Sunday, December 18, 2011

Pray for peace in Korea.

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When I logged onto FB an hour ago, I saw a status update from a friend from junior high. North Korea's president has died.

I spent part of junior high and high school in Osan, South Korea, thanks to the USAF. It was probably one of the happiest times of my childhood. While it was not without the normal teenage angst, I enjoyed a freedom and experience many people will never have. I loved Korea and was very sad when we moved to Hawaii. I know, you say- LAURA, YOU WERE SAD TO MOVE TO HAWAII??? WERE YOU  NUTS?

Yes, MACADAMIA NUTS! We lived in a 900 square foot apartment, in a building where you could hear the heavy metal doors slam every time someone left their house. Our bedrooms were downstairs and most of our belongings were in storage. I walked to school for seventh and eighth grade and took a bus over an hour each way for ninth grade. We were often late due to the heavy Korean traffic, the likes of which America has never seen. The smog and pollution were so thick, I was sick every winter we were there.
South Korean flag

Yet I had a group of friends who loved and accepted me, quirks and all. I developed my love for writing while in Korea and discovered the one sport I am good at- swimming. I roamed (some of) the streets of Song-ton shopping for fun stationary (some of which I still have), eating fried man-doo and bean paste pancakes.

I learned what it is like to be an American in other countries. I heard protests outside the base gates. There were often exercises and the sound of "exercise exercise exercise. This is an exercise exercise exercise" from loud speakers echoed off the hills. I remember walking into the post office to get the mail and seeing someone in full gear, down to the gas mask, sitting on the floor. It was pretend, I knew.

But I also knew they were preparing for the real thing.

In the late spring of 1994 tensions between North and South Korea were very, very high. My mother gave me a copy of my father's orders to carry around with me at all times, including a copy of all the phone numbers of every relative we had. She told me what to do should be get evacuated (NEO'd) and separated. Our teachers at school spoke frankly to us. I don't remember much of the conversation, just the teacher saying, "I am telling you this because you are old enough to know this" and one girl saying, "It's like saying we're old enough to die."

In June, my father had to attend a conference in Maryland. My mother, who worked with the family support services, had to attend one in Texas. Knowing that a NEO was very likely, they chose to take us with them and leave the country. We went with my father to the Washington area. For us, it was a great trip. For my parents, it was a way to spare us from the pain and trauma of an evacuation. It wasn't until many years later that my father told me he called back to Korea every day to see how things were going.

It was on that trip that I met Adam, who happens to be the grandson of a Korean War vet. Very simply, it is because of the North Koreans that I am in here, in the Midwest, married, with four children. Had it not been for them, my children wouldn't exist.

And had it not been for Jimmy Carter, and then the death of the first president North Korea had ever known, my life would have been very, very different. Jimmy Carter came in and smoothed things over. When the president died, the country was thrust into mourning and tensions . . . I say eased but they didn't really.

We returned to Korea and later that year, I visited the DMZ. Our church would often take cookies to the soliders stationed there. You had to be a certain age and observe certain protocols while in the DMZ. I know we went to the room where the armistice was signed. For such an important, historical room it was very non-descript I remember alot of green and the line dividing the North and South was something akin to masking tape. The North Korea solider in the room stood stone still, unblinking, one foot in the North and one in the South. I crossed the line, literally, and can say I have visited North Korea.

Two or three years before this, then President Bill Clinton went to the DMZ and prounced it the scariest place on earth. I have to say I agree. Not because of how it looks- no, the landscape flows freely from one country to the others. Lines dividing countries are a man-made contruct; from the air, from above, from space, from God's eye view, there are no countries. Just one race of humans, living in one earth. Yet the tension in the air was there. You could feel it, taste it, wrap it around your finger.

Now North Korea's second president has died and his son is slated to take over. To say that these men are, or were, as the case may be, slightly unstable is an understatement. To say things are "not well" is putting it in polite dinner table conversation.

I have caught up with many of my friends from Korea on FB. Some them still live there. Many more have family there. I am worried about them, and worried about the country as a whole.

All of my life, and how it has turned out, is directly because of living in South Korea. Had we not moved to Korea, I would not have had to leave in 1994. Had we not left, I would not have met Adam. Had Jimmy Carter not smoothed things over, we would not have gone back. Had we not gone back to Korea, we likely would not have gone to Hawaii and I wouldn't have moved to the midwest to go to school. I studied for and recieved certification to teach ESL/ELL because I understood how hard it is to live in a country and not speak the language- a direct result of living in Korea. Had we none of this happened, I wouldn't have married Adam and produce these four magical children. I owe Korea more than I can ever repay.

In this season of peace, please pray for peace for Korea- for BOTH Koreas. Please pray for the leaders of all the countries with connections to NK, that they may handle any problems that arise with grace, and with peace as the goal.

Side note: A friend from Korea e-mailed me and said that the DMZ is much more open now than it was when I visited in 1995. She said that all the maps in classrooms show one Korea, without the DMZ drawn in. They teach the children about what-currently-is North Korea to prepare them for the time when unification comes.

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