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Shock Comes to Harlem 2010 021

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DMZ Separating the two Koreas
In 2000 I worked on the acquisition of a Korean investment trust company - Project Joseun.  Whenever I worked abroad I took the time to visit the country's landmarks and other areas that helped me understand the country's culture and history.  My Korean trip was no different.  I visited the palaces, the famed open-market trading and shopping areas and attended presentations on the Korean War.  After Japan capitulated in World War II in 1945, the Soviet Union was occupying the northern part of Korea and the United States the southern part.  The peninsula was divided down the middle along the 38th parallel and separate countries established.  North Korea came under communist rule and South Korea under capitalist rule.  When I heard this story recanted I was literally in a state of shock.  The presentation also mentioned that in the aftermath of the Korean War a three mile buffer called the demilitarized zone ("DMZ") was created to separate the two countries.  I decided to take a visit and look over into North Korea.  What I saw instead was the "soul of Kim Jong-Il."

I subsequently took a bus tour out to the DMZ which divided the two Koreas.  I had heard a lot about it and besides, how many people could actually say they had seen North Korea?  The dividing line was pretty underwhelming actually.  There was a tower on both sides to monitor the area, but no throng of militia like I had envisioned.  Only barbed wire fence separated me from the land of no return in the north.  Nonetheless, I had no intention of making a run for the border to test how secure it was.  I had heard that the north had fallen on hard times since its gung ho attack on the south in 1950.  It had attached its fortunes to the Soviet Union and when the economy of the USSR collapsed, courtesy of Ronald Reagan, so did the fortunes of South Korea.  There were stories of how the promises of the “Great Father”, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s leader, had begun to ring hollow.  His subjects had been relegated to at times eating grass soup just to sustain themselves. 

I looked over into the north through a telescope and immediately felt depressed.  It looked nothing like the vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere in Seoul.  I saw what looked like a few apartment buildings and a farmhouse that appeared bombed out and depleted.  While the south had progressed since the split, north seemed like it had actually made time stand still, no progress, no new investment . . . nothing.  The South had been “colorized” while the north still had that grainy, black and white feel of Gone With The Wind before Ted Turner had acquired the rights to the MGM movie library.  It was the year 2000 in the south while if you wanted to enter the 1950s you simply had to climb that barbed wire fence.  When President George W. Bush named North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” a year later, I cringed.  Bush did not get it.  The Great Father could either sell weapons on the world market in exchange for food stuffs or let his people continue to eat grass soup.


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