When you talk about Korea, there are two countries now, N. Korea and S. Korea. They are completely different in political thought, ideologies, religion, economy, etc. However, they speak the same language and have the same history. I know a man who has an older step brother he has never met living in North Korea somewhere. There are many people like him in South Korea. Families were split in two. Wives were in one part of the country and the husband in the other part. It was a very sad time for Korea. South Korea morns the separation. They long to unite again, but understand they can’t live like the people in the north.
It was hard for S. Korea to find its legs after the Korean war, but they did it. North Korea is Communist, so not many pieces of news make it out. They are closed off like Romania, Russia, West Germany, Hungary, Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, and many places were under Communism for so many years. North Korea is suffering the same kinds of indignities and lack of food, heat, etc. that the people in eastern Europe suffered because of Communism. However, the people in South Korea seem to have the exact opposite kind of life. It wasn’t easy getting there, but they have a good life now.
In the beginning after the Korean war, S. Korea was the poorest nation on the earth, but they are now among the richest nations in the world. They worked hard to arrive where they are. They still work hard. The began a habit of working hard for long hours, and they still do. They don’t have to anymore, but many think it is only right to work long hard hours. Some take advantage of the situation, though, They tell they others they are working long hard hours, but what they are actually doing is having a party with their coworkers. The ones who work hard make up for the ones who are partying. When I was working at the university, my boss told me that Americans work to live and Koreans live to work. She knew that Americans would never put up with the kind of hours Koreans ask one another to work.
Since the Korean war, S. Korea has become a country of high rise apartments, electronics, extremely efficient public transportation, traffic jams, churches on every street corner, and overflowing food. Everything must be beautiful! They constantly fix things that even don’t need fixed, but they just want to modernize. Korea went from being a third world country to a first world country in a very short time. The economists think of S. Korea as a modern day economic miracle.
As far as North Korea goes, Kim Jeong Il came into power in 1948. When he died, his son, Kim Il Sung, took his place, and when he died, his son, Kim Jeong Un came to power. They have a dictatorship, a personality cult. They have driven the rest of the world crazy with threats of nuclear bombs. They have kidnapped Japanese. There was a picture going around on the internet for a while of Kim Jeong Un with a pig nose. They have not made a good reputation for themselves in the world at all. There are refugees coming out and telling how hard it is in North Korea and how hard it was to get out.
S. Korea is just the opposite. The head of the United Nations is from S. Korea, Dr. Moon. S. Korean cars have gone around the world. S. Korean Christians send out missionaries to help in places like Africa and the Philippines. They have several Christian radio and television stations as well as Christian hospitals. The whole country wants to learn English so they can travel, and a lot of it is for mission work or for studying or doing business in America. S. Korea has two main religions: Christianity and Buddhism, both religions of peace. It is a very quiet, peaceful, happy country.
An American friend of mine who was already here when I arrived said the Olympics came to S. Korea in 1988, and it really boosted the economy and the modernization of the country. He said the Olympics really changed the place for the better, and they have never looked back.
There have been many good leaders in S. Korea since the Korean war. The head of the United Nations, Dr. Moon, is from S. Korea. They had one president, Park Chong Hee from 1963 to 1978 who implemented several economic policies and movements and made many diplomatic agreements that contributed to the success of S. Korea today. However, he was assassinated. Not everyone liked him, and I heard about the attitudes when I arrived in Korea. Another president, Kim Young Sam, worked hard to clean up corruption everywhere. He had two of the previous presidents to him arrested, and then let them go. He let thousands of political prisoners out of jail. One of the Korean presidents, Kim Dae Jung, 1998-2003, received the Nobel Peace Price for his work on human rights. He implemented the “Sunshine Policy,” a policy I have heard many Koreans talk about that changed the attitudes toward North Korea. He is the first South Korean president to visit North Korea.
The president after him, Roh Moon Hyun continued the Sunshine Policy, but he went through a terrible time. They tried to impeach him because they insisted he had accepted bribes. It was all over the news when he committed suicide in 2009. I was shocked as the rest of Korea was. He was no longer in office, but he had been humiliated. If you look on the internet, you can find an apology video from him to the Korean people. How many American presidents would do something wrong that was never really proven, but be so humiliated that they would go to a cliff behind their house and step off killing themselves? Hillary and Bill Clinton made mistakes, but there is no apologizing. Bill Clinton even point blank lied to the American public about what he did. Barrack Obama made mistakes, but there is no apologizing. Roh Moon Hyun made mistakes, and he apologized and killed himself because he couldn’t live with it. Koreans demand honest! Koreans demand politicians to be upright! Americans should demand the same out of their politicians. This man didn’t have to kill himself, but he had a conscience unlike many American politicians.
You can’t be in the public eye in Korea if you have done anything bad. They demand their movie stars, television stars, and music stars to be upright. If these guys mess up morally, they can’t get jobs.
There have been three more presidents since I came to Korea: Lee Myung Bak, Park Geun Hye, and Moon Jae In who is president now. Korea is further ahead on equal rights for women because Park Geun Hye is a woman. She is the daughter of Park Chung Hee, the president who implemented so many good policies that effect Korea today and was assassinated. They didn’t all appreciate her either, but I was impressed at one point with her. My daughter was having trouble because I had enrolled her in an internet high school from America because I couldn’t afford a private school here. The internet high school stopped sending her courses saying they had a new policy not to send courses to Korea anymore. I sent her to America to her older brother, and he enrolled her in a GED high school, and she took her GED to graduate from high school. The university where my daughter wanted to attend her in Korea wouldn’t accept her because of it. Someone suggested I write to Park Geun Hye for help. I thought they were funny. They gave me her address and insisted she would help. I never thought she would even read the letter, but I wrote it. She not only read it, she tracked me down and called me! She wanted to help. She had meetings in the Blue House trying to help my daughter. I was completely shocked because no American politician has every taken that much interest in me.
I was sad when the people began having protests down in Gangwamun against her. Some of her friends had been arrested for dishonesty. There was no proof that she had done anything wrong, but they considered her guilty by association. They wanted her out of office! Koreans demand complete honest from their politicians! She resigned, and I have heard she is in prison.
Sometimes, the area of Gangwamun around the Blue House, the American Embassy, and Geongbuk Palace is just not the place to go. That is where they usually have political demonstrations. I have never seen them get violent, but I stay away from that area of town when they are protesting and just watch them on the news. Once, there was a political demonstration a block from my house in Bangwha dong. I was completely surprised! It was a demonstration demanding honesty in politics. The Koreans are serious! They will not put up with any hint of corruption in politics!
The Koreans are more passionate than other oriental countries. One of the funniest things I have seen is when I saw a fist fight on the news inside of the government chambers. Could you imagine the people in the American Senate or the British Parliament disagreeing so much that there was one big fist fight in the American Senate or the British Parliament that turned into a brawl? Well, it happened in Korea. They get passionate and will back it up with their fists if need be. I have never seen a gun or a knife drawn or even heard of it here like I have in America, but I have seen very civilized looking men in suits at times have fist fights.
The streets of Seoul are safe. The people demand the politics be clean. In most of Korea, drugs and homosexuality are non existent. If you go to Itaewon, where the foreigners hang out, it has the highest crime rate in Korea, and you can also find gay bars and drugs. I never go to Itaewon after dark. However, in the rest of Seoul, children can walk alone after dark. South Korea is very peaceful and safe!
Thanks to the efforts of American soldiers, missionaries, and honest hard working Koreans, Korea has turned into a wonderful place to live! They are even benevolent toward their North Korean neighbors. They are sad to be separated from them, but they will not accept the government of North Korea.