Friday, June 19, 2009

When in danger or in doubt in circles, scream and shout.

Kristen and her boyfriend James, who taught at my (Manchon) branch of LIKE and the Samduk location, respectively, took off for home without warning a few days ago. It was a shock to me; I didn't know them well, but they both were nice and, as far as I could see, they seemed content. They certainly left the schools in the lurch.

We all have contracts that say that if we don't stay six months, we have to pay back our airfare here, and if we don't complete the year, we don't get airfare home. Also, if we take off without giving notice, our visas are revoked and we can never get another one (not that that should bother somebody who's not happy here, of course). They could have talked to the management and worked out an amicable release.

But my point (and I do have one) is the reason they gave for leaving. James sent email to both schools (after their departure) saying that he'd talked to his lawyer, who'd said that that the dangerous conditions in Korea, with the North's nuclear and chemical preparations and uncertain power structure, justified fleeing the country without notice. (However, I notice that they managed to squeeze in a vacation in Japan just before they fled in panic.)

I have no idea if they gave their their real reason, but if so, it's as weak as Woody Allen's biceps; ain't no way anything bad will happen to Daegu in the immediate future. It does bring up something a few people have asked me, though, and that's been much on my mind: am I gonna die here? And will it be something other than listening to the Mets on the Internet that does me in?

On the face of it, it's crazy for me to move to Seoul, which I will be doing in two months; it's thirty miles from the DMZ, technically the war never ended, the North has 70 percent of its massive army deployed near the border, and a military magazine estimates that if the North attacks, there will be 200,000 deaths in Seoul in the first few days. Gulp.

I can't pretend that I don't think about it, especially considering that I've chosen to write about it. If the North's rulers ever feel pushed to the point where they would rather all die than lose face, well... gulp.

But they'd have to be bleedin' insane. Of course, this isn't the most reassuring thing with these guys. They obviously don't care if all their people die-- they have Stalinist prison camps, and have allowed massive starvation-- but I think that even they, deep down, are sensible enough to avoid their own utter destruction. They've also been playing military mind games for decades, so all of this isn't anything new. My friend Justin has noted that South Koreans are scared of a lot of things, including American beef and sleeping in a closed room with a fan blowing on your face, but they're not particularly concerned with all this. That's good enough for me. I'm too old to panic.

But when I get to Seoul in August, I am going to register at the US embassy, in case they ever want to tell all the Americans to get out. I'm also too old to not pay attention.


Gill_Ruth said...

I am very glad you're not planning on running just yet anyway - I enjoy reading your blog very much, and would miss your wry comments and posts on life as an expat teacher and South Korean culture.
Kind regards, Gill

Stephen J said...

Thanks. That's unkindly common of you. Umm... I mean uncommonly kind of you. If I thought anything was going to happen, I'd be on my way to the airport. But I admit it adds an edge of nervousness to daily life.

If I had known anybody I didn't know personally was reading the blog, I would have tried to write better...


Blastin said...

Always someone out there reading it that you don't know...

Anyway: We must baseball once more before the semester ends.

Indeed, my comment about fear in Korea is quite insightful.

My coteachers referred to NK as "a chronic disease." Not that those can't actually kill you...