When a person thinks of South Korea, he or she is bound to think of Seoul. Anyone visiting the “Special City” can get the taste of the city life with endlessly backed-up roads in every direction, boutiques and eateries lining every street, and luxurious hotels with thousands of rooms.
I live far away from this city that is twice as crowded as New York City. Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla province, has a little over half a million people. Many buildings are old and worn out. Fancy hotels are hard to find.
I have always found Jeonju conservative compared to the progressive Seoul. About three hours southwest from the capital, the cultural shifts that occur within the country take time to seep down to this area. Only recently did Jeonju’s Hanok Village, one of the oldest folk villages remaining in the country, start becoming a popular tourist site. I grew up in a protected bubble where children were sheltered from many aspects of the outside world.
I grew up in a protected bubble where children were sheltered from many aspects of the outside world.
After the Korean War in the 1950s, the Koreas were divided into two. While South Korea has been strongly influenced by the United States’ structure of government after the end of its dictatorship in the 80s, North Korea has taken a different route in history. Since then, there has been growing tension between the differing political systems. The South, the Republic of Korea, has implemented a republic while the North, the Democratic Republic of Korea, has maintained a totalitarian government.
North Korea is currently ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung who originally established the family dynasty in 1948. According to BCC, the “totalitarian state also stands accused of systematic human rights abuses. Amnesty International estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are held in detention facilities, in which it says that torture is rampant and execution commonplace.”
Lately, South Korean talk shows revolving around North Korean refugees currently residing in the South are popular. Many shows present what life is like in the North. They compare and contrast the two Koreas. Some even share their journeys across the border, and the difficulties faced while adjusting into the different society. Many of the episodes that I have seen express how information is widely and easily accessible compared to their home country.
I understand why some people support the pro-unification movement. If it is to occur, the lives of North Koreans may be vastly improved. Plus, the Korean Peninsula would be reunified as one again. However, it’s hard to picture it happening in a country so deeply divided by politics, and one with nuclear tensions on the rise.
According to BBC, North Korea had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1985. This treaty was broken in 1993, and that same year North Korea shot a missile into the Sea of Japan. This year, North Korea is testing many more nuclear weapons than previously. As expected, the South is currently on edge.
As expected, the South is currently on edge.
According to The New York Times, United States and South Korea have been divided on the issue. While President Moon Jae-in wants to pursue peaceful dialogue, President Donald Trump wants to take direct action against North Korea. Currently, South Korea is strengthening sanctions. By increasing the South Korean military presence and building defenses along the border, President Moon Jae-in hopes to pressure North Korea into negotiating a deal for peace.
Being in Cleveland, Ohio, United States, at least a fourteen hour flight from Seoul, South Korea, it’s easy to forget about the realities of the dangerous situation. It is scary knowing that the people I love are right in the rising tension. It’s more than just another war that could happen in another country that we can sit, watch, and analyze. This is real.