Life in Paju- still the same.

When first I came to Korea, I couldn’t understand why there were soldiers everywhere.  At first I put it down to living in close proximity to the border. Then I realised that it was actually just because military service is mandatory here. So over the past four years, I’ve become accustomed to seeing tanks and soldiers and training exercises on a regular basis.  

Yesterday, I woke up late.  I got ready for school in about 6 minutes, had my breakfast made in two but still managed to enjoy twenty minutes of Poirot on television.  (Don’t judge me, there aren’t exactly a huge number of English tv dramas showing at 8 in the morning). My day at school was a struggle to stop children crying, fighting and falling asleep while actually teaching them a few words in English. 

On my way home, I realised that not only was there no petrol in my car and no food in my house.  Two stops later and both situations were rectified.  The rest of the day was spent practising music,catching up on some tv dramas and cleaning my kitchen.  This is actually pretty much how I’ve spent every other Tuesday for the last four years.  

Tuesday, April 9th, a pretty normal day, except for the fact that in the last 15 hours or so, I’ve been swamped with emails and messages expressing concern for my safety. I blame this on a sensational headline on RTE News ( it must have been in Ireland because it was my Irish friends and family that were emailing).

Everyone wants to know what it’s like living so close to the border. I wasn’t going to write this blog until the following questions were sent to me. Motivated by nothing other than helping people to understand how this is affecting  daily lives, I’ve put the answers in this blog. I’m not a journalist.  I’m not involved in politics in any way.  I’m just a regular Irish girl, living and teaching in South Korea and the answers are the honest truth about how the whole situation affects me and my daily life.

Q1. Are you worried about it?

No. This isn’t the first time that North Korea have threatened and it won’t be the last time.  The threshold for worry and panic here is a lot higher than in other countries.  I have started talking about it more and the possible outcomes and implications but to say I’m living in fear of an attack would be a gross misrepresentation of the truth.  As with every potential situation, citizens here are being encouraged to remain vigilant and prepared should an emergency situation arise.

No amount of reporting and big headlines changes the fact that I’m doing today what I’ve been doing every other day for four years and tomorrow looks like it’ll be the same.  My school wouldn’t be too happy if I decided I wasn’t going to show up tomorrow and neither would anyone elses place of work.  Away from the headlines and the news stories, everyone is actually just living the same as they were before the media took such a great interest in inter Korea relations.

Q2. Are you even thinking of coming home?

No. Yesterday, North Korea did indeed advise foreigners in South Korea to leave.  As of the time of writing this (April 10th), I have no immediate plans and see no need to return to Ireland.  Foreigners here have jobs, lives and responsibilities that will continue despite threats. Like all responsible expats, I will be closely monitoring and heeding any advice from the Irish Embassy in Korea and making decisions accordingly. 

Q3.  Should Mammy and Daddy Browne be as worried as they are?

 No, definitely not.  I recommend that Mammy and Daddy Browne stop reading CNN, BBC or any other major news source that is getting great air time and page coverage out of all this and spend that time skyping me so they can see how normal and continuously boring everything still is. 

It’s good to be informed and normal to be concerned but people shouldn’t believe everything they read or hear in the media. 

Q4. Has anything changed in your daily routine because of the current situation?

Yes.  I’ve stopped reading CNN.  

Q5. Why don’t the foreigners just leave?

This is my favourite question.  It makes it seem like foreigners have nothing to do but sit around wondering whether North Korea are going to bomb us or not.  Really, we have jobs, lives, responsibilities.  And there are the foreigners here who have families. So far, those jobs, lives and responsibilities haven’t changed in the slightest so you can see that leaving isn’t exactly top of our agenda. Did I mention how my school wouldn’t be too happy if I decided I wasn’t going to work tomorrow?

Q6. What signs of imminent war are there over there?

I’m sure there are loads, but not for the life of me can I find any in Geumchon. 

 You can see that my life is the same old same old . I’ve got to go now because I’m busy planning whether to go shopping after school or go home and get my washing done.The greatest concern in my life this very second is that one of  my best friends in Korea is leaving (because her contract is finished) so tonight we’re going for a goodbye Galbi and a glass of wine.   Then there’s the weekend to continue planning not to mention the fact that I need an accordion, a new computer and a fringe (not all in that order). And when I’m finished with all that, I’ll keep busy with the very exciting life I outlined above.  As ever, if you have questions, leave them below.

8 thoughts on “Life in Paju- still the same.

  1. Dear NK,
    Can you please leave us alone as you have your life to live and we here in South Korea have our life to live too. If you speak in a construcive and meningful manner we are willing to listen to you and work together. If you keep being childish and unreasonable then you know whatever you threat and blackmail won’t work but make yourself look fool. Let’s make peace and be friends!

  2. I used to travel to Korea every year on a buying trip for a number of years
    Lovely people . Know as the Irish of the orient
    Always remember the smell of garlic
    I think they even had garlic chewing gum
    Itawon was a mad place to go where the American Gi’s would fight one on one in the bars
    You could only get Kobe beer until the Olympics and then Bud arrived
    We were their before the Olympics and one night in a restaurant they thought we were doing a review for a paper and they went head over heels to impress us.
    By the end of the night we were showing the bar staff how to make Irish coffees
    When you arrived at the airport we learnt to pretend that our English was poor as the customs officers would try to practice their English on you
    We stayed at the Lotte Hotel is it still their?

    • Hi Gerry! Nothing has changed. The smell of garlic and kimchi, he random flavours, Itaewon is still crazy, and Lotte Hotel is still there. Great to hear the memories from the days before the Olympics.

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