Tuesday, December 30, 2008

North Korea

My travels here in South Korea have been limited to mainly Seoul - to and from my school where I'm teaching TESOL to Korean elementary English teachers. But now and then my team goes on a day trip. On Christmas Eve we went up to the DMZ to check out what we could see of North Korea and go on a tour of the 3rd tunnel dug by North Koreans to invade South Korea. 

The whole North/South division has been such an eye-opening experience. I have always joked that if I ever saw a North Korean in Australian that he/she must be a spy because there would be no other reason for them to be in a Western country. While that's partly true I've been exposed to the deeper and sadder truth about the 38th parallel line. 

There are over 10million ethnic North Koreans living in the South. They are mainly people who fled the North just before the division and because they remain citizens of Korea they are unable to return to the North even to visit family. If people fled to Japan or the US or other countries and gained citizenship, they are allowed to visit North Korea on specially supervised tours. The irony. 

The DMZ tour puts on a big show about reunification, hope and future dreams for a unified Korea. It seems so impossible. How on earth could they possibly achieve this? Just looking at East and West Germany shows us that there can be unification on the surface but the economic and identity issues remain even 20 years on. 

This Korean trip has been an incredible chance and opportunity to learn so much about my Asian neighbours and grow in respect for this country that I thought was so funny for having a company called 'Lucky Gold Star' (otherwise known as LG).