Monday, November 12, 2007

What I've Learned About Korea

Hi everyone. I hope all is well with you.

I’ve been so busy learning about Korea that I haven’t had time to write.

Kristin warned me when we arrived that she was going to be in a lot of meeting. She was worried I would get bored, but I told her not to worry. I actually learned things I didn’t know while Kristin and her journalist friends were in their meetings.

I think I have finally figured out why there is a North Korea and South Korea. Kristin says Korea used to be one country. If you look on the map, North and South Korea are on something called a “peninsula” south of China. Kristin says Korea was divided into two countries as World War II ended in 1945. Kristin says the reason is complicated, but she told me that the important leaders in the northern part of Korea were friends with a country called the Soviet Union (Kristin says the Soviet Union is no longer a country. It is now many different countries…and the largest is Russia. I had no idea!). The leaders in southern Korea were friends with the United States.

When World War II ended, the Korean Peninsula was divided at something called the “38th Parallel.” (Parallel lines are a measurement used on maps to help show how far a place is above or below the earth’s equator. Who knew?).

Kristin says in 1950, the army in North Korea invaded South Korea to try and make Korea one country again. The leaders in South Korea didn’t want North Korea’s leaders running the peninsula so a war broke out. The war lasted 3 years. Kristin says many people died, including thousands of American soldiers who helped the South Korean army fight the war.

Kristin says in 1953, North and South Korea signed something called an “armistice” or “ceasefire.” This agreement stopped the fighting, but it did not end the war. Kristin says the war won’t officially be over until something called a “peace agreement” has been signed. That means South Korea and North Korea have been at war for more than 50 years!

I told Kristin I was worried about the war. I have never been in a war zone. But Kristin told me not to be too worried. She says South Korea and North Korea have not fought a major battle in many years. Whew!

I am still a bit confused by all of this South Korea and North Korea stuff. Kristin told me it is OK to be confused. She says it is very complicated. She says I should read some books about the Korean War when I get older. I think she is right!

Since South Korea and North Korea are on the same peninsula, I asked Kristin if they were both the same. She told me they are VERY different.

Since I’m staying in South Korea I can tell you that it is very modern. The capital, Seoul, reminds me of a big US city like Chicago or New York (except it is MUCH cleaner here). Here are some photos Kristin has taken of Seoul from the bus or the top of a large hotel building (note it was foggy on the day we were at the tall hotel).

Almost all of the cars and trucks I see on the roads here in Seoul look new. I’ve seen many stores with names I know including Pizza Hut, KFC, Burger King, Starbucks, Dunkin Doughnuts, and Outback Steakhouse. And one of the McDonald’s near the hotel is open 24 hours. Can you believe it?!

Seoul also has a subway system. It is VERY large but it reminds me of the Metro I’ve been on in Washington, DC. Kristin and some of her journalist friends took me on the subway a few days ago. Here I am on the Seoul subway with my new friend Morgan. He works for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He is very nice!

Like New York, there are lots of bright lights here at night. I love to look at the signs…even though I can’t understand what they are saying. Kristin says that’s because the signs are printed in Korean, the local language.

Although there are lots of skyscrapers and modern buildings here, there are also some older (or historic) buildings throughout the city. This is a “gate” near the modern Dongdaemun Market.

I finally asked Kristin how North Korea is different. She says there are MANY things that are different. Here are some of the things I learned:

North Korea’s official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea…or DPRK. But Kristin says most people just call it North Korea.

The leader of North Korea is Kim Jong Il. She says Kim Jong Il was not elected like our president is elected. He became the leader after his father, Kim Sung Il, died in 1994. The people of North Korea call Kim Jong Il “Dear Leader” and Kristin says there are photos of him and his father everywhere in North Korea. She says Kim Jong Il is very strict and the army and police watch people very closely to make sure they follow the rules. Kristin says some people call Kim Jong Il a “dictator.”

There is very little electricity in North Korea….especially at night. Here is a photo taken from space of the Korean peninsula. You can see there are very few lights in North Korea after dark.

Kristin says North Korea is a very poor country and many people often do not have enough food to eat. She also says most North Koreans are not allowed to travel outside of the country. She also says very few foreigners are allowed to travel to North Korea. WOW! You must have to be very special to travel to North Korea. But, Kristin says if I behave, I might get to go with her to the North Korean border. I promised to be really good!

Kristin says North Korea also has nuclear bombs. They are very dangerous and the United States and many other countries are worried North Korea will use the nuclear bombs. Kristin says the United States and many other countries are now talking to the North Korean government about getting rid of the nuclear bombs. She says the talks have been going pretty good in the past few months. I sure hope they stay that way!

I’ve learned a lot more about Korea than what I just wrote, but this has been a really long message and Kristin says she needs her computer again.

More later….