According to my friends in Singapore, the world is now in an uproar over the exchange of artillery fire between North and South Korea on Tuesday. They want to know what it’s like in Seoul, getting an idea that I might be in danger.
You know what, I wouldn’t even have known of this border aggression had it not been for my friends getting all excitable on me.
Nothing has changed in Seoul, really. Everyone is still going about their daily business. The area I’m staying in is still as quiet as ever. And cold, of course. I think the biggest threat to my safety right now is the biting cold, which goes below zero degrees celsius at night.
Even if Seoulites were talking about an impending war, I wouldn’t know it, anyway. I only know two Korean phrases – “annyong haseyo” (hello/goodbye) and “kamsahamnida” (thank you).
I know less Korean than a respectable tourist ought to know.
I can imagine it’d be a lot more intense further up north but, in Seoul, I’m not getting any impression that anyone here is overly concerned about this little skirmish.
The most uproarious thing I’ve encountered in Seoul so far is this small local eatery full of soju-chugging Koreans yelling at the TV showing a soccer match between South Korea and the UAE.
This was on Tuesday night around 9 pm. The Korean diners roared whenever a goal seemed about to happen but didn’t, after which they immediately went back to their food and drinks, chatting casually among themselves, with only half an eye on the screen.
Everywhere else, everything is as I remember from my last trip. Old women are still peddling anything from fruits to wild ginseng in the streets. Youngsters are still sipping coffee relaxedly at coffee joints. Men and women clad in business suits are still forming queues in subway stations at rush hour.
The day after the first shelling took place, people were still acting the same. The first observation I made with regard to this incident was that all the newspapers (both Korean and English) had similar-looking front pages on Wednesday morning.
Kay pretending that he can read Korean:
Well, there was this other incident we encountered later in the afternoon which we thought might have been related but we couldn’t be sure, then.
We had gone to the War Memorial of Korea because Kay is a war enthusiast. (I mean in the sense of history and not that he likes to start wars or fight in them.) In fact he is so enthusiastic he’s practically insane, able to recognise and name every single military weapon and vehicle ever made during the World War II, among other equally insane capabilities.
Anyway, we went to this memorial, mostly to look at exhibits and videos of the Korean War, and we chanced upon a protest of sorts going on outside the building located opposite the memorial.
We now know that the building is the Korean Ministry of National Defense because we found the info on the tourist guide map from the memorial. But we didn’t know what was going on yesterday because it was all in Korean, the words and the speeches.
Now we’re more sure of it because after downloading the photos, we zoomed in to look at the placards, where we could see a familiar face:
But the demonstration was very contained and orderly. Someone would speak passionately into a loud-hailer and, occasionally, the masses would yell in unison and raise their flags or placards if they were holding one. Then it would go quiet as journalists crowded around to take videos or photos.
There were policemen stationed on both sides of the building, just 20 metres away from the action each way, presumably to deter violence or to contain it should any happen.
Nothing happened besides people speaking passionately. After about 10 minutes, I got bored since I couldn’t understand anything and left the main road’s pavement to go back into the memorial grounds.
So far, I’m not getting any impression that anything more crazy than this is going to happen in Seoul.
I took many photos at the war memorial. I don’t know if anyone would want to see photos of me posing with military aircraft, tanks, guns and missiles but I will show them anyway since I took loads of them.
But in another post!
Oh, by the way, South Korea lost 1-0 to the UAE. We had left the eatery before the match was over on Tuesday night but saw the results in the papers on Wednesday morning. I think it was a surprise outcome.
I wonder how the Seoulites who were still in the eatery had reacted when the match was irrevocably lost. They were pretty damned passionate every time there was a near-miss. I expect there would have been a huge hooha at the end of the match.
It’s now Thursday. Going out after posting this. Will keep my eyes peeled for more interesting happenings!