Sunday, November 12, 2006

State of Affairs in South Korea

I have been thinking a lot about the situation in South Korea lately. Being away from South Korea for my vacation in Taiwan let me read international newspapers and see the situation with North Korea and its testing of nuclear weapons in a different light. Living in South Korea with it's insolar state of affairs means that one often lives in a state of denial that North Korea is and can pose a threat to our safety here. I got away from that for a brief while and the blinders were removed from my eyes and there is no turning back.

Since North Korea tested a nuclear weapon the pollution in the air in Busan has been unbearable. For the last two weeks we haven't seen the sun and a neon yellow-green hazy hangs in the air. I don't like to think that I am being irraiated and yet and am starting to think that must be the case. Finally, in the last week the air has started to clear a little. Still I wonder and worry about the effects or maybe I should say fallout of the test. Am I over-reacting?

Maybe. Certainly, I shouldn't be downloading a watching CBS's new hit TV show "Jericho" about a small Kansas town that is left to survive after a nuclear bomb goes off in nearby Denver. Bad idea for me to be watching it at a time like this but it is a good TV show.

Moreover, I downloaded and read the Canadian Embassy's "Emergency Evacuation Plan" and I have to say it is not very reassuring. The fact that the Canadian Government has not updated their plan since I first arrived in Korea in January 2003 and subsequently registered with the Canadian Embassy in Seoul and they first e-mailed me the Evacuation Plan is not a good sign. In fact, even in light of the current heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula the plan says "The chance that an evacuation might be necessary is rather remote."

Moreover, they advise me that "In case of emergency, Canadians have to carefully listen to the public broadcasting such as TV and radio, but AFKN [American Forces Korea Network] should be their first source". They give the following frequencies for me to monitor "Pusan Radio FM 88.1 and AM 1260" both of which I tried just this minute [to double check] and surprise, surprise they don't work. In fact, I can get NO ENGLISH broadcasts on my CD Player/Radio. I didn't think the frequency would work now that Camp Hialeah is closed and therefore I assume not broadcasting or relaying transmittions in the Busan area.

I am left feeling so nervous and wanting to get out of here and thus the "preceived danger area" that I don't know what to do. I went to my doctor and got sleeping pills cause I can no longer sleep here anymore. I truth I would go home to Canada in a minute it I had the money to. But I am an economic slave so to speak. If I were to leave now I would have to pay back 1,000,000 won to repay the recruiter who brought me here. That's over a thousand dollars Canadian. I would have to repay my airfare to come to Korea [if I give notice or leave prior to teaching six months here]. Moreover, I might have to pay some penality money to my employeer and give one month's notice and I might even be expected to help find a replacement for myself. All, in all I am stuck. I will just have to try and keep my head down and keep my mouth shut and keep marking off days on the calandar until I can get out of here. I will continue to try and make the best of it but truthfully my nerves are shot.

I think that I probably never felt in danger before because in all my time in Korea I have always lived close to an operational and functional American Military Base and now that Camp Hialeah in Busan is closed I am not feeling so safe and secure. I used to spend the majority of my free time including all weekends and holidays on the base with my friends here in Busan and before that when I lived in Gumi at Cp Carroll in Waegwan or Cp Walker in Daegu. I felt like I always knew what was going in and that if anything happened that I'd be taken care of. Maybe I was wrong in assuming that [since I am a Canadian not an American citizen] nonetheless that's how I felt.

In reading the Emergeny Evacuation Plan more closely I note that it does say that "The Embassy must stress that although a 'global agreement' does exist between the Canadian and U.S. governments to assist one another in times of crisis, there is no specific agreement pertaining to Korea. The understanding is that USFK [United States Forces Korea] and the U.S. Embassy personnel will take care of U.S. nationals first, and nationals of other countries with which they have "global agreements", second, should their resources permit this. Should Canadian nationals proceed to an American military facility for assistance at the time of a crisis, they must exercise patience, and be prepared to wait until American citizens have been dealth with. It is this fact that should encourage all Canadians in Korea to react early to deteriorating political, military or other situations on the peninsula, and arrange for their own and their dependents early departure via commercial transport."

All this got me thinking about Camp Hialeah and my days there. I didn't take a lot of pictures there or at least not that many that feel free to use. I try always to protect people's privacy and don't post their pictures unless they give me permission. That said I found the following website that has lots of pictures of what CP Hialeah in Busan used to look like. Here's the link.

  • Pictures of what CP Hialeah used to look like

  • I took the following pictures during my Hialeah Days.

    The main gate at Hialeah.

    Picture taken outside Hialeah's front gate. This picture was taken on the duty bus back from CP Walker in Daegu.

    Hialeah's Army Community Services Center.

    A street on the base.

    J. a friend of mine, and me taken on the base in front of the playground.

    Business card showing the location of the Dallas club just outside gate 4 the main gate at Hialeah.

    The enterance to the Dallas Club. The place everyone went dancing at 6 am on Saturday morning [the time curfew ended and everyone was allowed out again].

    Dancing at the Dallas Club.

    The Dallas Club.

    Painting on the wall at the Dallas Club.

    "Mama-san". A small shop owner just outside the back walk-in gate. She sold long distance telephone cards and cigerettes. I wonder if she went out of business now that the base and thus all her customers are gone?
    To all my army buddy friends from Hialeah and elsewhere. I miss you. Take care.


    1. I read your entry on state of affairs in Korea and feel the need to comment.

      Having lived in Busan for nearly 10 years I can tell you the recent pollution you complain about has nothing to do with nuclear tests.

      First of all the test happened underground and it was a very low yield device. Hence, you are not getting irradiated!

      Secondly, Korea (South) has a much more realistic and pragmatic view of the relations with NK than other nations have. As for the media...remember that if it bleeds it leads and if it does not bleed pretend it does...or in clearer language most media sensationalize.

      NK being a global threat is much sexier than NK playing its usual diplomacy game isn't it?

      We must be careful not to go nuts with this and to become paranoid.

      The pollution lately is nothing different and you may have noticed something that is not there because of your state of mind. Our perceptions are often colored by our state of mind....

      The canadian evacuation plan is not top notch but being near a US base would not give you more safety! They would evacuate all US citizens before us canadians....and bases would be targets.

      I think the situation in the peninsula is par for the course and that you are worrying yourself too much due to worry and what you saw or read in the media. Thats the key...consider your sources!



    2. On a related note...those pictures of the Dallas reminded me why I avoid that place like the plague since 2001.... ;)

      It is a dive and could definitively use a complete clean job with heaps of bleach!

      I guess my view is colored by the fact we stopped going there in 2001....



    3. "Secondly, Korea (South) has a much more realistic and pragmatic view of the relations with NK than other nations have."

      If you belive that, your brain needs some bleach too.

    4. Come on now. I did not intend that as a insult.

      I was saying South Koreans, having lived with the armistice or cease-fire for over 50 years have grown much more pragmatic towards the North Korean saber-rattling than say western media.

      Case in point: back in 2000 there was a naval incident on off the coast (Sea of Japan) involving Northern and Southern ships. 4 Northern ships were involved and two were sunk. The reaction here was pretty measured and as opposed to back home. My mother called me the next day asking if they were evacuating us because the media had said: Korea on the brink of war.

      See what I mean?

      This does not mean South Koreans are inherently right on this issue but it does mean they have an understanding of the local dynamics that many of the people outside the peninsula do not.

      You could make a similar case with terrorism and compare the US with the UK and the populations reactions to acts of terror....

    5. Aside from fattening quite a few South Korean pockets, where has this enlightened strategy gotten the country? Nowhere.

      The subtle dynamics of 23 million starving North Koreans aren't that hard to figure out are they? Does "starving" or "prison camp" have a different meaning in Hanguel?

      As for the naval incident, ask the families of those murdered South Koreran seamen if they feel their government handled the situation well. If I remember correctly one of the mothers just moved to the US in protest.

    6. I thibnk you are confusing the issues here and injecting the debate (it has become that) with a high level of emotion.

      I said Koreans react pragmatically to North Korea's posturing on the international stage and to military skirmishes than the Western Media does.

      Most Koreans I know are angry about the camps in the North and about the country being divided but that is a different issue!

    7. Good luck at home. You had guts to open yourself up online, and that's a lot more than most of us do.

    8. I spent 1969-1970 on Hialeah compound and it was the best place in the Army to be. I was in the MPs I worked Gate 4 when it was called the back gate. The main gate was Gate #1 and also the Texas St patrol. I had a great time there too.