Across The Table

28 11 2010

It’s happened twice since I’ve been here: while walking down the grey cracked sidewalks of Ilsan, loud sirens go off from speakers I can’t seem to locate. The sound is persistent, layered with a voice speaking something I can’t understand. This is a fire drill, a practice run for the military men who may have to take action against the invading North. Further down the city blocks I can see traffic being held up and there are large military trucks parading from east to west. The streets are not clear of pedestrians, but I take notice: people are moving inside.  Now that Lee Myung-bak has put South Korea on high alert it has become clear that the drills were not some kind of performance display, but an actual symbol of readiness should the situation call for action. It was impossible to ignore this week the escalating tensions surrounding the peninsula; particularly because China and the U.S. have become pseudo PR firms representing the two nations. Resonating Cold War politics, North and South Korea seem merely in the middle of a geopolitical tug-o-war, where the South, a country which has blossomed into a highly advanced technological society, has the most to lose. And yet, many Koreans seem absent from the situation.

I sat on the floor of my tutors home in Paju, the closest province to the border of North Korea. The powerful aroma of kim chi floated in from the kitchen where she carefully poured our soup. I asked her how she felt about what had happened on Tuesday. She set various colors or green, yellow and red side dishes down on the low wood table. As she positioned herself onto the floor across from me, I could see that the question had washed over her. In silence I mixed a thick burgundy sauce into my rice. Like religion, politics and money, was speaking about the North and South conflict offensive etiquette at the lunch table? After a few moments she spoke. In far fewer words, she expressed sadness for the families who had suffered, but insisted that she was not afraid, not at all worried about the North’s claim to be on the brink of war. She poured green tea into a ceramic cup. I listened. She expressed her wish to see the North and South unified; rooted in genuine concern for those suffering from hunger and disease just north of her clean and quite city.

The general attitude following Tuesdays’s shell shock on Yeonpyong island, was surprisingly apathetic. The kids came marching in like usual, the administration chirped coffee talk rhetoric occasionally citing the news from the event. My immediate reaction followed suit. As a guest in this country I try my best to do as Koreans do, which on Tuesday meant continuing on with my work. According to CNN News, there was a relative level of panic in Seoul following the artillery display: people rushing to get home to loved ones; ready to move if need be. But the city hardly missed a beat. Retail stores didn’t lock their doors, schools didn’t send students home, family restaurants were open for business. The next day was just the same.

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2 responses

1 12 2010
Sebastian

It must have been a strange but scary day; glad to hear you’re OK. Just remember to take cover if you hear a jet airplane noise that starts to whistle as it gets closer, it’s probably a mortar or a missile ;).

2 12 2010
whitneybutler

Ha ha ha, I’ll keep that in mind!

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