Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jitters in Pyongyang's shadow

THERE WAS an immediate sense in the office that something big had happened when the shells hit Yeonpyeong Island on Tuesday. People stood around the TV watching the video grab of smoke clouds filling the sky above the West Sea. Almost everyone was quiet.

When I first saw the images on screen I was afraid. Yes, I could laugh it off and remind myself how common it is for North Korea to cause trouble. I could tell myself full blown war would never really happen. I could run every clam, logical sentiment through my mind - but it couldn't completely shake the unease bubbling in my brain; that dreadful 'what if'. For the next 30 minutes I waited anxiously, half-expecting to hear the wretched squall of air raid sirens. What would I even do? Run? Freeze? Would it even matter?

Once the shelling had become the previous day's news, the thought of war left my mind. In Korea, I felt strangely isolated from the doomsday, worst-case predictions that were filling headlines around the world. South Koreans are used to North Korea acting up. The world outside isn't - or chooses not to be. Few people here seem as worried as the comment emanating from the rest of the world would suggest. It was only when I read a Fox News headline a few days later about the North's claims of being on "The brink of war" that the jitters returned. It was so easy to forget that "the Korean Peninsula" is no longer just a string of characters in some news copy to me -- it is now also where I live.

And, for better or worse, news never seems to matter as much as when it's on your own doorstep.

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