Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life Among the War Mongers

So the North Korean drama continues. Always a good time.

On Monday I’m on messenger with a friend of mine. While we live on probably one of the best countries in the world for cell service, most of us still prefer to communicate online via chat. Granted with 100MB internet access as standard it's hard not to want to use your computer constantly.

The chat is a bit like this:

F: Howdy. How are you?

Me: Fine. You?

F: A little nervous about today’s drills, but other than that normal.

Me: Nothing is going to happen. Probably.

This is the nature of the conversation for those of us living here on North Korea. At least for the ex-pats living here. We tend to think about it and follow it in the news a touch more than the average Korean, for whom North Korea mostly ceases to exist unless they do something like sink a ship or blow up an island. When these things happen North Korea becomes a major conversation for about a day. After that, everyone gets on with life as usual.

A few days after the Yeongpyeong bombing (a day that happened to be my birthday) I was up in Seoul leading a teacher training for new teachers in Korea. A few asked me about the North Korean thing, and I have to be honest, because of the joint navel drills I was a bit more concerned that day than usual. I told them not to worry, this is pretty normal. For the most part Korea has not really changed. However there are a few subtle differences.

I noticed while I was in Seoul signs that had not been there before. Signs reminding people that the Koreas were still at war with NK. I saw banners with the names of losses. I decided not to stay in Seoul that night, because if anything really was going to happen it was going to happen Sunday morning when the live-fire joint games began. I was even happier I was not in Seoul when waking on Sunday to read about the massive riots going on in the city.

That’s new.

For me the sentiment on North Korea has mostly changed in this way. Older Koreans were happy to sort of sit back and treat North Korea like an older spoiled brother. He gets his way by being pushy, fine, but he’s so cute, and mostly harmless. Now, however, you have a younger, less patient group of Koreans who have just finished military service and who are, frankly, fed up with their older brother and ready to kick him in the ass for a change. It’s sort of a fascinating shift. But the younger generation has grown up since the end of the dictatorships in South Korea, and hasn’t seen the kind of serious violence their parents generation has seen. They aren’t itching for a fight, but are much less willing to roll over.

The government response of late seems to demonstrate this same attitude. Continued live-fire drills in the Yellow Sea in the same area as the drill that started the first shoot out; evacuating civilians to air raid shelters in anticipation of an attack. Last week we also had one of the largest and most extensive civil defense drills since the 70s. Some of the foreign teachers here were helping to teach the children how to crawl under their desks in case of an attack by the North. Buildings, offices, and entire districts closed for the day for the drill. Good times. Didn’t even notice it at my place of employment, as we apparently didn’t get the memo.

So Korea has been fun at the moment. Aside from the drilling the South has also resumed the over-the-fence loudspeaker propaganda war. They also turned the lit-up large Christmas Tree in the DMZ and have vowed to protect it with extreme prejudice. The defense minister says if NK fires on the tree the South Korean army will destroy the force that destroyed the tree.

At the moment, though, things are winding down. North Korea has redirected their own propaganda machine to announce that it will not attack South Korea and basically publicly saying that all of this is because South Korea is a horrible war monger. North Korea would like to demonstrate just how peaceful it is by backing down. It hasn’t helped North Korea that their allies are also a bit fed up with the bullshit and are not supporting or advocating the way they used to. This will probably result in a return to six party talks, easing of sanctions, etc, and it all begins again.

Later in the evening I’m back online with friend and we talk.

F: How was your day?

Me: Fine.

F: Yep, seeing as how I have not been incinerated today is good.

Me: There is always tomorrow.

Life goes on.