The news spread through the staffroom like wildfire.
“…Kim Jong Il… dead!”
Everyone rushed to their computers to check, as if they needed to read the news with their own eyes before they could believe it.
I felt a mixture of relief and excitement – perhaps now the poor North Koreans would see a change for the better. The internet reflected how I felt- Facebook was full of people celebrating the demise of the dictator.
In my staffroom however, the mood was far from jubilant.
“Isn’t his death a good thing?” I asked an English-speaking co-worker.
“Yes and no,” she replied seriously. “Mostly no.”
She went on to explain that while Kim Jong Il had been an evil dictator, he had also been more or less predictable. The successor, Kim Jong Un was an unknown.
“Maybe he will be peaceful. Probably not. He is young and not strong,” she said worriedly. “Maybe people will not follow him.”
A little while later news came that the Korean armed forces had been put on high alert – not good news for the people in my staffroom. Korea has a compulsory military service as it is technically still at war with North Korea. Everyone has a son, brother, nephew or friend serving in the military.
“Well,” I said, trying to find something good about the situation. “At least we live far away from the border with North Korea!”
“Yes, but Carrie-teacher,” another co-worker chimed in. “Ulsan is the industrial centre of South Korea. We are a …how do you say? Ah… big target.”
“That’s right,” my co-teacher said. “I read in the newspaper that if North Korea bombed Ulsan, there is so much gas in the refineries that there would be a very big fire-ball and Ulsan would be…. how do you say? Wiped out.”
“Don’t worry, Carrie-teacher! Everything is OK!”
Were they teasing me? I didn’t know. Koreans have a weird sense of humour. It seemed entirely plausible though. Ulsan would be prime target and there was an awful lot of gas in the oil refineries…
And with that, I had to end the discussion and head out for the sex, drugs and cultural enlightenment workshop. It was extremely disappointing – no sex, no drugs and no cultural enlightenment.
That’s not entirely true. From an earnest little police sergeant, I learned that to protect myself against theft I should “apply lubricant on my gas pipes”, to repel sexual crimes I should “bite my attacker’s eyes” and that fondling people in the karaoke bars is illegal. I think something was lost in the translation…