Monday, September 24, 2007

Dr. Strangelove

On the subject of wars, technically South Korea is still in a state of one with its northern neighbour. In that sense, living here is a surreal mix of consumer-driven normality punctuated by civil defence drills, national service and occasional shooting at one-another across the border. As much as this mix of peace and war is normal in the South, the normality of the axis of evil wannabe North is the bizarre. So while peace talks go on endlessly, which is clearly mostly the point for the North Koreans, we all live with the vague but bizarrely possible threat that one day the leadership there will be pushed by their own collective paranoia into doing something that we'll all not live to regret.

Aside from all the other implications of this is the somewhat interesting precedent that the British Government have exiled me to a country which is still technically at war on the grounds that I am 'free to enjoy my life here'. Human rights lawyers take note.

When I first arrived in Korea there was a lot to take in, and the truth is that even a year later I'm still noticing things for the first time which I've probably walked by hundreds of times without a second glance. So once I subconsciously realised that these signs can't possibly indicate tunnels which run under mountains, or be warning against camping in subways, I finally discovered that '대피소' means 'shelter'.

In an ironic reminder of a tensions past, in the background of the shelter notice is a yellow sign in Russian. Without wishing to give away any military secrets this is actually the vast underground shopping arcade in the Nampodong area linking two subway stations, and it doesn't look as though it affords much protection from anything, though you'd never go short of a change of clothes at least. On the other hand, it's better than the shelter in the station near us, where the instant coffee machine isn't going to keep anyone going for long.

Korean tags: 전쟁, 대피소, 정부


Anonymous said...

I actually feel more safe being about an hour from the North Korean border than I think I would be travelling around London.. I think a Muslim extremist plotting something is probably a lot more likely then Kim Jong-Il starting something.

Mike said...

Yes, a sad commentary on the world we live in.

Jon Allen said...

What is also ironic, is that it seems it is only possible for the US, (or strictly the UN) to sign a peace treaty and the President Roh has to go making snide remarks to President Bush to try and force him to start considering it.

And while the National Security law treats any kind of contact with NK a serious offense punishable by years in prison, it is perfectably OK for the Government to send millions and millions of dollars in aid to go to NK.

It is a dichotomy I still can't get my head around.

They did a survey in Japan just last week and 80% of Japanese are worried about an attack from NK. So over here they are far more concerned with NK than the South Koreans!

Anonymous said...

And in a strange turn of events, hundreds of police were deployed in Yeoeuido due to reports of possible bombs in subway stations from "Arab terrorists".

Anonymous said...

I was at this very spot about a month ago... I haven't been to Korea since I was ten, so naturally, I asked why there was a sign for safety shelter in the middle of a shopping center. I felt the same way I did when I saw soldiers and police officers walking around, on duty with guns and everything, in the airport and the bus terminal. Or when I heard my cousin worrying over his mandatory military service. Like, "Oh, yeah, South and North Korea are still at war...."

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