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Life by the DMZ

The South Korean military drills that were conducted today just south of Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea ended without reprisal despite repeated threats from North Korea. The drills having occurred just hours following an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting that in a way attempted to squash South Korea’s military sovereignty, concluded with the majority, sans China and Russia, fully supporting the “routine” drills. The primary concern from China and Russia was the initial timing of the drills as tensions have mounted to the highest level since the Korean War. In addition, with North Korea’s ongoing threats in response to the proposed drills, many were holding their breath when South Korea finally decided to follow through with them. However, it was soon ascertained after the drills were finished that North Korea scuttled their initial threats and retreated from retaliation because the drills were considered not worth a reaction. What hype! Although, I’m very happy that a war has not broken out.

On the way to work at 6:30am this morning, I listened to the radio regarding the proposed military drills that were still not set in stone as to when or if they were going to be conducted. I was glued to the radio the entire 40 minutes to work and I can’t say that I was initially concerned, but more profoundly interested than anything. When I reached my office, I quickly popped on the internet and searched around and read various articles pertaining to the drills and what North Korea was planning to do if the drills were conducted. I then signed onto Facebook and realized that I was not the only one who was interested or worried about the events that were soon to be taking place. Several dozens of us English teachers in and around Gimpo were posting our thoughts regarding the South Korean military drills throughout the entire day and what we were all going to do if North Korea actually attacked. Some of us would leave country, some of us would hunker-down and stay, and some of us would surprisingly run to the fight. Don’t worry, I’m not one to run to the fight, but as I went through each class teaching all my students that I have grown to love and enjoy, I kept thinking about the plausible possibility of staying if a serious conflict were to occur and I honestly believe that I would not have a problem with it no matter how tough it would get. Conflict or no conflict, for the time being I don’t see anything that is going to strip me from being here.

What I also found interesting as all this was going down is that I realized that my Korean colleagues at school weren’t a least bit worried about the situation. We all work at a school in a small town called Wolgot which sits within a few kilometers from the river that acts as the DMZ between North & South Korea, and it still astonishes me even now that the teachers nor the students seemed to be really phased by our proximity. Blackhawk helicopters were whizzing by town every so often and the students didn’t appear to be distracted at all. I looked out the window whenever I heard the chop-chop-chop of a helicopter in the distance and my students starred at me in a daze most likely wondering why I kept looking out the window in the middle of class. Thus, I can only surmise that it’s essentially just a normal state of affairs living life by the DMZ. North Korea has been making threats for over 50 years, and even though tensions are at its highest since the Korean war, it appears that many are in a state of DMZ apathy and it will take something fairly major to shake them out of it. Until that time comes, let’s pray that peace can be found without prolonged conflict.

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“Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves.”

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