Nov 24, 2010

Notes on the First 24 Hours After the Attack

Today in class, as I was checking students' work, one boy tapped me on the arm.

"Teacher, North Korea vs. South Korea warcraft! North Korea vs. South Korea World of Warcraft!"

I studied his face, his eyes bright behind thick glasses. There wasn't worry in his voice; there wasn't any teasing either. He waited all of three seconds for my reaction before another student snatched his pencil, and the boy turned to grab it back, laughing. 

When Yeonpyeong Island was being shelled by North Korea yesterday, I was sitting at my desk, watching the clock tick down the last five minutes of the workday. If my colleagues had heard the news, they didn't discuss it for long, because the office hummed along as usual. I didn't learn about the attack until someone told me online. 

Last night, some friends and I swapped notes on the issue.

"Were your coworkers worried?"
"No. Yours?"
"No. They didn't talk about it at all."

We didn't discuss the attack for the rest of the night. Escalation? Evacuation? Another strike? They weren't on our minds.

I followed the story online this morning; the CNN reports, Lee Myung Bak's statements, all the buzzing expat message boards ("If shit goes down, I'll be at the border with a machine gun! When in Rome!" - sojuman5533). Today, Facebook status updates from teacher friends were all different versions of "Thanks for the worry, friends and family, I'm safe!"

My coteachers passed my desk, offering their usual chipper "good morning!" Business as usual, I assumed. But after the class with the Warcraft comments, I had to ask. I beckoned one woman over, pointing to a BBC news story on the attack. "What do you think about this?" 

She shook her head. "Mostly, I don't want the students to worry," she said. 

You're not worried at all?

"We have a long history of disputes between the two countries. This is another occurrence. It happens a lot here. You'll see."

All day, I replied to emails from concerned friends back home (from the presumably sardonic "Have you been kidnapped?" to the broader "So what's going on over there?" Korea was all over the news, statements about the UN, about President Lee's "severe punishment" comments. I got an email from the Canadian ministry of foreign affairs, telling me to follow the situation as it develops. 

Then, I walked away from the computer, and it was just like any other day.  

At the lunch table, teachers chatted about weekend plans and the upcoming winter break. Between classes, my coteacher asked me for book recommendations. Girls ran up to me in the hall, cellphones ever in hand, to show new photos of their pet dogs, sleeping.

Business as usual. 


  1. Great writing, Anne. This jives with what I saw. I was there for some nuclear launches and maybe some other stuff. Never could figure out if everyone was just jaded from the frequency of these things (though, admittedly, the ones this years seem graver) or in denial. Maybe both. I'm sure the thought of everything they've built over the last 60 years being jeopardized by another war is too much to face head-on.

    Keep us posted.

  2. Every time I ask someone about the whole North Korea-South Korea situation, it's like you as usual. It's comforting and disquieting at the same time. Stay safe!

  3. I was told today that in a show of solidarity for the South Korean military, teachers should do their very best to teach the students well... and that Principals and VPs will be checking in on classes to make sure we doing our jobs with honor.

    I have been trying to figure this out all day - I suppose it fits with the culture and that we are part of a bigger entity. Just when I was counting on a week of student 'self-study' so I could finish my own homework! Damn you, North Korea.