At 2 o’clock this afternoon, an air raid siren went off. Very loudly. Very, very loudly in fact. Panicked, I leapt out of my seat, heart beating a mile a minute.
“What’s happening?” I demanded. “What should we do?”
Everyone else in the staffroom looked at me like I had suddenly sprouted another, decidedly unattractive head.
“It is nothing, Carrie-teacher,” a co-worker said as if placating a child.
“It’s an air raid siren?” I said it as a question rather than a statement, trying to be polite. Perhaps, somehow they just didn’t know what it was?
“If you are worried,” my co-teacher said kindly. “You can hide under the desk.”
Gosh, thanks. I feel much better now. Slightly unsettled, I tried to return to lesson planning but the siren was awfully loud. After what seemed like hours, it stopped.
A few minutes later, it started again. My co-teacher rolled her eyes, put her earphones on, and went to sleep.
It made me feel a bit better that she was so unconcerned but considering we all live in a country that is at war with its closest neighbour, why was I the only one who was worried? After all, North Korea had bombed South Korea fairly recently! And Ulsan, as the industrial heartland of Korea seemed like it would be a pretty good target.
Later in the afternoon, I got an email from an American friend. The US Embassy in Seoul had sent out this message earlier in the day:
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul is transmitting the following information as a public service to all U.S. citizens in the Republic of Korea.
Seoul Metropolitan Police authorities advised the Embassy that on Tuesday, November 15, 2011, at approximately 2:00 p.m. an air-raid siren will sound for one minute to signal the start of a scheduled nationwide civil defense drill. Pedestrians in open and public areas should move to nearby buildings or subway stations as they would when seeking shelter in an actual event. All drivers/vehicles on the road must pull over and come to a complete stop. At approximately 2:15 p.m. a second siren will sound, signaling the conclusion of the drill. Local authorities will give further instructions if necessary.
Why did the Canadian Embassy not send out this important bit of information?
I did chuckle to myself to think that at 2pm, all over Korea, foreigners just like me were freaking out over the air raid siren.
In my teachers’ class this afternoon, I asked about the national civil defence drill. How often did they happen? Where should I go if I was caught out in the open? Did Korean drivers (who don’t pull over for ambulances) really come to a complete stop during the drill??
“Don’t worry, Carrie-teacher! Everything OK!”
Clearly not otherwise there would be no need for a national civil defence drill.
When I pressed for answers, it turned out that no, Korean drivers do not even slow down during the drill nor does anyone actually practice taking shelter. But as to the rest of my questions, I received a dismissive wave and:
“North Korea… crazy! You no worry.”
And that was that.