North Korea….a personal history

Categories Korea, Living in Korea
Every now and again when I speak with people back home, I get a question or two about North Korea.  Usually a joke is made about my "crazy" Northern neighbor and I usually try to steer the conversation onto something else.  North Korea is so misunderstood by the majority of people in the rest of the world that it's not worth talking about the subject unless one has truly taken the time to understand the many variables involved with this conflict (myself included).  Today while I was having coffee with one of my friends she told me an emotional tale regarding her connection to North Korea and I want to share it.  I agreed not to use her name in this post to protect her privacy but she gave me the go ahead to tell her story on my blog. As I have learned throughout my time here in Korea, there are many people living in South Korea that still have family ties on the other side of the 38th Parallel (my friend is one of those individuals).  Her story is as follows: At the time that Incheon was invaded at the start of the Korean war, my friend's grandfather happened to be in Seoul on a business trip.  He lived in a town in North Korea that was fairly prosperous at the time; he had a wife and three children.  He lived a happy life and was very proud of his family, career, and the town that he came from.  My friend's grandfather had been planning to finish up his business trip and return to his family in North Korea in a timely fashion but that all changed the minute that blood was shed in Incheon and the infamous "Cold War" began. My friend's grandfather had a choice, risk death and return to North Korea, (which wasn't an option the moment the dividing line was drawn between the two nations) or stay in South Korea and start a new life.  With a heavy heart, my friend's grandfather made the only decision that he could, waited out the war and became part of the nation now known as South Korea.  He would have been killed immediately if it was discovered that my friend's grandfather was from North Korea. With no way to contact his family or find out if they were still alive, my friend's grandfather eventually moved on. Years later, he remarried and had a son (my friend's father).  Until the day he died, my friend's grandfather remained open to his new family about the family he left in the North.  My friend's family continues to acknowledge the existence of their now distant relatives on every one of the major Korean holidays.

A few years ago, a program was established between North and South Korea to reunite some of the family members that had been separated at the time of the war.  Unfortunately, my friend's grandfather passed away before this program was created so he never again got to see his family.  To this day, my friend doesn't know if her relatives are even alive.  The scars that the battle between the two Koreas has left on this part of the world are apparent and sometimes that's easy to forget...

Traditional meal served during "Cheusok" in Korea. It's at events like this that my friend's family recognizes their North Korean relatives by placing food on the table for them.

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