Nukes? What nukes? Life goes on in South Korea

2013-04-11 09:00
Lebogang moved to South Korea from Cape Town almost five years ago. (Supplied)

Lebogang moved to South Korea from Cape Town almost five years ago. (Supplied)

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This is not the news.

I woke up at 1:30 this [Wednesday] morning. Yes, my sleep was disturbed by growing concerns about North Korea, but my source of irritation was five text messages from home. They were in Sepedi which somehow sounds more frantic and serious.

"Are you okay? Is war about to start? There are news reports that foreigners in South Korea must evacuate. Are you praying?" And on and on they went.

Earlier in the evening I'd spoken to a friend who has only been in the country for about two months. She'd received an email from back home with the commands to pack her bags, go straight to the South African embassy in Seoul and demand to know what they have planned for her.

She was confused because her Korea seemed unchanged, the day was no different to others. She called just to make sure she hadn't missed any major announcements.

There'd been none.

Only that warning from North Korea telling foreigners in South Korea to evacuate. We cackled at the drama of it all. Show up at the embassy, after hours, and then what?

I didn't find it so funny when it was my turn to respond to concerns from home. I was forced to consider the worst case scenario, a highly unlikely situation given that North Korea stands to lose everything. And then I remembered that it was late and I had work early in the morning. So, to the sound of a heavy snorer in my building whom -  no joke - I could hear through my walls, I responded with five text messages of my own.

"I'm fine. As far as I know there's no imminent war. It's business as usual. The threats this time are slightly different in ambition but nothing new...I'll call if anything changes."

I fell back to sleep as soon as I attached my phone to the charger.

Later in the morning I missed my alarm clock but managed to shovel a few spoonfuls of oatmeal before I dashed to work. I was greeted with the best line in the ESL [English as a Second Language] business, "Take a rest, we don't have class today."

I was only reminded of North Korea when I logged on to Facebook. Links to articles explaining why we should/shouldn't worry about the North. Jokes about Kim Jong-Un. And that photo comparing what people outside think is happening in South Korea: marching soldiers, tanks, guns; to what is actually happening: people going on with their lives and walking past Dunkin Donuts. By the way, the top half of that photo is actually North, not South Korea. But the observation stands.

When I asked, my co-teacher replied that she's not worried about the North. She said the same thing my Korean friends have been saying, the same thing I started saying a couple of years ago, "We are used to it."

It was only the second time we'd talked about North Korea since the new madness started.

The first was yesterday as we put on our shoes at the end of the work day. "I read on my teachers' homepage that a teacher in Jeolla (one of the provinces) ran away and left only a note," she said. "Don't do that." How we laughed.

I told her I hadn't considered leaving. And I still haven't. It's business as usual. There is work to be done. Why abandon everything when the panic is not coming from South Korea, a country that has lived with threats and mind games from the North for almost 60 years?

We spent the day lesson-planning and talking about everything but North Korea. We dreaded having to listen to One Direction because that's the only music the kids will sing along to during English Through Pop lessons. I ate a giant bowl of kale, beetroot and dandelion leaves for lunch. We gasped in horror when we saw tiny snowflakes fall from the sky. Spring where are you?

Later in the afternoon, I went out to the playground where some of my students were getting ready to launch their science project water rockets. "Teacher," Sang-seob, one of my 6th graders, said. "It's Hyung-jun's turn. He won last year. And in 4th grade. And oh," he realised something. "He won every year since we started."

It was the height of irony, South Korean children giddily launching coke bottle rockets as the world panics about the North possibly launching mightier rockets. But for them, and me, it was just another day.

But like I said, this is not the news.


- Lebogang moved to South Korea from Cape Town almost five years ago. He teaches English to 5th and 6th grade school children. He also hosts a storytelling series in Seoul called When We Were Nearly Young.


Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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Read more on:    kim jong-un  |  south korea  |  north korea  |  nuclear  |  north korea nuclear programme
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