Underneath all the shallow K-Pop, fashion and modern entertainment, South Korea remains an interesting country with a profound past. My travels in South Korea certainly made me realize the tragedy of intervention, the inescapable fate of divide and the possibility of a much more peaceful future.
The first impression of South Korea was of course how friendly the people were, the development of the country and despite being dominated by modern cities and concrete jungles, the country remains mostly, mountainous with a healthy agricultural sector.
Seoul is a mixture of both modern and ancient, Daegu is a sleepy city most closest to the historically significant Haeinsa Temple, Busan is like the beach resort while Gyeongju for me, was the most heartbreaking place of all.
A stunningly beautiful city with the feel of a living museum and everywhere you go, you feel that you’ve travelled back in time. However, as a witness to the ancient dynasties and kingdoms, the current situation between North and South Korea is extremely sad.
I will not waste time to list down the details behind North and South Korea nor do I wish to write about the problems between the two countries. I do however, wish to jot down something that I’ve learnt from my conversations with South Koreans.
It is true that many South Koreans have this pre-conceived view of North Korea: calling the North Koreans: extreme, brainwashed and backwards. No doubt, it is true vice-versa.
However, the citizens from both countries do not totally hate each other since this hate is largely magnified by media. From the conversations that I’ve had, many South Koreans see North Koreans as their brothers and sisters.
hey speak the same language, share the same ancestral roots and are from the same family. Time, history and events divided them until this very day with the future being all up in the air. Reconciliation? War?
No one knows for sure.
Voices of discontent are strong amongst many people in South Korea.
Many have told me how disappointed they are with the American Base in Jeju Island and the behaviours of certain American soldiers in their country.
Many also expressed a wish that the current leader Lee should step down due to widespread corruption and ‘being totally incompetent’.
Some of the younger South Koreans expressed their worries for the future in terms of job prospects, which is pretty much the thing that many young people, including myself, are worried about.
Some find it most bizarre that there is an over emphasis on North and South Korea by Western media and that there will be an outbreak of war.
“ I’m not sure if the West want us to go ahead with the war but here, no one worries too much about getting bombed by the North. We are more worried about getting attacked by our own people” said Kim Bong Yun, 56 year-old Seoul hostel owner.
South Korea is not a country without any problems. It faces challenges like many other countries but no matter what happens, I’m a firm believer in that South Koreans should be the owner and decision-maker of their country with minimal foreign intervention.
And whether or not the two Koreas will unify in the future? I do not know.
How does the average North Koreans feel about the South and other issues, I don’t know either.
If it weren’t for the flood then I would have visited North Korea and if it weren’t for tight control, I might just score the chance to speak with the common people.
No matter what happens, the best outcome would be when cooperation and collaboration between the North and South are consistent and evident.
The current state might remain this way for a very long time. I just hope that the next generation understand their civilizational and ancestral roots and can pause to think about the events occurring around them with broad and untainted perspectives.
It is something that I often struggle to do myself, so I guess this is our common goal.
I thank South Korea for welcoming me for nine days in June and I thank the people for their incredible friendliness and hospitality. I also wish to thank the Korean Peninsula for teaching me how to approach matters from different perspectives.
What I don’t wish to thank is history for making things the way they are.
40 royal tombs dating back to the Joseon Dynasty are now divided, as 2 tombs are located in North Korea. If the ancient Kings and Queens were alive today, they too will lament over the state of their country.
Staring at the map hanging on the wall of Gyeongju Museum, I can’t help but say, “ It used to be the Kingdom of Korea and now, it just have to come to this”.
Wei Yuan Min (Australian, Global Business Journalism Program at School of Journalism and Communication, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China)