At 22 I haven’t had many “where were you when…?” moments, but I think December 19th 2011 will be one of them. It was just a normal morning at school when one of my Korean co-workers came running into the teachers room and shouted ‘have you heard? Kim Jong-Il is dead!’. A quick glance at BBC News confirmed that it was in fact true. But there was something about the way she shared the news that felt slightly uncomfortable. She was happy about it. It’s easy to forget that this is a country still at war with it’s northern neighbour, but this certainly served as a sharp reminder.
Conversation quickly turned to the possibility of reunification, and since the successor had yet to be announced, speculation was rife. The kids all wanted to talk about it, they were clapping and singing, it was really quite eery seeing their reactions. Outside in the streets the tension was palpable and everyone was watching the news on their phones (which also made me realise I haven’t seen anyone read a newspaper yet!).
Then the news came that, as suspected, Kim Jong Eun was the successor, and the atmosphere changed again. We were advised to register with the British Embassy here, there was talk of stockpiling food and water, there were helicopters overhead, and a noticeable increase in military presence on the street.
We kept an eye on the news all evening, but it was difficult to know what to believe, with some articles making grim predictions and others saying it would be a smooth, trouble-free transition. Getting any real information about such a secretive state seems impossible; the very fact that he had been dead for two days before the rest of the world found out surely proves this. Whilst I initially, and naively, thought that if anything was to happen it would be in the following days, it soon became clear that this would be a lingering concern for the South Korean people for the next 12-18 months.