My, we’ve been experienced a series of ups and downs recently! I’ll start with the “downs” first, so I can end on an up note. Ever since North Korea, which calls itself (irony alert!) the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), conducted a ballistics missile test in December, then a nuclear test in February, tensions have been heightening on the Korean peninsula. The tests, combined with the international community’s subsequent sanctions against the DPRK, appear to have strengthened the cocky and bellicose tendencies of young leader Kim Jong-un. Almost every day he ratchets up the rhetoric against the U.S. and South Korea, or the Republic of Korea (ROK).
Nobody’s happy about this turn of events. But South Koreans aren’t panicking either, and people continue on with their normal lives. Here’s why. Every year around this time, the U.S. and the ROK conduct joint military exercises, and every year around this time, the DPRK issues bellicose statements. My Korean co-worker says that South Koreans are well aware of the annual pattern, and are “immune” to the threats. The exercises and the international community’s sanctions “justify” the statements, and the statements help the Kim dynasty stay in control. Kim Jong-un, like Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung before him, employs a tried-and-true combination of anger and fear to maintain the country on a permanent wartime footing, justifying spending money on the military and a security apparatus which protects the Kim family and friends, and destroys their opponents. A “we’re unpredictable, so you’d better appease us” strategy has also helped them in the past to gain international aid and economic concessions, although this hasn’t been working recently. Even China, DPRK's sole international ally (unless you maybe count Iran) is tired of playing the game, and is going along with the U.N. sanctions.
Bad incidents occur, such as when DPRK soldiers hatcheted to death two U.S. soldiers who were pruning a tree at the DMZ in 1976; a DPRK soldier shot to death an ROK tourist on an approved tour to the DPRK’s Mount Kumgang in 2008; and the DPRK sank an ROK Navy ship, causing the death of 46 sailors and one rescue diver in 2010. But these are contained incidents, and although the current flurry of rhetoric might end in another incident (the ROK has already experienced cyber attacks), it would also likely be contained. Why?
Kim Jong-un is not insane, and he is not suicidal. A war would lead to his death, the deaths of his military leaders, and the end of the DPRK government. He doesn’t want this. If he were really planning a war, he wouldn't have been blustering so much--he would have been quieter. All the rhetoric has done is cause the U.S. and the ROK to take additional steps to get ready, just in case. And believe, me, we are ready.
The reason for the extra bluster, I think, is because he knows darned well that the ballistics missile test and nuclear test were against international law, so he has to sound extra fierce to make up for the DPRK's own transgressions.
Also, the DPRK needs money, and it can’t allow its economy to collapse. Thus, although they’ve cut the “hotline” at the Kaesong industrial complex run by South Koreans in the North, thanks to “indirect communication,” business continues there as usual. A North Korean tour operator has told potential Chinese tourists that there won’t be a war, and to make bookings to visit his country. Most importantly, planting season begins in mid April, and every year, the DPRK army disperses to the countryside to help with planting. Now do you understand the timing behind the rhetoric? It usually ends between when the joint U.S./ROK exercises end, and the planting season begins.
Unrelated to the above discussion, my email account was hacked last week. Someone from South Africa stole all the addresses from my address book as well as all my emails, and sent out messages pretending to be me, writing people “with tears in my eyes” that I’d just been mugged in Manila. My brother-in-law recognized it as a scam, but played along and emailed back, asking what he could do. “I” told him to mail $2000 via Western Union to an address in Manila.
The hacker cleaned out my email account so I couldn’t warn people about the scam, but luckily, I had a partial list of email addresses in a Word document, so I could warn some people right away, and the others that night after Yahoo restored my address book. Yahoo said it was unable to restore my emails, so they’re gone permanently.
Lesson for me: Never keep IDs and passwords to financial accounts in my Contacts list. I was able to change them before the hacker realized what he could have done. Lessons for you: If this happens to you, immediately change the password on your email account; otherwise the hacker can change it and lock you out of your own account. And never send money via Western Union unless you can call the person making the request and confirm it.
Fortunately, so far as I know, none of my correspondents sent money. Most realized it was a scam, and some said “my” email was not well written enough to have come from me. Indeed, I found myself wanting to edit the hacker’s email on my behalf! The one good thing to come out of this wretched incident is that I had an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment. I realized that so many people care about me : )
A three-member bluegrass band called Kyle Dillingham and Horseshoe Road played in Seoul as part of a U.S. music diplomacy tour. Wow! Kyle Dillingham was born to fiddle, and the group was wonderful! I attended a public concert, and then got to see them again in a private home at a jam session with several Korean bluegrass musicians. I can now say that I saw a tulip field in bloom in Japan, and a great bluegrass band in Korea. After Seoul, the band went on to perform in Taiwan, in Burma, and in Vladivostok, Russia.
We also attended an art exhibit of American impressionist painters in Seoul. It was set up geographically, with painters from the Hudson River School, New England, Chicago, St. Louis, Taos, and California. The music and art helped nourish our souls.
As for nourishing the body, we fell in love with the dessert “caramel slice” while in New Zealand, and I brought a hard-to-get ingredient called “golden syrup” back home in my suitcase. Yesterday, after converting an online recipe from U.K. to U.S. measurements, I tried it out: first making the shortbread base, then the caramel filling, then the chocolate topping. It was a success, and gobbled up by those of us who got together to play double dominoes last night.