When the news broke that Kim Jong-il had died, I was just finishing up my lunch, ready to go back to class. A million thoughts ran through my head: Would North Korea attack? Would South Korea attack? What would happen to the exchange rate in South Korea? (I’ve got a lot of money I need to exchange into dollars in the next few months.)
As the minutes passed, my initial thoughts of an imminent attack inched their way towards reality. Barring a North Korean decision to commit “country-cide”, there would be no full scale invasion because it makes no more sense today than it did last week.
After all, North Korea, as well as China, realize that there is no way that North Korea could even defeat South Korea and her allies, and South Korea has too much to lose economically to risk an invasion on their end. So, in the grand scheme of things, very little will change on a daily basis.
Having been in South Korea through two North Korean attacks last year, I have come to realize how little the average South Korean concerns themselves with North Korea. Even on a day like today, my students and fellow teachers went about their lives, just as they have every day for the last 60ish years.
While the military might be on a higher alert, people are still walking the streets, stores are still open, and restaurants are still bustling. Sure, there might be a slightly different tone to the conversations being had over the dinner table tonight, but no one is seriously concerned with war.
So, don’t listen to the Western media who will likely pretend that the Korean Peninsula is on the brink of war in order to coax a few more hours of coverage out of the event. As someone on the ground, less than 75 miles from the border, I can tell you, it’s business as usual in the South.
All that being said, I am a little more hopeful for the future today than I was yesterday. I hope that the new leadership in North Korea commits itself to becoming a more willing participant on the world stage, and stops its tired and worn-out threats to “turn Seoul into a sea of fire”. If it can do this, maybe we will one day see a Libyan-like revolution in North Korea, and a peaceful reunification with the South.
What do you think of today’s news? Are you more of less hopeful for the future of Korea after the passing of Kim Jong-il?
Jim Cheney is the creator of Tripologist.com. Having traveled extensively in North America, Europe, and Asia, Jim enjoys sharing his love of travel and some of his favorite places to visit around the world. He lives in Pennsylvania, USA, with his wife and two kids.
6 thoughts on “Kim Jong-il Dead: Thoughts from an Expat in South Korea”
The reunification of the two Koreas would truly be devastating foe South Korea even on a peaceful basis. It would be like 23 destitute relatives moving into your house overnight with no advanced notice. When it does happen, it must be done peacefully and be well planned if the South Korean economy is to survive. While many South Koreans say they long for reunification to allow themselves to reunite with relatives in the North, the impact on their economy is almost impossible to calculate, though we know it will be bad. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Hopefully the current transition in the North will, over time, gradually open things up a bit and some day, something good can come to pass for both Koreas that will not destroy South Korea as we know it today. The South has worked long and hard to be where they are today and we can hope they can continue to prosper while moving closer to a condition where families can be united even across the current boundaries of these two countries, if necessary, to avoid devastating economic consequences to the South.
Thanks for the comment. That’s a great analogy about the destitute relatives. The South Korean economy will take a very serious hit if/when reunification happens.
Wow! You have been in South Korea for 2 attacks and think you know what a communist nation will do. You are absurd especially if you as an ASSISTANT teacher thinks he knows the future and how communists will act. What a joke you are.
Wow, thanks for the encouraging comment! I’m just looking at the pattern that they have displayed over the last 60 years. Communist nations aren’t irrational in their planning.
Anyway, it’s just my opinion. Trying to give people not in South Korea a bit of perspective on the whole issue since the Western media has a way of playing things up.
Hey bud, I really enjoyed reading your i-baek won on the subject. I do believe that the ongoing war here is over sensationalized and fully agree with you that the threat of any imminent attack will remain the same as it was before: generally stagnated and blown out of proportion like Rosie O’Donnell’s stomach at the Golden Coral. I do however believe that any chances for reunification are still far and away, since I believe it was this new leader who authorized the shelling of Yongpyong-do. That isn’t exactly a peace offering if I’ve seen one, or the Palestinians and Al Quaeda have been asking for peace for a looong time, and we were just too dumb to realize it. Then again, with Russia’s switch to a more strong-armed Putin, and China’s economy set to dominate the global stage in 5 years, we might see a unified Korea. It just might not be the way that we have all hoped for. I am overall excited to see someone who was the epitomy of evil, vanish from the Earth, only to make his hasty entrance into the gates of hell. Today is a great day for all Koreans, however the only smiles you’ll see are the ones around us….. and maybe there’s a few within those homes up North.
Thanks for the comment. I agree that the likelihood of reunification is very slim, but I would guess that the odds are ever so slightly better than they were before Saturday. Still unlikely to happen in the next five years though.