen now? I have no idea. Will South Korea retaliate? Who knows. I'll continue to watch the news and be aware of any changes, but I don't necessarily feel fearful that I'm in any danger. Apparently attacks from North Korea are an annual event, it's something these people get used to. And that's what breaks my heart. The fact citizens living in South Korea know they are under possible attack at all times. One student told me that the Korean war is not finished, it's just stopped. No one won, no one lost. Perhaps the only way to "win" this war is with a reunited peninsula, but I'm not so sure that's ever going to happen. Families might be divided by one miniscule border for the rest of their lives.

If I'm in any real harm, I'm sure I'll be able to leave the country to return home, but I don't foresee that happening. I think perhaps the part that really upsets me is that even if I do return home, free of harm, what's going to happen to the Korean people living here? They don't have a safe haven to flee to. Where will they go? I told several students they and their families could come stay with me and they got the most ecstatic, hopeful looks on their faces (even if it was half way joking). But in all honesty, I would let each and every one of them stay if they needed to.

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