This is a three part series where 3SSR’s own James Davey visits South Korea during arguably the most volatile time in history between North Korea and South Korea.
Touching down at the world’s potentially most dangerous airport, and yet it has won multiple awards for it’s facilities. No i’m not in the Middle East, i’m at Incheon International Airport, Seoul’s main airport.
This airport is only 35 km’s from the border of North Korea along the DMZ, and it’s quite apparent if you’re lucky enough to be landing on an aircraft with a live map. You’ll see the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang in the distance upon arrival from the south. Even though there is a persistent war between North and South, there is very little chance of threat. Why would you worry, when the airport has an ice skating rink, golf course and swimming pool?
I landed in the capital of Seoul roughly a week ago (April 2017) and all I can say is that it seems very ‘business as usual’. Shops are busy, many tourists about at the major attractions, and no news of the latest tensions and military parades occurring on local media.
The news channels in South Korea are simply broadcasting their usual content, when BBC, CNN and ChannelNewsAsia are all giving widespread coverage of the latest nuclear threat to the USA.
Locals appear to be relatively unaffected by the rise of empty threats and a supposedly botched nuclear missile test by the North too. I talked with some local citizens about what they think of the latest news out of the north, on the eve of a military parade in Pyongyang.
“All we want is reunification, this war really hasn’t gotten us very far and I don’t think what (President Donald) Trump is doing is helping. It’s just a complicated mess.” said Hyesoo Kang, a Seoul based Student originally from Busan.
I asked her if she had any concerns after her move further north from Busan to Seoul.
“Quite frankly, I am just not worried about the war, you can see everyone just living their lives and being grateful”
South Korea’s economy is certainly booming, with large consumer electronic companies Samsung and LG playing a large part of the wealth. The war appears to be affecting the local economy too with such places as Itaewon sporting shops catering for western fashion, taste and fixations. When I visited there, the abundance of US military personnel was incredible, largely due to the Yongsan Garrison military base being nearby. But the street stalls, shops and bars were all catering for US tastes. Even the local KFC and Taco Bell had different menus from what I experienced in other parts of South Korea.
“The US military guys love the fake stuff, grab a fake Chanel handbag for the wife back home, buy some socks for himself and then walk to bar to drink Bud. Itaewon has adapted to their culture and we are loving it.” Sein Kim, a local street vendor told me.
Not only the locals are cashing in on the war, but local tour groups and hotels love promoting the ‘JSA/DMZ’ tours. These tours range from $40 AUD to $120 AUD and include a fully guided tour of the most militarised border in the world. Unfortunately I couldn’t attend one of these tours as the military exercises in the North has placed tours on suspension until tensions de-escalate.
But you always get the feeling of the war wherever you go. The subway system is one big nuclear shelter, every station is at least two levels deep with big steel doors ready to lock up in case of a warhead bearing down on the city. Gas masks are readily available on station platforms, emergency water and food rashers for extended stays. It’s just surreal, but essential. And quite scary.
For one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, with a thriving global economy, it’s sad to see this beautiful country on the firing line of North Korea.