The First!

Today, fully two days after the Nork Nuke test, I finally had someone come up to me and bring the subject up. I actually managed to teach a full two-hour class [edit: I should clarify, this was on Monday afternoon] without anyone mentioning it (though the mood in the room wasn’t good and I wondered why), the day of the test [edit: and only found out about it after the class, because a friend had emailed me about it] . What can I say, I was coccooned in my creative writing for most of the day.

But consistently, most of my students just haven’t wanted to talk about the subject. I have asked various groups of students how they feel, and what they think, about the nuke test. Most of them just flat-out don’t want to discuss it, though a few people have said they were shocked, or a little worried.

However, they only mentioned this when I asked them about it directly. But today, someone finally approached me and started telling me his opinion. I tried to talk to the guy in Korean, but for some reason, he stuck to pointing at photos in the English-language newspaper I was holding and signaliing his opinion by sign language.

The best I could make out was that in his opinion, it’s Bush/America’s fault that North Korea has done this, and Bush/America is pushing for war. He pointed out Noh Mu Hyun but then just shook his head, negating something, but I don’t quite know what. He made a lot of hand signals suggesting that the nuke test was bad, but that any military action now would be even worse, and would result in, well, it looked like he was trying to signal “collapse”.

I tried to tell him that I agreed the nuke test was scary and the prospect of armed conflict is scary… but he didn’t seem to catch that I was speaking in Korean to him. (I swear, my accent isn’t great but people can usually understand me more than that. Sometimes older folks just assume there’s no point in trying verbal communication because Foreigners Can’t Speak Korean.) But it didn’t seem to me as if he wanted to discuss this, just to inform me of his opinion. Then he wandered off, and I caught the bus to campus.

Besides with this guy, things seemed mostly normal, on the street today. Construction still continues on the monstrosity they’re erecting near the local subway exit; the coffeeshops are still full of people chattering away; the grocery stores aren’t flooded with people panicking.

But there’s a strange mood, which, to be honest, doesn’t surprise me one bit. I’ve been in a very strange mood myself, since Monday.

A ‘two-year-old Hitler’.

That’s what one Chinese official called Kim Jong Il, as reported in a post at The Marmot’s Hole.

And China is North Korea’s closest ally. Miscalculation? Yeah, and another post at Marmot’s mentions a claim elsewhere that North Korea’s test may have been moved up to spite China. Juche theory is supposed to be about independence, but… nobody in this world stands alone.

So what’s China going to do? If much of the world does trot out sanctions — even if South Korea and China disagree with it — are they going to keep the DPRK regime from falling over? That, it seems to me, will decide how long all of this mess is going to take to reach a head, whether that’s a resolution, a point of no return, a massive change in the North, or something else too terrible to contemplate.

4 thoughts on “The First!

  1. Gord, thank you for sharing this. Your post inspired a new story for me. The title is “Encounters” but I’ve only got 3 pages so far so that may change.

    I can’t imagine the climate you’re in right now. Are you overwhelmed? I’m anxiety prone so I would be (in the words of my aunt) a hot mess emotionally. These are such uncertain times.

  2. I’m kind of anxious but in a kind of suspended, disconnected way. What I’ve read about makes me think a nuclear strike on South Korea is probably rather less than imminent, but at the same time, I’m nervous about the future implications of this.

    I forgot to ask my Chinese students what they think of the test, after class tonight. The trio of them in my drama class seem to have interesting and characteristically Chinese points of view — they all unanimously agreed that Mao Zedong was a great hero, to the shock of the Korean students in the class, for example, the day when I unthinkingly mentioned him — and I wonder what they would have to say about Kim Jong Il. But I do know better than to ask them around their Korean classmates.

    But as I say, mostly, at least in my neighborhood, it’s business as usual, though slightly more tensely performed.

    By the way, I do hope you’ll let me see the story when you’ve finished with it. I’ve been curious to see something from the forge of your imagination but never found a more opportune moment than this to ask you.

  3. Right on, I can definitely send you the story by email. I write s-l-o-w-l-y so we’ll see how long this one takes me but I don’t think it will be any longer than a couple 1,000 words.

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