Getting Intimate With Korea: The Land of the Morning Calm

Confucius once said in Analects, “Isn’t it a pleasure to study and practice what you learned? Isn’t it also great when friends visit from distant places?” But what happens when people from all around the world have already visited you except for that very person near you? Because both of you are not allowed to enter each one’s country. For reasons you both know but do not understand, the line has been drawn.

There is a Military Demarcation Line which separates the South from the North Korea, or simply put the DMZ in 38th parallel. Within these zones, barbed wires and thousands of landmines are scattered all throughout. Only the trained military officials are allowed to enter near the area. On the South, approximately 2 million young military officers are in constant vigilance from the movement of the North, and vice versa; very well aware of the risky situation and conventional threats they are facing.

The thought of the Korean Peninsula being the only divided country in the whole world is heartbreaking. What made it all the more painful is the millions of families separated for almost half the century.

Who would have thought that the constant bickering, misunderstanding and disputes from the Noron (North) and Soron (South) during the reign of powerful kingdoms and dynasties more than two thousand years ago woud eventually lead to the division of the country? King Sejong would really disheartened if only he knew. The sacrifices, the crimes and conspiracies that were left unpunished in order to settle the Northern and Southern faction during those period had gone into naught.

The country had already been divided and neither of them knew when the war would end and be once again reunited as one family. There were no walls to break like that of the Berlin Wall in Germany during the Civil War. But the invisible wall between them is more difficult to break than that of the Berlin Wall.

The wall is called IDEOLOGY. The differences of ideals between the two are being tested through time and were proven to be a very strong reason of division. Personally, I don’t know which of the ideology is sound. The vision of the North Korea to unite with the South after World War II and their freedom from Japanese colonozation is ideal. But to unite the two under a Communist regime? That, I am not sure of. With my experiences and personal circumstances, I am completely partial, if not disagreeable, with the Authoritarian type of government/management. The South Korea, on the other hand, wanted to embrace their independence with a complete freedom; and be an anti-Communist Republican country which was supported by the United States of America during the United Nations General Assembly, formed after the Second World War. But the thing is, the South Korean government are leaning much too closely to the U.S. which made me question, yet again, its “independence”.

The North then invaded the South in an attempt to unify the Korean Peninsula by force, later on called – the Korean War. The US forces promptly came to assistance of the South but hundreds of thousand Chinese Communist intervened on the side of the North which made a military stalemate. An armistice agreement was eventually signed after three years of battle. A cease-fire line was drawn dividing the Korea near the 38th parallel with a four kilometer wide demilitarized zone (DMZ).

Up until now, the two countries continue to hold a working level talks and conferences and the longest cease-fire was recorded in the history.Certainly, it is the most sensitive issue which should be taken in caution for it can either bring the peace and unity everyone dreamed of; or it can bring about the impending war that will greatly result to the loss of many innocent people.

Sixty years, indeed, is such a long time. While the South continue to progress economically and is a renowned country from all around the world in Science and Technology, Entertainment Industry, Sports,  Culture and Arts; the North was being left behind not only in economic growth and stability but in every other aspects as well, for their government is mostly centered in the military.

The North Korea, being a Communist country and lead solely by one figure of authority, had all the news media being censored. These restrictions further hindered their growth and their knowledge about the ‘world’ behind that DMZ. Perhaps, most of them didn’t know that their country is only a small portion in the vast land of the world.

The North Korean’s primary source of livelihood is fishing and agriculture. Despite the technological advancement in every part of the world, it is disheartening to know that they still plow their land in a traditionally obsolete ways. Trading is also restricted and they rely only on their own crops and vegetations, and the help from China, being the only neighboring country that can send aid to them, which are still not enough to support its people and army. The suffering grows especially during the winter season.

The growing number of ailments and the increasing rate of mortality in the North due to poor economic management and deficit in medical aid are alarming. Either their leader is turning a blind eye on this pressing issue or simply doesn’t care enough for his people, and internationally claiming “self-reliance”, brought waves of sadness in my heart. It is a defining characteristics which the North korean leader instigates to the mind of his people, the isolation and resistance to the outside forces. Despite all these, the people still believed and abide their leader. Such is the obedience  that even a word or an act of disloyalty to their leader results to the death of not only the ‘doers’ family but each and everyone of his relatives. Whether their loyalty is because of fear or love to their leader, they are still needed to be rescued and saved.

There is a documentary I saw a few weeks ago in the National Geographic Channel about a North Korean military officer who have different ideals than his leader and thus, he voluntarily surrendered to the South Korea by intoxicating his fellow officers and risking his life by going through series of barbed wires and undetermined area of land minds in the DMZ. They were two of them who decided to leave but he is the only one who had managed to get out of the DMZ alive.

He was surprised to see the place called the South Korea. It is very different from his own country and the people in the South are actually living, living for their dreams. I completely agree with him for that statement. It is the only country which the past and the present, the traditional and the contemporary, coexist together. Being exposed to the society and cognizant of the reality, he felt even more remorse to his leader and deep pity for his countrymen. There is one question that sent shivers down my spine; he was asked if what he thought had happened to his family. He answered, with a lump on his throat, a single line: “I don’t even want to think about it.” With those words left unspoken, I understood. But he is determined to make his sacrifices worth while. He is now playing a great role to the South Korean’s Military Intelligence, giving the South and edge to the North.

Despite the North Korea’s decline in economy, it still continues to prove to be a powerful country. They have a strong and aggressive military troops and the most feared nuclear weapons. The number of the nuclear weapons possessed by the North Korea are still unknown, and even the US were thinking that it might number in thousands. Whether or not it contains Uranium, remains to be proven…and dreaded.

The unknown and uncertainties brought the South Korean government to prepare its people and be on guard constantly. All males who reached the right age are required to spend 21 months in military training irregardless of his financial or social status as long as he is medically fit. Just recently, the latest batch of the academy have graduated. One of these brave, young men is Kim Hyun Joong. A Korean actor who was well known for his fresh and serene look as a “flower boy” in Boys Over Flower and plays different musical instrument as one of the members of F4.

The military training is a big sacrifice for men like him in an Entertainment Industry; leaving the glamour and the popularity of his career, and facing the uncertainty of the future. After artists like him graduated from the training, will the industry still embrace him? Will his fans continue to wait for his comeback? If the time comes for Lee Min Ho to enter the academy, I will certainly wait for his return. Well, will you? These words are really daunting. Fortunately for Kim Hyun Joong, just days after his graduation, he has been offered a lead role for an action movie. It is a completely different and mature role, and what he learned from the training can make a really of good use. But when I first saw him in the news few days ago, I could not recognize him. Gone are the vibrant and happy look on his face, for his eyes lack luster in it and he somehow look sad in front of the camera. The training really took its toll on him or probably, it is just how they are trained, to paint a flat affect for a facade. And yesterday, during the press conference of the movie, he looked a lot better than I remembered. The excitement for his new project is evident on his face and he expressed his gratitude for the industry and his fans. Being his follower, I am happy for the outcome of the training and most importantly, for giving a great contribution and service to his country.

The different stories of love and loyalty to his country by these two young men are only a part of the greater and much larger scale. The young man from the North showed his love and loyalty to his country by stripping off his military title and surrender to the South in order to rescue his countrymen for the suffocating iron grip of their leader; while the popular young man of the South gave up his career as a rising star to be at service to his country. Most certainly, their sacrifices will not left unrewarded.

I sincerely hope that the reward would be of much greater good for a much greater purpose: the unification of the North Korea and the South Korea. I believed that it is just right around the corner. Since the event in 1999, when the South sent shipment of fertilizer to the North, it resulted to an agreement of tourism development, sponsor joint sporting team and events, open communication and economic links and most importantly, they have also set a timetable for separated families to be reunited. And last month, the North Korean Leader, Kim Jung-Un had given his interest of reconciliation with the South Korean President, Park Geum-Hye. And for the first time in history, the North Korea is starting to reach out to the world.

As a girl who loves the Korean history, culture and arts, there is no better joy than to see the two country reunite. I believed that the joining of the two countries will be a force to reckon with.

Peaceful Reunification.

A dream? Maybe. But a possibility, nevertheless.

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