Asian Games

This week saw the finalé of the Asian Games.    There're a sort of mini-Olympics for every country in Asia.    I wasn't really bothered with them at first - afterall, who wants to see two tiny eastern guys play basketball?    They're never gonna be important in whole-world matches, like the Olympics or whatever.

Then I realised that I needed to pick my sports.    The various *Stans might be big lads for boxing (I'm thinking of 'The Russian' in one of the Rocky movies), and as for Martial Arts - surely the Asian countries are gonna be worth seeing in competition?    So off I went to the Asian Games.    Extremely competitive stuff here in Korea.    Everyone was behind their national team, in even the most minor sports, and the TV functioned as an instrument of pure propaganda.    Every single match they showed was a Korean victory.    Now sure, that's the human interest, and the local story, but it does present a pretty distorted picture of what's happening overall in the games.    It turns out that Korea came second overall - just behind the Chinese, who are pumping loads of money into sports right now in order to wow the world at the 2008 Bejing Olympics.

Koreans are proud of their victories, but nothing is trumpeted louder than a Korean victory over Japan.    Whenever they beat the Japanese at anything, it's frontpage headline news.    They hate the Japanese, with a passion, and beating them at sport is just the next best thing to going to war with them outright.   

I guess that's fair enough though.    I won't claim to be an expert on the history of this region, but every single site I visit has a little plaque about what the Japanese did there during the 1910-1940 occupation / Rape of Korea.    Some of the more thoughtful messages record what the Japanese did in previous invasions too.    Just in case you were in any danger of forgetting.    Now I've only read the Korean side of it, but some of the things they mention are pretty terrible:

  • Kidnapping whole villages of Koreans with particular skills, shipping them back to Japan, and having them work as slaves.
  • Burning practically every decent-sized Buddhist temple to the ground.   
  • Destroying the historic buildings and planting new Japanese buildings on the previous axis of power - to disrupt the whole feng shui thing the Korean royalty had going for them.
  • Forcing very many Korean women to work as prostitute-slaves for the Japanese lordlings.
So yes, they still hate Japan.

What's interesting though is that the hatred is cranked right up when North Korea play Japan.    At least the South does a lot of business with Japan, so they have some sort of cordial relationship, but the North has no modern-day relationship to replace the centuries of hatred.    At the moment there are various moves by Japan to normlise relations with North Korea, and many Japanese people are outraged by the signs of friendship from their government to the North.    This is mostly because the North Koreans have a nasty habit of "invading" Japanese waters, and kidnapping Japanese citizens.    Japan wants these citizens returned, but it seems many of them have died in too-convenient accidents during their time in North Korea, whereas others have said that they are happy and living there of their own free will - but they're never allowed to talk directly to their families in Japan.    Sometimes the North releases a few captives, but basically they're unapologetic about all of this, while the Japanese are outraged.    On the other hand, why shouled the North Koreans be apologetic and shamefaced over what they're doing?    Afterall, it's a drop in the ocean compared to what the Japanese have done to them over the years?    And you don't see Japan making up for it anytime soon... at least that's the way people in South Korea seem to see it.

Another interesting little thing is the attitude of the North and South to each other.    I went to a soccer match durig the Asian Games.    Not that I was terribly interested in the game, but just because China were playing North Korea, and I wanted to see what the South Koreans would make of it.    To my surprise the stadium was packed with South Koreans supporting their Northern cousins.    It seems that hating the Japanese for old grudges is perfectly acceptable,but no one seems to hate the North for their far more recent and indeed continuing attmepts to destroy the South Koreans and their way of life.    People all over were delighted when the North Koreans won anything and it seemed like every third or fourth car or house had a little Reunification Flag right next to the flag of South Korea.

Is reunification gonna happen?    Interesting question, and the Koreans are very shy about giving any answer.    A lot of them don't seem to want to talk about the divide at all.. certainly not to a foreigner - however subtly you try to draw them into it. :)

Fortunately the kids in my class aren't so reserved.    We were talking about Vacations and I was asking where the kids had gone for Chu'sok.    Standard destinations pretty much and then one kid told me he'd been to North Korea.    Well, goodbye to the other children - there's only one kid I'm talking with for the rest of the lesson. :)    Apparently you can now get to North Korea pretty easily by boat from the South, on tours organised by the Hyundai company.    Much as it goes against my better nature to travel through a tour company.. I'm already eyeing up the New Year vacation for a 5 day visit to the Communist North.    What do the other kids think of North Korea though?   

Teacher, we don't like them.
Teacher, they kill us.
They are poor.    They smell bad.

That was one side of it, and then another girl said that her grandmother lives in North Korea and she can never get to visit her.   Visiting relatives seems to be the driving motive behind the South Korean policy of "Sunshine" towards the North.    Through his heroic efforts (at election time) and through heavy lobbying of the committee, the South Korean president has won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to bring the North back into the fold of "Civilised" Nations.    The Nobel Prize is awarded and then a little later, and the North announces that it's been developing nuclear weapons.   

This is an Axis of Evil country just a few hours drive up the road from me.    Sometimes I'm really glad that my parents don't really read the papers. :-)    North Korea... I can hear it calling to me. :-)    I'm even happier that my mother doesn't read this internet site - 'cause if there's one thing I'm determined to do before I leave here - it's somehow or other, from the South by boat or from Bejing by train - somehow I'm gonna get into North Korea!

On a little political postscript, everyone here is wondering about how the Americans will react to North Korea having nuclear weaponry.    Can they go after Iraq on the mere suspicion of weapons of mass destruction and no known nuclear policy.    Yet at the same time leave the other Axis Of Evil North Korea alone when they unashamedly do have nuclear weapons and plans to keep going building more nukes?    On the other hand.. the North Koreans are merely communists and we don't really worry about them any more, whereas the Iraquis are Muslims and we're terrified by them. :-)

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