If you've been paying any attention at all to the news recently, you are probably aware that North Korea is looking increasingly more guilty in this whole battleship situation. There's talk--mostly from Western media sources, I find--of another Korean War. I think that most of the coverage has been slightly sensational (sample headlines from TIME recently: "War on the Korean Peninsula: Thinking the Unthinkable," "Why South Korea Has to Live in Denial," "S. Korea, China Meet Amid N. Korea Tension," *ect.), but the complete severing of all trading between the North/South is worrisome, admittedly. Don't fret over me though: I'm registered with the U.S. Embassy here/know the evacuation plan (Stan):
Area 1, throw your hands up
When I first got here, I was kind of shocked by how carefully the majority of my Korean friends avoided the topic of North Korea/reunification. At first, I honestly found what I perceived to be their complete disregard of the issue to be extremely naive/ignorant on their part...in America, current events/political issues are a part of everyday discourse with everyone I know, and it was extremely bizarre to me that none of the Koreans I knew were really that interested in talking with me about Kim Jong Ill/the North.
Fast forward ten months, and I now know for a fact that these things are talked about here, too. People here avoid uncomfortable topics like politics/religion when talking with friends/co-workers not because they aren't interested in them, they're just trying to avoid losing "face"/not question the way society is ordered/question institutions that are not easily changed a la Confucius. Koreans talk about stuff like this in the relative privacy of their homes--in front of their children, who come to school and parrot back to me what their parents have been telling them.
The Korean word for "North Korea" is 북한 (buk han) which was taught to me by my bombastic 6th grade student, James. James is jaded in the way that only sixth graders whom are too cool for elementary school have become--he drops f-bombs, frequently tells me how bored he is in class, and is a big fan of shouting out random English phrases like "IT'S DELICIOUS" and "DO YOU LIKE SOMETHING ABOUT ME?" (which I have to pretend doesn't completely crack me up). James likes to talk about politics, the dialogue of which usually goes something like this:
James: Teacher, 북한 crazy! Kim Jong Ill (insert twisted, crazy facial expression here) CRAZY!
Me: Yeah, I know...
James: Kim Jong Ill...bombs...North Korea, South Korea DIE! (uses fingers to mime a shooting missile directed at his chest, upon impact with the finger missile pretends as if he's been blown up) BAM! HEADSHOT!
Me: Oh no! But it's okay! U.S. Army, Korea Army, very strong...
James: Teacher, South Korea, U.S.A. Army, U.N. fighting North Korea...but North Korea, China "please help me," China, North Korea "F*CK YOU!"
(pretty accurate foreign policy summation, if you ask me)
Me: I know! Terrible!
Though the dialogue with my students is kept pretty light-hearted for the most part, I know a lot of them are also scared of what may/may not happen. Uijeongbu is the frontline to the North, and American Blackhawk helicopters have been doing buttloads of flyovers these days. I have to say, I find myself forgetting that a few weeks ago, I was thinking about whether or not the U.S. military presence here was justifiable--I have slight symptoms of what I call the "Toby Keith mentality". WE'RE THE U.S., AND WE'LL PUT A BOOT UP YOUR ASS KIM JONG ILL
For the meantime, I'm just trying to be as much of a distracting English clown as I can for my students...only time will tell how this all plays out...
*As per usual, The Korean has the best run down of the "situation" as it stands here.