ANNE's CORNER: The Sky Is Not About To Fall!

by Anne Ladouceur, 11/04/2013

As with many expats and citizens in Korea, we, at K4E, have been going about our daily lives despite the media’s best efforts to make out that we are doing otherwise. I had not intended to write about this issue, but in the past few days, we have been received more questions about whether or not it’s safe to come to Korea. I’ve noticed, however, that the number of emails from outside the country far outweighs those from people already here.

While none of us can predict what the DPRK will do (or not do) and there is always the possibility of miscalculation and/or human error, very few foreigners intend to accept our northern neighbours invitation to leave the country.

That said, there are some common-sense precautions that all foreign residents/visitors should take, even when there are no threats from the the North, including
1. registering with your embassy (this can be done online for most - see info on Embassies in Korea in the K4E Directory)  
2. keeping some foreign currency - USD or Euro - on hand
3. having some cash with you
4.some embassies have travel apps or travel alert websites that their residents/citizens can check out. If yours does not, you could check out the US travel information website or the US Embassy's Citizens Servcies Emergency Preparadness page.
4. taking what you hear through the foreign media with, at least, a small grain of salt.

The foreign media, the 24-hour cable news broadcasters in particular, have not been able to show queues of people stocking up on supplies or foreigners heading en masse to the airport – because there aren’t any. Reports from ‘journalists’ who have been parachuted into Seoul to monitor the ‘drama on the Korean peninsula’ have done their best to portrait tension and to show how evil and irrational the North Korean government is/has been. However, as one listens to their reports, it’s evident that they are woefully ignorant of both Korean history and culture, and that that ignorance colours their reporting to a large extent.

This type of over-the-top reporting does no good, in my view, in either the short or long term - other than maybe pushing up ratings. Whether giving this much attention or conversely, ignoring, the ‘temper tantrums’ of North Korean leaders, is the best option is open to debate. Both options have potentially negative and positives outcomes, but what I do know, is that in the 15+ years I’ve been in Korea, we have been through this ‘ritual’ more than once.  Sadly, there have been tragic incidents following the cease-fire of the Korean War, including some in recent years. However, the peninsula has not been in any imminent danger and I, personally, do not believe it is now - despite the unknown quantity and youth of the new leader. That belief appears to be shared by the vast majority of Koreans and foreign nationals living here as we go about our normal schedules.

There are a number of historical, political and economical reasons why sabre rattling from North Korea was expected by many in the South. Only time will tell if the current threats are aimed at the United States primarily or at the North Korean public or both or neither. While we don't have our heads in the sand, few foreign residents are particularly concerned at this time. Frankly, if members of my family had been planning on coming over, I would not discourage them from doing so.

Andrei Lankov has given his take on the situation in this New York Times article of 10 April entitled Stay Cool. Call North Korea’s Bluff.

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