Today I went to eat lunch at my school just like any other day, but I left with the breaking news of Kim Jong Il’s death. The faculty lunch room was quiet as usual until one teacher happened to get a text message saying that Kim Jong Il had died. Everyone briefly chatted to one another and among the noise all I could really make out was Kim Jong Il’s name. The teacher next to me translated that Kim Jong Il had died. I looked at her with shock and asked, “Really? Is it true?” She said yes and then everyone went back to their lunches and ate in silence. I sat there wondering what kind of implications this would have on both North and South Korea, but also wondering at that moment why there was practically no reaction from my fellow co-workers to this news. I think this moment was very defining of the differences between American and Korean culture. If this was America the lunch room would be filled with the noise of people asking questions and sparking debate over the implications of his death. Let’s flashback six months ago to when Osama Bin Laden was killed. Americans were literally celebrating in the streets at the fact someone responsible for mass murder of their people had gotten what he deserved. Kim Jong Il is also responsible for mass murder of the Korean people by neglecting them of basic human rights, but is anyone celebrating his death? No. And I’m not saying it’s cause for a celebration, but some sort of reaction to this news would have been interesting to see. I have experienced that in everyday life Korean people do not feel comfortable discussing their opinions about controversial issues. In their culture they are taught to suppress their emotions and keep their opinions to themselves (especially women) and this is a prime example. The most common question I am asked by people from home is, “What is it like being so close to North Korea?” In all honesty, on a day to day basis it’s very easy to forget I’m living next door to a communist nation. The situation in North Korea is simply not discussed here and today is no different. Everyone is going about their day here just as it were any other Monday.
Here is an interesting link about South Koreans reactions to Kim Jong Il’s death:
The questions I’m asking myself right now just a few hours after learning of his death are these, “Is this good news or bad news?” and “What does this mean for South Korea and my safety living here?” In my opinion, Kim Jong Il’s death is the first step toward reunification of the two Koreas. His death does not come as a surprise. He has been sick for several years now with heart disease, diabetes, and possibly cancer and he has been preparing his son to take his leadership position for over a year. Even though he has been preparing his son to lead his country under the same screwed-up ideals, I think Kim Jong Il’s death is the beginning of an end to this evil dictatorship. His son is a young man of an unknown age somewhere in his twenties probably born as a result of the convergence of rainbows and stars just like his father. His son is groomed to look like the late Kim Il-Sung, which to me seems like some sort of scare tactic. Or maybe they just want their people to believe that Kim Jong Un is a reincarnated version of Kim Il-Sung. The world knows nothing about his son, but yet many people fear what he may be capable of. I think our lack of knowledge about him and his lack of experience as a leader will eventually lead to a crumbling regime. So what does this mean for South Korea? There are both good and bad consequences that can come from the fall of North Korea. Looking at Korea long term there is now hope for reunification. Does this mean war is in the near future? Possibly, but what I think is more probable is that the few worldly and smart people that do exist in North Korea will finally start a revolution against their leader and fight for their rights and independence. You can’t tell me that every single person living in North Korea is completely brainwashed into believing Kim Jong Il is a god and North Korea is paradise. This is the 21st century. In the years to come people will revolt. Reunification will happen and at first it will not be good for South Korea. The economy will drop significantly and North Koreans will have to adapt to a whole new way of life and learn how to work hard and become independent. In the long run the advantages of becoming one country will be great. South Korea will no longer be an island. Roads and railways can be created to connect Korea to China and a whole new world of possibilities will open up. There is so much potential for Korea as a single country but at this point in time that is very hard for most people to understand.
At this moment I can’t help but to think how crazy it is for me to be here during a time that will go down in history. Although it feels just like any other day here, this will be a time I will look back on and remember that I was in Korea during a time of great change. I’m secretly hoping no major changes occur in the near future (especially in the next 6-8 months before my contract finishes). For those of you back home, there is nothing to be concerned about and if anything was to happen I’d be on the next flight home. It’s only been a 2 days since his official death and a few hours since South Korea released the news to the media. So for now I think it’s important for people to think about what his death means for the future of Korea. In the grand scheme of things his death is really meaningless. He deserves to rot in hell. The deaths that are important are the thousands of North Koreans who die everyday from starvation. Today you should think about those suffering in North Korea as a result of one person’s evil dictatorship. What are your reactions to his death?
You can read more about Kim Jong Il’s death and his son, Kim Jong Un by clicking on these links: