December 20, 2011 2 Comments
I have a rare break between classes and I should really be working on the 25-30 page student text I’ve suddenly been asked to whip up in a week (uhm, colour me stressed out), but it’s impossible not to write about current events here on the peninsula.
Unless you’ve had your head firmly lodged in your behind for the past couple days, you know that Kim Jong-il, the illustrious “Dear Leader” of North Korea, died on Saturday (though the news was not reported in North Korean state media until Monday). When friends from North America asked me what the mood was like here yesterday, I wrote back basically “seems like no one gives a shit.” But I was dead wrong.
What was actually happening was my lack of Korean rearing its ugly head. How do you know if you’re missing water cooler talk if you can’t actually understand what’s being said around the water cooler? If I was at home and something like this happened, I’d be able to understand snippets of conversation around me and I’d get a much better sense of the “vibe,” but here I can’t get a vibe at all.
Also, I haven’t plugged in my TV since I got here. When I was back in Toronto, the news on TV was the background noise to my getting ready for work in the morning or fixing my dinner at night. Sometimes I’d even catch a few minutes before Letterman. Without news being pushed to me by way of the TV, I forget to go looking for it. And when you don’t check the news you miss a lot.
I realized this morning though, that I can ask pointed questions and when I ask enough questions of enough people I might start to get a vague sense of the mood here. And the vague sense I’ve gotten is one cautious relief/low-level anxiety.
People are not running in the streets freaking out and I actually saw a soldier calmly enjoying a meal yesterday while I was out at lunch. There is a sort of happy relief that Kim Jong-il is gone. But there’s definitely a little bit of anxiety about the unknown quantity that is his son Kim Jong-un. Maybe the passing of the father will leave the son free to throw open the doors of the isolated nation, or maybe it’ll just be same old, same old. Or, and this is where the anxiety comes in, the son will feel the need to rattle his sabre hard enough to cause a real conflict between the two nations.
To a certain extent none of these questions are likely to get answered until after the funeral on the 28th of December. Right now North Korea is ostensibly in mourning for their Dear Leader. After that though, it’s anyone’s guess. For my part, that second year of teaching in Korea I was planning on suddenly seems a lot less certain.