Fear, Miscommunication, and the Folk Hero Nasreddin Hoca

A statue of Nasreddin Hoca in Brussels (photo credit: tuhfe)

Ah, the charades of political dialogue! North Korea sends a memo urging unification and expressing its willingness to open immediate channels of dialogue with South Korea. The memo reads in part, “The resumption of dialogue and the improvement of relations hinge completely on the willingness of the South’s government.” Once the South gets its act together, in other words, the North is ready and willing to cooperate.

There are just a few small preconditions, we discover. Among them: withdrawal of US troops, apologizing for not showing proper respect toward Kim Jong Il’s death, apologizing for the false accusation of North Korean involvement in the March 2010 torpedo attacks on the Cheonan… the list demonstrates that any “dialogue” that the North might be willing to engage in would be one-sided.

Of course, this message is an improvement from North Korea’s earlier absolute unwillingness to have any relations with the South while President Lee Myung Bak remained in office. Indeed, it might signal in a backhanded way a willingness to engage in dialogue, even if not all preconditions are met. Continue reading

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The DMZ: A Thin Wilderness

South Korea is a mountainous and crowded country. High hills and low mountains are in view no matter where you go, but there are also fifty million people on the peninsula. So, wherever there is flat land, there is a city. The cities, towns, and farms spread over the low-lying areas like water, and nearly all the undeveloped areas are in the heart of mountains.

The DMZ is an exception. Whether it crosses mountains or lowlands, it is wilderness: it stretches blank and empty like a thin belt across the waist of Korea, uncaring of topography. You can track it on a satellite map by the narrow band of darker green marking it out from the towns and farmlands to the southern side. It very roughly traces the 38th parallel of north latitude, extending two kilometers to either side. It is heavily fenced, mined, and guarded, but attracts some visitors, of whom I was one this summer.

Map of the DMZ (image credit smithsonianmag.com)

Map of the DMZ (image credit smithsonianmag.com)

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