In case you hadn’t heard there’s been a ‘spot of bother’ in these parts.
First of all, I should probably let you all know that we are perfectly safe and not in any mortal danger contrary to popular belief amongst those back home.
It’s been a strange 24 hours. I had just finished writing my last post yesterday when events started to unfold. Initially several teachers first posted the breaking news onto facebook yesterday afternoon, we were quite dismissive of it as there are often little skirmishes between the North and South. Only last month there was an exchange of gunfire between North Korea and South Korea in the Hwacheon DMZ, which is where we live (We don’t actually live in the DMZ, but we are only about a 10-15 minute drive away). Anyway, this quickly vanished from the news as it was a minor incident and we didn’t think anymore of it as they happen every few months. Consequently when yesterdays news broke we didn’t consider it to be too much of a big deal, after all this has been going on for 57 years now. However, within half an hour of first hearing it became apparent that this was something quite different.
The images being broadcast across the world were shocking. There were reports of civilian injuries and we could see the dramatic images of the buildings and hillsides burning. This was unprecedented. The Korean teachers had abandoned all tasks, with eyes focused sharply on the television screen and the internet. They were angry, really angry in fact, and upset. They were also worried. Mrs Kim asked me how I was this morning, I told her I was fine. She asked if I was worried about the North and apologised profusely for the state of affairs. I told her she had nothing to apologise for and asked her how she felt. She told me ‘Before, I never worry. After yesterday, now I worry’. South Koreans have lived with the threat of the North for the best part of six decades, they are used to and relatively immune to the petty skirmishes with their communist neighbour. Yesterday, I think this may have changed.
I felt the BBC described the situation accurately –
For those who’ve watched the periodic ebb and flow of tension on the peninsula over the years, this could be seen as business as usual from North Korea.
It almost certainly isn’t. The image of plumes of smoke rising from a shell-damaged, burning village, with a terrified population running for cover is something many older Koreans will have hoped they would never see again.
It is of a different order from the occasional exchanges of fire that break out between the North and South Korean navies, or the odd bullet pinging across front-line DMZ’
Mr Yoon, a teacher at my school gave me a lift home. He was furious at North Korea and very angry, he also managed to tell me in broken English that he was worried. I asked what he was doing tonight in an effort to lighten the mood. He told me he was going to listen to the radio for information. This kind of worried me a little because I thought back to wartime Britain when information would be announced on the radio, and then it dawned on me that should there be any emergency broadcasts, I don’t understand the language anyway! Not a lot of use. I then thought well at least Mrs Kim would call me and warn me of any impending danger, but then I remembered we have no cell phone reception at our apartments in the evening. Great. So if anything were to happen between 6pm and 730am, we are unreachable except for the internet. I may discuss this with Mrs Kim anyway as it’s a bit of an issue with day-to-day life as it is. We have Korean television channels but we do not understand a word so they are not much use. CNN World is our only English news channel but that is bloody useless.
Upon arriving home I switched on CNN to find out what the latest announcement was. ‘The Korean government is currently meeting in an underground bunker in an effort to halt the ongoing military fire and prevent an escalation into all out war’. Great. Now I was getting a little worried. We were worried because the story had first broken 3 hours previously by this point, soldiers had been killed, and the exchanges of artillery fire were still continuing. I was not worried for my personal safety as we were a long way from the battleground, but worried about what would happen should things escalate. We comforted ourselves with the knowledge that we are in a rural town in the mountains which is of little strategic value. Although we are in pretty much the closest town along the entire DMZ to North Korea, which isnt ideal but it makes things a tad more relevant and exciting I guess. Before the Korean War Hwacheon was a part of North Korea.
God help Seoul or Incheon if things were to escalate. I read that an estimated 200,000 casualties would be taken on the first day in Seoul alone should North Korea decide to strike. The consolation of this being that had North Korea wanted to start a war, they could have quite easily attacked and decimated Seoul by now. Fortunately, they haven’t and that can only be a good thing!
It took me an age to fall asleep last night, before I went to bed I read that President Obama had been awoken from his sleep by aides informing him of the crisis and the only story being covered on news channels across the world was events in Korea. We went to sleep hoping that this morning we would wake up and everything will be much calmer and that the Americans would not escalate things further overnight. The last thing we talked about before we fell asleep was how much we didn’t want war to break out and how happy we were living here. It’s such a lovely country in so many ways, and the people are wonderful. It would be a tragedy if war was to break out. It was a very strange and surreal feeling going to sleep and wondering what you are going to wake up to in the morning. Fortunately there has been no escalation and we are keeping our fingers crossed that the North will behave themselves from now on, and that the South will not retaliate further. My concern is how much more the South will take, President Lee has very assertively promised to retaliate with missile strikes should the North launch further attacks. Should they do this, things would only escalate further.
It seems crazy to think that we are now living in an area of such hostility and tension,with such international attention being given to it. I never imagined upon finishing university 6 months ago that we’d be living on the doorstep of all this.To be honest though, things here are not much different to yesterday morning. The only difference we have noticed is that the soldiers who normally stand guard at the checkpoints to the entrance of our town are now armed with machine guns. Normally they just have pistols.We are fully registered with the British Embassy and we are working on an escape plan in case ‘shit does hit the fan’ but we are hopeful and confident that it will not. Also I feel that we are incredibly well protected here, just last week the military were performing drills in case of an invasion in our town. On our way to school we cycled past trenches that had been built lining the main road with troops inside dressed in full combat gear and guns pointing directly at us as we cycled past! We had to laugh at the situation, it was very surreal cycling past combat ready soldiers in trenches on the cycle to work. The roads in and out-of-Hwacheon are lined with countless anti-tank walls and there is a tank division of the Korean Army just down the road from us. Should the North invade, we would be one of the first ones to know about it and we would be straight out of here. We have heard nothing from the British Embassy and until we do we are not overly worried. We are confident they would assist us if required. We are hoping that we will never need help from them.
I’ve been reading people’s comments on news reports online. Many people have said enough is enough and that the world should do something about North Korea militarily. I read of people commenting ‘If somebody did this to America or Britain, we would blow them off the face of the earth’. Unfortunately, as much as I’m sure many South Koreans would love to see the Communists destroyed – it’s just not applicable or a practical idea. It could trigger World War III if the Chinese get involved (which they almost certainly would do) and would lead to the total destruction of the nation for the second time. This wouldn’t be a war like in Afghanistan or Iraq, this would be all out war World War II style but with Nuclear Weapons where millions of people would be killed. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. I posted a reply on the Daily Mail website yesterday defending the South Koreans as I was most annoyed by people’s comments. It is now one of the best rated on the website! I posted –
‘I can tell you now that the South Koreans are furious at this reckless provocation. I just sat in a staff room full of South Korean teachers watching this on the Korean television, and anger and shock is an understatement as to how they are feeling. However, they also know that they cannot risk war. South Korea has developed beyond recognition in the last 50 years, and they have worked so hard for the lives they now enjoy. Nobody wants war here, they know it would ruin everything that the nation has worked for in the last 50 years. Yes they are angry, but sometimes you have to be the bigger man and just walk away from the situation, and they know that. Before you start calling them cowards perhaps you should think about what is it at stake here. Yes they are hurting and angry, but they think it is not worth losing everything they have worked for over.’
Sorry I had to squeeze that one in, I am very proud of this!
To summarize, we are absolutely fine and providing you don’t see any further escalation between the two you can be rest assured of this. If you hear of any more attacks on Islands on the West Coast, don’t worry we are 100 odd miles away.If you hear of a breach of the DMZ or an attack on Hwacheon, then you can be worried, but until that day comes (which we are hoping and confident it will not) life is continuing as normal. It’s been a very surreal 24 hours but hopefully everything will calm down and everyone can be civilised once again. I appreciate peoples concern, but please do not worry about us. We are working hard, enjoying ourselves and very much looking forward to our January vacation just as we were yesterday before Kim Jong Il decided to ruin everybody’s day.
Lots of love to everyone back home.