Thursday, December 22, 2011

Six Days Later

The sun is really shining this morning. It’s Friday in Korea, and Monday's news has interrupted the other blogs I still need to post. I'm getting around to it, I promise. In the meantime, since there is some curiosity as to what is going on in Korea, I thought I might mention a bit more.

On Monday afternoon while I was trying to finish up work so I could go have lunch, the reports started to role in that Kim Jong Il had died. I waited until there was confirmation from at least three other news sources to believe it.

I was sitting with the Irish and we were about to have lunch, so a quick discussion ensued.

“What happened?”

“Kim Jong Il died.”



“What should we do?”

This was a pretty reasonable question because, sitting in South Korea at the moment, a moment that many world leaders have had high-end think tanks trying to work out for years, was suddenly very uncomfortable.

So, I called people. I was trying not to freak out, but it was kind of freak-out news.

“I want to run into the street and tell every foreigner I meet the news,” The Irish said. It was that kind of news.

A quick call to the Kiterunner brought no new news.

“I left my bailout bag at home. Bad day to do it.”

“You think the shit is going to hit the fan that hard?”

“Probably not, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep your passport on you for the next few weeks. I’d put in water and some food to.”

“Yeah, we will stock up on that.”

“Anyway, you guys have much less to worry about, that far south. Much closer to the bailout point if it comes to that.”

The bailout point was Busan to Japan and then to America. It was a route we went over every couple of years just to be sure.

After the phone calls we went to lunch. Life in Daegu was pretty much normal. Then we went to a movie, which seemed like a good way to distract from the news.

The next day I was talking to my business partner and I asked what his wife thought of all the goings down, her being Korean and all.

“Mostly she couldn’t understand why there was nothing else to watch on TV.”

The Korean on-the-street reaction is about the same. For the most part, people just didn't care that much. We knew it happened, we knew it was important, and the South Korean government was taking some flack for not knowing that Jong Il had died on Saturday, but other than that, things had gone smoothly.

Since the transition to Kim Jung Un’s regime was holding up, everyone just wanted to remain calm. It seemed that Jung Un’s first official act as head of the military was to have the military stand down. The morning of his father’s death troops were ordered to basically stay put and pulled back a bit from the border. There could have been a number of reasons for this, but the primary one appeared to be to prevent defectors during the transition. South Korea expressed its condolences to the people, something that did not happen when Jong Il’s father died which increased tensions for a while.

In all, Jung Un’s control of the military seems firm. The unofficial but reliable source in North Korea is saying that Jung Un does not have an iron fist, his youth being part of the problem. Instead he is sharing power with a cabal that includes his elder uncle. However it also looks like the younger generation is beginning to move into power gaps to shore up Jung Un’s control in the country and legitimize his claim a bit more.

The North Koreans are mourning. The screaming, shouting, falling down, that can all be pretty typical of mourning; even in South Korea we see that kind of display. In the North the rumors that many are faking it to prevent themselves from being disappeared; is most likely true.

Interestingly enough there has been absolutely no word from the US Embassy to those of us living in South Korea, which means that either the Embassy doesn’t think it’s that big a deal, or doesn’t want American citizens freaking out and jumping the country for any number of diplomatic reasons. It’s hard to say.
I’m trying to sort out work things and watching the moves China makes closely. Since China is the only country that has real diplomatic relations with NK, they are a pretty good predictor. At the moment they are expressing condolences, and imploring everyone to remain calm. Until further notice that is what I’m going to do.

With my passport on hand, of course.

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