When I first came to South Korea, a little over two years ago, the international media was ablaze with predictions of doom on the peninsula. The North Korean government declared to the world that it was absolutely hellbent on turning Seoul into a “sea of fire.”

In spite of this – or, perhaps to some extent because of it – I moved all the way around the world on my own and settled in Daegu, South Korea. Immediately upon arrival, I was surprised to find that no one cared about the supposedly approaching holocaust. I asked people about it and they said it was no big deal.

Even the Korean press didn’t seem to care. What they knew, and I didn’t, was that this was old news. Rhetoric. North Korea has been declaring war for years. It’s actually a fairly successful strategy that has secured their sovereignty in spite of their awful predicament.

When you live in South Korea you are frequently woken by something called the “Doomsday Siren.” It’s an air raid alarm that sounds for several minutes at a time – usually in the morning – and is followed by a mandatory silence. Only emergency vehicles are allowed onto the streets in the following ten minutes.

This is because South Korea is still technically at war with a country whose artillery sits a mere thirty-five miles from downtown Seoul – a sprawling city with some ten million citizens. Readiness is important. The North is a belligerent entity, whose military is capable of wreaking untold destruction upon the South. They’re fond of terrorism, too. And spies. And assassins.

But nobody cares in this new, wealthy Korea. No one bats a surgically-created eyelid.

That is to say, no one cared until the end of March, 2010. When a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean frigate, life changed on the peninsula. We were reminded of the impermanence of our comfort. The country took a financial hit. No one wants to invest in a warzone.

The news is dominated by the daily enfolding of events – events that appear to be leading us inexorably towards war. It’s not just the fear mongering western press, either. All over the world, newspapers are taking this seriously because it is quite serious.

What is alarming is that the general population of South Korea is now, finally, worried. They didn’t care when nuclear bombs were tested, or when missiles were fired over Japan. They didn’t care about the “sea of fire” comment. But now they’re scared. They think we’re going to war.

The US has issued evacuation preparations. Unfortunately for me, the UK hasn’t done the same. But it doesn’t matter – they all require a trip to Seoul. I live in Daegu, a few hundred kilometers south, and the one direction I know I don’t want to travel when the bomb drops is north. I don’t want to be in a city that will soon become a firing range for Kim’s million man army, or his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

I don’t think for one minute that I’m in any danger in Daegu. I’m confident that within the week we’ll see gunfire at the DMZ, a bomb on the Seoul subway, an airplane shot out of the sky, or – more likely – another ship sunk. But the North won’t roll on down as far as Seoul. Their actions will be provoked and they’ll be defensive. War is suicide, and they know this.

What does get me is that their actions are costing me money. My wages and my savings have been devalued significantly since the sinking of the Cheonan. I have a currency calculator on my desktop, and I watch the news and watch its effect. When President Lee opens his mouth, my savings get smaller and smaller. The won took a nosedive this week, and I have no choice but to bank on its recovery. (Pun definitely intended.) I doubt, though, that it’ll recover in the next few weeks or months.

But life goes on… I take my new motorcycle into the mountains every chance I get, because I can no longer take the atmosphere in the city. I can’t turn on the TV or look at Google News, because it all spells out the coming doom.

Yesterday I took my bike into the middle of nowhere for the express purpose of getting lost in the scenery. Korea was at its finest. Mountains rising out of valleys, rivers winding between them, an impossibly blue sky overhead.

I took a corner badly and wiped out in the middle of nowhere, and spent a few hours just lying on the road, staring at the sky. My bike was wrecked, but fortunately I wasn’t hurt. A strange sensation gripped me as I lay there. I felt happy. I was away from the trouble of people, on deserted road in the mountains of a country I actually kind of love.

That strange sense of peace and happiness didn’t last very long. As the sun came down over the mountain it began to get cold. Soon the sky was full of fighter jets, crisscrossing the blue with their noise and pollution and reminders of the fact that we’re on the cusp of something hideous.

I sat in my shorts and t-shirt for a few hours until I was rescued. My bike was destroyed, but I had it rebuilt by a surly old man who refused to speak to me. He charged me 35,000won and I laughed. Money is worthless.


The photo below was taken only a quarter of a mile from North Korea.

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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

74 responses to “Living in the Shadow of the North”

  1. Judy Prince says:

    David, what makes the “scare” different this time?

  2. Becky says:

    Does anyone like North Korea?

    I mean, I understand strategic alliances, but Kim Jong Il seems like a fairly unstable individual. Maybe I just assume he must be because I’m an American and he’s an unapologetic Communist.

    But on the whole, he seems like the weak link in the Communist/ostensibly-less-communist China/Russia/N. Korea chain.

    • Yup, China seem to be losing patience with him. Every time there’s a sanction placed on NK, China fill the gap with increased aid. It rewards their bad behaviour. But allegedly he left Beijing in a rage a few weeks ago because they refused to help him. Now Prime Minister Wen is in Seoul, and China is coming around to SK’s side.

      And there’s an interesting book sweeping the NK-scholarship circle. It’s about how NK isn’t truly Communist. Their politics are more dominated by a Nazi-like “One True Race” kind of thing. Apparently, thinking about them as Communists is what slows down progress in dealing with them.

      • Becky says:

        Well, you know. Fascists, Communists, whatever. “The Bad Guys.” The “not-a-democratic-republic” guys.

        Of course, whether or not the US is still a democratic republic is open to debate, but that’s a different issue.

        I think the line between Fascism and Communism is a thin one, lying primarily in technicalities. At some point, when you go too far to either side of the political spectrum, you end up on the other side.

        Poor Kim. Must be a bitch to have everyone outside of your country insolently refuse to acknowledge your status as a living god.

        • Agreed. They’re certainly bad guys. James Bond styled bad guys. Did you hear about their “milfspionage” programme? They were sending old women into SK to sleep with guys and find out info. Just little stuff – train times and university schedules. The idea is that they know what they need for terrorism. Great name, though. “Milfspionage.”

          And that guy I mentioned said in his book that the “living god” stuff is a complete fabrication by the western press. He supposedly never made any of those crazy claims to being superhuman.

          But then again, it’s not a grand leap up from giant statues and portraits of yourself, and calling yourself the “Dear Leader.”

        • Becky says:

          Well, that’s more what I meant. I never heard of any claims that he referred to himself that way, it’s just the general spirit of the public image he is creating for himself.

        • I see. There are certainly well known stories… that are apparently untrue. Like the one about him shooting an entire round of golf, scoring only hole-in-ones.

  3. Judy Prince says:

    David, a NorthKorean sub torpedoe’ing a SouthKorean frigate is what stunned SKoreans and their economy and the world, but had nothing NKorean-violently comparable to this happened in the last 50 years or so?

    • It’s not really about that, per se. North Korea has done bad stuff, but nothing like this – or least, not for 25 yrs or so. The situation has drawn the whole world in… and it really feels like war this time. It’s amazing that SK have shown the restraint they have. I just don’t think it’ll last.

      I think what it comes down to as well, is that NK is unstable, and they’ve been relatively (I use that term carefully) stable over the past 50 yrs. Kim is about to die, the generals hate his heir, their poorer than ever, have sanctioned restricting them, they have 100 SK citizens trapped in Kaesong… It’s added up to the most tense point in recent history.

      But yes, there may have been worse moments in the past 50 yrs. Just not in recent times, and certainly not in the wealthy, comfortable present. This is a 1st world country now. They don’t expect war like the used to. They had a dictatorship not that long ago.

      • Judy Prince says:

        David, economics dictates politics, and India and China—-THE economic biggies (along with the USA) of the world—-synch more with Western nations and other capitalist democracies.

        Hence, NK’s placed its historically strongest ally, China, in an untenable position: Should it help NK blow up SK, one of the West’s darlings of Asia, and therefore shatter its economically successful relationships with the West and other capitalist democracies?

        My thinking’s that China and the USA are pursuing an understandable, if potentially dangerous, political course. That is, in displaying their military might, they’re playing their expected roles, but their actual political (i.e., economic) aim is to figure out how to ignore NK and carry on trade as usual with one another.

        If my thinking’s wrong, then it just might be that China wants war with the USA, but it seems a proverbial “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face”, economically speaking.

        There’s always the prophecy of Jean Dixon who foresaw a near-apocalyptic war between China and the USA.

        • Yes, I agree that China would be ill-advised to support NK. They really don’t want to, but they feel obliged. They like money, so they’re going to stick with the west on this one. It makes sense.

          I truly hope that China come around to supporting action against NK. That would mean a lot to helping the situation. Really, NK might even be persuaded to give up its weapons in return for moving back under China’s protection.

          But I think we’ll see China move over to our side very soon.

        • Judy Prince says:

          We’ll see, David, won’t we? BTW, what do you hear about Taiwan’s reaction? Are they ratcheting up their arsenal that’s been pointed directly at China for years? Or are they maintaining their usual “hidden” connections with China for the sake of their economy?

        • I’m pretty ignorant about Taiwan. I haven’t heard of any involvement on their part.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Just found this, David, from today’s Bloomberg Businessweek:

          “May 28 (Bloomberg) — Asian currencies had their biggest weekly gain in almost two months as reports showed regional economies are improving and concern faded that Europe’s debt crisis will worsen.”

          “The South Korean won and the Philippine peso were the biggest gainers today after China affirmed its commitment to investing in Europe. The Philippine economy grew at the fastest pace in three years in the first quarter and South Korean manufacturers’ confidence held near a seven-year high.”

        • Thanks for that – I see know that there’s been a little improvement. I just hope people don’t get scared… A little spark and it could bomb again. It’s scary watching that happen. But it’s ups and downs. A couple of weeks ago I noticed the rate and moved way in my favour, and I transfered some money home. It was a rare smart move on my part. Wish I’d transfered more in retrospect, but there you go. I’ll wait for the next positive change.

        • Judy Prince says:


          This article (NYT online today) “Attack Bares South Korea’s Complex Links to North” explains much:

          An excerpt:

          “But while passions are running high, they are tempered by a deep-seated resistance here against returning to an era of cold-war politics and hostility toward the North, political analysts say. A strong core of support for maintaining ties with the North cuts across South Korea’s otherwise divided landscape. Even President Lee has not called for permanently ending ties, but rather for resuming aid, trade and investment only when the North reciprocates by curtailing its nuclear programs.”

          “There is a strong sense of shared ethnic identity with Northerners, which runs deep enough that South Korean newspapers gave glowing coverage of the North Korean soccer team, which won its first World Cup berth in 44 years, even as they railed against the attack.”

          “Also, some here fear that the North’s isolated leadership might try to threaten the South’s prosperity if it is not appeased.”

          “While most of the business community has stood by the conservatives, Mr. Lee has alienated one group: the approximately 700 South Korean companies that do business with North Korea or invest there. Many complain that they will suffer huge losses if economic ties are severed. Particularly concerned are the 121 companies that have invested in the industrial park at Kaesong, which the North has recently threatened to close.”

        • Interesting article, and telling quotes.

          The last surprised me. I hadn’t thought about the people whose business deal with the North. I guess I thought it was all the government… but what is interesting are the SK managers who’re stuck in the North. I wonder what will happen to them.

          Reuniting the Koreas will be a monumental task, if and when it happens. NK will certainly drain SK’s prosperity. But the USA will, of course, foot the bill for reunification. That’ll piss off China. And the cultural differences will show pretty quickly… I wonder how North Koreans will deal with us foreigners.

        • Here’s an interesting new angle: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-29/south-korea-faces-domestic-skeptics-over-evidence-against-north.html

          Has South Korea been learning from the USA about how to instill fear and get ready for war?

          I doubt it. That would presuppose Seoul’s desire to actually go to war, with or without foreign support. It would be too damn risky. Seoul has nothing to gain by reunifying, or even dropping a few missiles into Pyongyang.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Fascinating article, David, primarily because of the competing quotes. One cannot discern which are lies and which are truths. My sense is to give little credibility to either NK or SK government officials’ statements; they tend to cancel themselves out, anyway.

          What I found chilling is the attempts by the SK government at the highest levels to silence members of the panel itself and two SK lawmakers. To wit:

          “Prime Minister Chung Un Chan ordered the government to find a way to stop groundless rumors spreading on the Cheonan’s sinking, the JoongAng Daily said yesterday. Prosecutors questioned a former member of the panel that probed the incident over his critical comments, the paper said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff sued a lawmaker for defamation after she said video footage of the ship splitting apart existed, a claim the military denies, Yonhap News reported.”

          However, David—-and this is a big “however”—-the panel itself comprised several experts from Sweden which has an embassy in Pyongyang and which does not ally itself with either Japan or the USA. If those Swedish panel members agreed with Japan and the USA as to the guilt of NK, it’s well worth carefully considering that NK may have intentionally ordered the torpedoeing. One could argue that it was a “rogue” NK submarine captain who initiated sinking the SK frigate without govt sanctioning, but that seems highly unlikely, unless, of course, there’d been some kind of provocation from the SK frigate which allowed for immediate action, evidence for the provocation being doubtless imnpossible to get since the frigate’s sunk.

        • One big problem right now in South Korea is that of free speech… it doesn’t really exist to any guaranteed extent. The government has recently exercised its right to arrest and charge bloggers for holding anti-government opinions, and doesn’t allow anonymous internet posting.

          The United Nations last week (or maybe 2 weeks ago) condemned South Korea’s repressive methods of banning anti-government opinions. The government utterly refused to cooperate with the UN… but now they want the UN to help them against North Korea.

          So it doesn’t surprise me that when someone expresses an opinion that the government finds repulsive – that they silence him. That’s a big part of Korean culture, and of government practice.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Ah, I see, David. Hadn’t known that the SK govt customarily throttles dissension. Yuk. I don’t envy your living there. Do you feel a lot of kinship for the people after having stayed there for quite awhile?

        • Not many people know it. They’re “our allies” and so we overlook the flaws. We point out when the North fucks up ’cause they’re the baddies.

          Do I feel kinship with the people?

          Hard question.

          I’ve been treated pretty badly by the general population since getting here, but I’ve met some really great people. I really love my kids, and my boss (which is strange – never thought I’d care for an employer), but the people in general… Well, it’s tough. They’re not exactly foreigner-friendly.

          I certainly don’t want to see another war breakout here, whether I’m in the country or not.

  4. Irene Zion says:


    The torpedoing by North Korean submarine of the South Korean frigate was an act of war and should have been treated as such.
    If we had an honorable government, we would have retaliated. We are there to protect South Korea. We didn’t. We let an act of war go unanswered. This was wrong and there will be consequences.
    I hate politicians. They’re all a bunch of lying-ass pussies.
    But ask me what I really think….

    • It was indeed an act of war… Or maybe not.

      I have a theory that no one else has suggested, and if I’m right it would explain a lot.

      I think that the torpedo might not have been fired on the orders of the government. I think it might have been a general who’s unhappy with Kim’s choice of heir, his international politics, or the crippling poverty that effects even the leaders.

      And yes, politicians are pussies. They rob life of reality.

      My dad used to work on that oil rig in the gulf – the one in the news. I asked him today what he thought about the whole thing. He said, “Everyone is so wrapped up in the politics. Did you know that eleven people died?”

      I didn’t.

      • Which isn’t to say that the politics of it isn’t important… but that the arguing back and forth robs the situation of its reality to some extent. We forget about human life and animal life.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Something else to consider is that it has not been uncommon for both sides to “play chicken” with each other over the years (actually, not uncommon on a lot of borders and in territorial waters). I haven’t bothered to see if there’s any info on the commander of the Nork vessel but it would be interesting to see if he’s new or, if not, has a history of this sort of provocation. It’s possible he took it too far and/or that he had a new gunnery officer that didn’t understand that they were posturing. I’d be curious as to how the crew has been treated since their return.

      You can’t “my bad” a bullet back into a barrel and it wouldn’t be the first time a shooting war started because of something as stupid as an unintentional discharge.

      • The thing is, we know so little about NK. Most of it is guess workwork. We won’t know what they don’t want us to. It’s been rumoured that Kim asked for the attack because of a sea battle they lost in November.

        And yeah, my thought about a stray bullet is that with tensions so high, it’ll escalate quickly.

        They are playing chicken right now. The South and the US are having massive military drills in the Yellow Sea, and NK are sending submarines out and about, and threating pot-shots at DMZ command posts. It’s all bravado… but it can go too far.

  5. Your take, which I very much enjoyed and thank you for that, reminded me of living in the Bay area. When I first moved there, I went to sleep with a life jacket beside my bed as I was convinced the big one would hit at any moment. After a few years, I knew I had gone local when someone from out of town asked about earthquakes. My reaction was, ‘huh?’

    All this to say, I’m sorry about your money, but the experience of riding your bike through the mountains sounds invaluable.

    • Thank you. It truly is an amazing experience. Motorcycles are wonderful things. Dangerous, but wonderful. I think if the bomb dropped I’d take my bike south as fast as possible – then get a boat to Japan.

      I liked in California and never experienced an earthquake, but apparently the day before I arrived and after I left – you guessed it… Earthquake.

      Yeah, it’s strange how you get used to stuff.

      • Matt says:

        Dude, we’ve been having them so frequently since Easter that it’s reached the point where I don’t even interrupt what I’m doing anymore. I’ll be reading or playing a videogame, and one will hit, and I’ll just ignore it.

        • Really? That’s creepy. I notice they’re on the news far more often, and I wondered whether that’s just because people’s interest it piqued – you know, after a few well publicized big ones. Or are there actually more earthquakes? Is this what the Mayans had in mind?

  6. Mary Richert says:

    David, thanks for sharing this perspective. As I’m sure you know, we Americans over on the other side of the world tend to not understand these things. North Korea to me almost seems like some horrifying accident in which a mentally unstable middle manager somehow became a dictator. Kim Jong Il is the self-righteous, backstabbing, uncooperative coworker that somehow never gets fired taken to the extreme.

  7. Quenby Moone says:

    I’ve been thinking about you often in these tense weeks, and have wondered when the-coming-war-update was going to be posted. It’s a great one, though terrifying. Take care, international man of mystery. You’re in our hearts and minds.

    Definitely go south, though. North looks fairly dodgy. Hitch a ride on a fishing boat or something.

    And no more crashing motorcycles. You only get a couple of freebies and then they start taking limbs.

    • Yeah, I learned my lesson. Admittedly I was going slowly and it was just a matter of stupidity. If I’d been on a busy road or going fast, hopefully I’d have not crashed.

      As for this post… I’ve been trying to write it for ages, but I’ve been busy. I write silly little things instead of the important stuff. Really, with my place in the world right now, I should be trying to sell writing about Korea. Make a career out of it… But I’m lazy.

      And hitching a lift on a fishboat… that would be awesome.

  8. Paul Clayton says:

    David, I hope you stay safe. The North Korean people need one of those generals like the kind that tried to take out Hitler. Maybe we have a misslie that could home in on one of their cell phones. A whole nation enslaved and starving. The North Korean leadership reminds me of the Martians in Mars Attacks. The whole world is forever hoping for the best, giving in to their little demands, and every now and then we see their true vile nature. They may finally have gone too far.

    • Thank you. I hope for the best, too. It just doesn’t look so good right now… I think they’ve gone too far, and I think that war is coming. Maybe tomorrow, maybe six months from now.

      Anyway, I’m out of Korea in October, regardless.

      By the way, you look like Burroughs in that photo. Some people wouldn’t take that as a compliment, but I always thought Burroughs looked (and sounded) really fucking cool.

  9. Paul Clayton says:

    Damn! I was going for Bogart, not Burroughs. But I’ll take it.

  10. Uche Ogbuji says:

    @Irene, I’m not sure what you wanted the US to do about the torpedoing. Of course it was an act of war, but you forget that NK is not, say, Somalia, even though it is increasingly unstable. For one thing there is the shadow of China. And that is an economic as much as a military shadow.

    Americans need to realize that the days when the US could project power almost at will are long gone. The twin war in Iran and Afghanistan was probably the final blow. We spend more money on defence than any other nation, and we get pathetically little leverage from those dollars.

    I agree with David. There will not be all out NK/SK war. It will be more a succession of sabotage and terrorism. That’s not to minimize the chaos NK can cause, but not a single player in the region can afford all-out war and many other extraordinary things will come to pass before what must look to some as the obvious thing.

    Stay safe, David.

    • Matt says:

      Americans need to realize that the days when the US could project power almost at will are long gone.

      Agreed. Certainly our previous “excursions” in Korea and Vietnam illustrated that well enough.

      • I think that a certain level of arrogance – that is to say, the world police complex that certain people feel – will probably prompt a few more unsuccessful military involvements. For another thing, there’s too much money in war. The people who choose to go to war have their money in the companies that profit for war…

        But I’m hopeful that America will realize it’s no longer able to assert its dominance like it used to.

        Besides, as history has shown, when one country fights with another country, the problem is rarely that simple. These things spread. Allies come into play. Regional instability, etc etc.

        Goddamn, it’s morning. My brain isn’t working yet. I feel like a bad middle school history teacher.

  11. Matt says:


    Yeah, like Quenby, I’ve been keeping an eye on what news I can get about these developments, and hoping you and yours get out of there safely.

    I’ve always wondered what would happen to NK society if Kim jong Il just dropped dead, especialyl given the less-than-impressive charisma his son seems to possess. Would things continue as is, do you think?

    Or would the state of the place change?

    • Matt, I’ve been writing about this for a while on other blogs and such. You see it referenced in the newspapers, but as there are no facts to go along with it you won’t see it on the front page.

      This is a scenario that scares the piss out of the US/SK military. And China and Russia, I guess. And it’s something that’s coming in the next months or years.

      When Kim dies he will probably be followed by his 3rd son, who is despised by most NK generals. That means a power struggle. And a power struggle in a country with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons is never a good thing.

      We’ll probably see hardliners trying some scary shit.

      That’s what happened in the Cold War. Hardliners on both sides were advocating the doomsday button and preemptive nuclear strikes. If either side had a true power struggle, the hardliners could’ve won over. That’s why the US paid the USSR’s bills in the dying years – to ensure they didn’t reach collapse point.

  12. Joe Daly says:

    Wow. Totally intense. It vaguely brought up some of those post 9/11 concerns when I often found myself trying to estimate just how likely it was that I would get caught in some sort of attack, depending on the city I was in and location within the city.

    Really empathized with the quiet blue sky being a powerful tonic to the unconscious and conscious stresses of everyday life.

    Glad you were OK and the bike reparable.

    • Thanks man. It’s scary when the fear comes nearer… If you’re like me, you were brought up with “the bad guys” far away. Suddenly it seems like they’re not so far, and it’s a strange feeling.

      I’m generally not a people person and I really do like to get into the mountains as often as possible. The blue skies and fresh air help many of life’s little problems.

      I was going to add a couple of photos to this piece, but I’m a terrible photographer, and thought it’d probably just cheapen it.

  13. Zara Potts says:

    I’m glad you were okay too, David. Be careful out there!
    I like reading these things. Insight and perspective is a powerful thing and you express it so eloquently.

    It seems so crazy to have North Korea and South Korea at war with each other. It is so ridiculous, I find it hard to fathom. You know, the only thing I really enjoy about the Olympic is the parade of athletes when North Korea and South Korea join up. It always brings a tear to my eye.

    I’m such a sap.

    • Richard Cox says:

      Yes, ZaraPotts. You are a total sap.

      • I understand, Zara. It’s nice in some ways, but weird and unpleasant in others. Both NK and SK are mired in ideas of racial purity, and a lot of people here believe that as a pure “one blood” race, there should only be one Korea. No foreigners, no mixing, just Koreans. That’s kind of a big driving factor behind shows of solidarity between the two nations.

        It’s rare to read anything in the international press about Korea that makes much sense… or it was until recently. When you’re here you realize how detached these media outlets are from this reality. But now, with tensions heightened, they’re actually doing a good job. You can check out Google News and see some decent perspectives on this thing.

      • Zara Potts says:

        A lightweight and a sap, Richrob!

  14. Richard Cox says:

    Wow, glad to hear your accident wasn’t too bad. To be honest, since I know nothing about motorcycles, it amazes me every time I hear a story about someone walking away unscathed from an accident. How does that happen? Whenever I crashed my bicycle as a kid, there usually some kind of injury, sometimes bad ones, and I was never going more than 20 mph.

    Regarding the threat of war, I hope you remain safe that your investments aren’t hit too much harder. And didn’t I read somewhere that you might be leaving soon? Did you post about it recently? Or am I mixing you up with someone else?

    • Thanks man. I’ve only come off my motorcycle once, and I was going so slow and fell so perfectly that I was barely scratched. The front of the bike went over first and took the brunt of the impact, and the way I was leaning meant that by the time I hit the ground the force was pretty much gone. Some people call these things miracles, but I’d say it’s just luck.

      I’m leaving Korea in September or October. I was planning a month in Cambodia, but I think I’ll just fly home to see my parents (who I haven’t seen in two and a half years) and then on to Taiwan, where I’m hoping to find a job. I’ll miss this weird country. For all its obvious negative points, I’ve become accustomed to life here.

  15. Jordan Ancel says:

    I think this is quite disturbing, David. I’m not just referring to the imminent doom looming over the country, but that you think you might be safe only a few hundred kilometers away. Please tell me you’re joking.

    I’m not there, and I know nothing of the daily life there, but if there is a war, or at least some kind of aggression, a few hundred kilometers isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference if NK wants to totally obliterate SK.

    C’mon, man! Haven’t you seen ANY post-apocalyptic movies? You’re gonna be the lone dude on the bike traversing the ashen countryside looking for fresh water and kimchee.

    • I think you’re over-estimating the North’s abilities a little. If they could destroy SK they would have already done it. As it stands, they’ll only fight if provoked by a silly escalation of events – say a rogue bullet cause a stand-off that isn’t settled.

      In which case, the SK and US armies will annihilate Pyongyang and wipe out NK’s artillery in no time. Seoul will sustain some terrible damage, but living on the edge of Daegu, I think I’ll be fine.

      But I did enjoy that image of me riding across the countryside looking for water and kimchi. Fortunately, even nuclear waste would begin to sizzle and die in the presence of kimchi. It probably protects you against radiation poisoning.

  16. Simon Smithson says:

    Brother man, I’m glad to hear you’re OK with the bike, and with the possibility of inter-Korean warfare.

    I’ll admit, knowing SFA about either Korea, apart from the fact that SK is the ‘good’ Korea, you’re pretty much the face of whatever news story I hear about it.

    Whenever issues like this come of, I remember this guy:


    Who saved the fucking human race, most likely.

    • Yeah, the Cold War was a scary time. Not that I remember any of it… but studying it, one has to wonder how we avoiding nuclear destruction. In Cuba, the freakin’ Soviet nukes were basically in the hands of the generals. Moscow didn’t even need to give the go-ahead for a strike.

      Che Guevara, incidentally, opted for an all-out preemptive nuclear strike against American civilian targets… yet people still love him.

  17. Damn motorcycle wrecks. They’re either deadly or some kind of epiphany.

    Reminds me of the time I took on a green machine with my big wheel head on. I lived to tell the tale.

    Your writing always sparks thoughts, images and ideas. You are such an inspiration.

    While a kid I always heard the air-raid sirens go off. I was terrified.

  18. Greg Olear says:

    Somehow I missed this when it was posted…thanks for writing this, David. And motorcycles, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when and how bad. Stay safe!

    I’m not an expert on this stuff — Arky, are you out there? Chime in! — but I believe we are still technically in a state of “conflict” with NK. There was no truce, no treaty, no suspension of hostilities in the 50s.

    I’ve heard that what we need to do to bring down the regime in NK is not blow it up, but expose it to the rest of the world. When the citizenry find out how shitty their lives are, the thinking goes, it’s only a matter of time before the house of cards topples.

    I find it interesting, also, how Kim doesn’t have a real wife, but sort of uses women in a creepy sex god sort of way. If there were some women with real influence there, there’d be less macho posturing, I think.

    • Thanks, Greg.

      They’re trying to expose it to the world, but Kim’s pretty good at insulating his country. They have balloons that carry notes over the border, and people even smuggle phones are radios in. According to defectors, the majority of North Korean citizens now understand that their country is the asshole of the earth.

      The problem is that Kim is ruthless at stamping out dissent. If you’re suspected of not being patriotic, it’s not just you that’s punished. He’ll literally wipe out your bloodline. Whole families are sent to death camps.

      A while ago they fucked with the currency to wipe out free trade. That made the news because it backfired tremendously. The free market is operated by old women (called adjummas). Old Korean women are terrifying. They scare the hell out of me. And apparently they scare Kim, because when they threatened revolt, the currency was revalued.

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