A popular Korean reality TV show called “Zzak” (meaning ‘partner’) takes place in what can only be called a “love camp” where men and women who are looking for a significant other come together. Each of these men and women are identified by numbers, and they get to find out more about each other through various ordeals and tasks. At the end, they choose who they want to be with, and the lucky ones become a pair.
Why am I talking about this show? One of the episodes aired on November 9th, 2011, particularly received a lot of attention because of a North Korean woman in the show. This woman, identified by the number 5, almost had a panic attack before the self-introduction session that always takes place at the beginning of the show. As a North Korean defector, she was afraid of how she would be treated once she revealed her identity. And as she feared, her identity caused conflicts and difficulties until her end. The man that she was interested in rejected her, saying that he wants his match-up at the end of the show to be welcomed by his family.
Her appearance in the show made me think more deeply about the boundaries that exist between North and South Koreans. The only thing that made woman number 5 so different from other women was the fact that she was North Korean. In addition, she no accent at all, and nobody would have been able to guess her national identity just by appearances. The reception of her identity and the heartache that she suffered showed the reality of the division between North and South Koreans. Although we are both of the same ethnicity and originally the same nation, love between a North Korean and South Korean is much less likely than love between other groups. In this global society, we often find interracial couples and marriages. Although stereotypes against other ethnicities exist, I think South Koreans are perhaps the most hesitant when it comes to forming relationships between a North Korean defector.
I myself used to think that North Koreans are completely different from South Koreans and therefore are incompatible. The image of North Koreans that I had in my head was directly influenced by what I saw on the news. The North Koreans who I usually saw on the news were emaciated patriots who were on the verge of tears whenever they saw their leader. Although we were essentially the “same” people, they seemed to be more different from me than people of any other ethnicity. If someone asked me if I would date or marry a formerly North Korean guy, I probably would have said no. My pre-held notions and images of North Koreans held me back; they just seemed too different from us.
However, my thoughts changed after meeting a few North Korean refugees last year during my internship at MOU. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to listen to them narrate their stories. After hearing their stories and talking with them, I realized that there are many more similarities between South and North Koreans than differences. It was foolish of me to take their image on the news as who they are. Although the two North Korean women who talked with us were both married to North Korean men, they expressed no particular preference for a South or North Korean. It was memorable how one woman said as long as two minds click together, who you are doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. This was so resoundingly simple and true- at the end, when two people love each other, why does it matter who they are? Especially as North and South Koreans, there are no tremendous language or culture barriers to overcome. We are after all originally of the same nation, culture, and identity. As this division between the two parts of Korea continues, the stereotypes and misunderstandings that the two groups have against each other will only grow deeper. There is a saying that love has no boundaries, and we must keep this proverb true to its saying. For this to happen, we should break down the physical and mental barriers between North and South Korea.
All photos are screenshots from MBC’s TV show “Jjak.”