How North Korea’s Threats Feel in South Korea

Sooooo, North Korea.  Maybe you’ve heard of it?  It’s the country just north of us that keeps us land-locked on this little peninsula by way of communism and cray-cray-crazy.  Seems like they’re getting a lot of prime time news airtime, judging by my Facebook message inbox.  The time to address the issue is at hand.

Officially North Korea is called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and South Korea is called Republic of Korea.  It can get confusing, I know, what with all those ‘Koreas’ and ‘Republics’.  Think of it this way: we live in South Korea, the country that ROKs.  I can take no credit (good or bad) for that pun.  It gets thrown around here like so much kimchi.

A photo (that I TOTALLY stole without permission)
of Kevin and his ROKin’ -heh heh- coworker Teresa.

Apparently, I didn’t do very thorough research when moving here.  I Googled things like “is homeschooling legal in South Korea” and “non spicy Korean foods” and “how to convince Trader Joe’s to expand to Korean peninsula.”  Know what I did not Google?  “Are North and South Korea at war?!”  Which apparently, they are and have been for the last, oh 60 years, give or take.

But before you freak out (oops.  too late?) being “at war” is only a technical term.  Rather than a treaty which would have ended the war, there was an armistice signed.  This resulted in a cease-fire and other beneficial circumstances.  But let’s be clear here: South Korea and North Korea are about as chummy as Batman and the Joker.

A (painfully brief) bit of history: Kim Il-Sung was installed by the Soviet Union as the the supreme leader of North Korea in the 1940s and ruled through 1994.  He led the invasion into South Korea and almost succeeded in over-running the whole peninsula but for the rescue of the US and the UN.  He signed the armistice and was relegated to the portion of Korea above the 38th parallel.  His son Kim Jong-Il became the supreme leader after him, and died in December of 2011, only a few months after we moved here.  His son, Kim Jong-Eun has ruled (supremely?  I think not.) since Kim Jong-Il’s death.  There was some hope that Kim Jong-Eun’s Swiss boarding school education might make him more sympathetic to Western influence than his father before him.  Um, no. Big fat no.

After that confusing bit of history, I should clarify that I’m no expert on this subject.  (Erm, perhaps that sentence should have come as a disclaimer at the beginning of this post.)  What I can tell you is what our lives are like here on the Korean peninsula.

The FPCON level (danger/threat level) for our area is at Bravo (level B, just one up from the safest A) and has been since we moved here.  Everything on the military bases seems to be business-as-usual.  There are no special cautions or curfews.  We move about freely, go where we want to and don’t need to check in with anyone.  (We are civilians, though.  Soldiers have somewhat different rules.)

We haven’t been issued any formal statement like, “Everything is safe!  Cotton candy and butterflies and rainbows are your biggest concern right now!” but there is no military interference in our lives.  Other than making Kevin leave me and go to work every day, which is, you know, pretty dang annoying.

Some of the Americans who have lived here for awhile say that North Korea does this when their supplies get low and they need to rattle the supply tree.  Someone recently told me that as soon as “South Korea throws some rice over the border”, everything will be fine.  Our Korean neighbors seem to be going about their lives as usual as well.  I sense absolutely no difference in the lives of people over here.  A little over a year ago I asked my Korean friend Ji Won about North Korea, and she said she didn’t like to think about it because it was too sad.  I don’t know if that’s a popular attitude here or just her personality.  Either is quite possible

That said, I could very well be living in a happy little “I’m a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language” bubble.   After all, we were issued gas masks and required to fill out extensive evacuation/rescue packets when we moved here.

Insert for the infant/child gas masks we were issued.
Is it just me or is this the creepiest thing you’ve ever seen?

Here’s the breakdown of sentiments as far as I can tell:

Americans here: Pshaw.  Nuthin’ to worry about.
Americans in the U.S.: Ummmmm, are you guys getting nervous over there?
American media: Panic!  Missiles!  Nuclear weapons!  Ratings!
South Koreans: ? (I don’t really feel comfortable speaking for them.  If I can get a quote from a friend, I will add it later.)

I’m sorry that this appears to have become a spectacularly unhelpful post.  Part of me wants to assuage any fears that our family and friends have, but part of me is nervous, too.  If Kim Jong-Eun wasn’t so unpredictable, or if there hadn’t been any threats like this before I feel like I could be more certain of safety.  In the meantime I will trust our government sources that say we are OK.  (What’s that?  Micaela is trusting the government?!  Someone call an ambulance!  She seems to have lost her memory!)  Ultimately, I will trust God to protect us one way or another.

What is this?  I don’t even…

It appears the the North Korean media is a notch below the American media.  (Oh, SNAP!)

Anyway, I hope I haven’t wasted your time.  Here is something quick and useful for you to do. Please pray for peace on the Korean peninsula (Pope Francis is!), but especially for the people of North Korea.

UPDATE: When speaking with a Canadian friend who has lived here for 7 years and works closely with Koreans, he had this to say: I think China will step in before the U.S. has to because they have a lot invested in peace in this region.  The only thing I really worry about down here in Daegu is our finances.  If there is a “flare up” the value of the won will drop and I may lose a lot of my savings.  As to safety, I’ll worry when the Koreans worry, and the (South) Koreans aren’t worried one bit. (P.S. I’m not a journalist and didn’t have a recording device with me, so this quote is paraphrased.  So sue me.  Wait, don’t sue me.  Yeah, that’s what I meant.)


  1. That video…?!?!?!?!?!

  2. the birds will be eaten on tuesday, they are yummy.
    the dead friends in blue body bags.
    hot snow tastes nice. yummy.
    we have a lot of snow.
    we drink and eat a lot of snow.
    if I lived in N. Korea, I certainly wouldn’t want to come to america. nope.

    • I read a book called Nothing to Envy that chronicles the lives of some former North Koreans who sought refuge in S.K. This propaganda is not even the most strange or unbelievable. Crazy, right?

  3. That video is crazy – I shared it on FB. I am so glad N. Korea was able to come here and distribute hot Korean coffee and cake! 😉

    • The video is so wild that I can’t even focus on one aspect of it. The yummy birds get me. The hot snow coffee gets me. “The phones no longer work. There is no one left to call” gets me. Who makes this stuff up?!

  4. Oh. My. Word.
    North Korea, Y U so obsessed with tents and snow?

  5. The cold, the lonely, the homosexual… What is with that video?!?!?! Yep, all we do over here is live in tents and drink snow. Coffee made of snow. lol, pretty sure most of that video wasn’t even IN the U.S.

  6. Hi, I found your blog via Conversion Diary. I clicked on it because I used to live in Korea, way back in 1993-95. My father was in the AF and I actually met my husband because of the problems NK was giving the ROK then. (We left the pennisula for a few weeks because my father seriously though NK was going to attack that summer… the leader died and they didn’t.)
    Anyway, I have been wondering how everything was REALLY going there, so thank you for this post! And like everyone else… what the hey is up with that video?!

    • Welcome! I love to hear from people who have lived here. From what I’ve heard, Korea has changed quite a lot in the last 20 years, so it’s cool to know what it was like back then too.

  7. So glad you wrote this. Way more interesting than “real” news!

  8. I really appreciate this. I was watching the news tonight and did wonder if people in Korea were worried. I also prayed that there will not be a wider war.

  9. This is excellent! I am going to make my big kids read it, we were actually talking about this last night and this really sheds some insider light on things.

  10. All joking aside, it’s propaganda like this that explains why you would see footage of North Koreans crying over the death of Kim Jong Il. The rest of the world knew he was a crazy dictator but the poor citizens (if you even call them that) we’re brainwashed to think he was a savior. North Korean history books portray Kim Jong Il as a superhuman divine person. All TV and Internet is tightly controlled by the government so the North Koreans have no idea what the rest of the world is like. Kim Jong Eun is busy keeping his cheeks chubby and hanging out with Dennis Rodman while his people starve ton death everyday. It’s heartbreaking. Lil Kim just needs to admit he’s a hot mess b/c that fake city isn’t fooling anyone.

    • Roxy, you are right on with this. It’s on,y funny in that horrifying way… As in, how in the world can someone get away with this?!

      I watched a TED talk last night that was very moving.

      The brave young woman above escaped The DPRK as a teenager and then went back several years later to rescue her family. She talks a bit about the brainwashing that goes on. Another excellent book is Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick.