I’m a Korean girl who grew up in a white-bread farming community not far from Vancouver, BC. My childhood was pretty idyllic, running around on our farm, riding our neighbour’s horses, playing tag with my 4 sisters. Growing up as “the” visible minority in a blonde farming community, I wasn’t proud of being Korean. M*A*S*H* was a popular show in those days but you never saw any cool Koreans on it, just shell-shocked refugees or the bad guys, with their slanted eyes and flat noses, speaking what my classmates mocked as gibberish.
Fuelling my identity crisis, is the fact that my Father’s family is from the Southern part of the Korean peninsula, while my Mother’s family is from the North. But when my parents were toddlers, it was all just one country. Occupied for nearly 40 years, by the Japanese who ruled with an iron fist, but still one country. I’m no international relations expert but it seems to me that it wasn’t until after the end of the Second World War, when the allies booted the Japanese out of Korea, when the US and the Soviet Union and China started calling dibs on the various parts of Korean real estate, that civil tensions started to escalate.
It was during this period of escalation, my 5 year old mother (which would make it 1949, or a year before the Korean War) and her family left their North Korean home in the middle of the night. Their escape required them to cross a small river without a boat and so, her 2nd oldest brother dutifully piggybacked her across to safety. She always gets teary when she gets to the part where her (now deceased) brother complained about his sore back as she was a rather chubby tot. I believe my mother’s aunts and grandparents planned to join them later, but were unable to before all hell broke loose, and remained trapped in North Korea, never to be seen again.
So with North Korea’s retaliatory attack on South Korea’s military exercises on Yeonpyeong Island this week, I’m angered by the “Oh yeah?” one-upmanship style of politics that I see my two Koreas playing. In my Canadian twinkie view, I see Korean politics being more stylized by Rush Limbaugh and spittle than anything resembling diplomacy. And then the world has to weigh in, no doubt Hilary Clinton and her pantsuits will be dispatched to help restore things to order. But in my experience, Korean men are not good at backing down. People should know that while Kim Jong-Il is a power hungry, celebrity-loving, dictator ding-dong of the highest order, they should also know that most North Koreans are captives in their own country, starved into compliancy. And I find myself being embarrassed to be Korean again.