ANMOK BEACH, Korea, Republic Of — About 500 North Koreans are temporarily staying in South Korea as part of their country’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics, the largest presence of its kind since the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
The reaction of South Koreans has been decidedly mixed. Some have been welcoming while others say they are skeptical of the North’s intentions of sending such a large delegation. One calls the North Koreans “puppets” of dictator Kim Jong Un. But many are totally indifferent to the North Korean visitors, who include athletes, orchestra musicians, cheering group members and Kim’s powerful younger sister, Kim Yo Jong.
Some of the diverse views were reflected in interviews with South Koreans at a beach near the Olympic venues.
Lee, a 46-year-old taxi driver, is critical of the North’s Olympic participation but said he still wants to meet the North Koreans and say: “Hello. It’s nice to meet you here.”
When Lee drove past a concert hall in Gangneung, he saw female members of a North Korean art troupe standing outside the building hours before their performance.
“I know many of them are from wealthy families but they are still all pretty. I realize ‘Nam nam buk nyeo’ is absolutely right,” Lee said, referring to an age-old Korean phrase that says handsome men are down south while beautiful women are up north. “They all smiled brightly but I think some shadows fall across their faces.”
Lee, who served a mandatory military service in a front-line guard post, lambasted Kim’s leadership: “They threatened to nuke us until recently and many in foreign countries had said a war could break out on the Korean Peninsula. So how can I accept the fact that hundreds of North Koreans are now here for the Olympics?”
Woo, a 55-year-old civil servant, said it’s “not bad” to have North Koreans near his neighbourhood because “we are actually the same Korean people.”
“If you imagine that they just wear like we do and walk around here, we won’t recognize they are North Koreans,” he said.
“If I see them, the question that I’d like to ask the most is whether they eat enough, as I’ve heard many died of hunger and whether food are really scarce,” Woo said. “If they really lack food, the entire world should help them to prevent anyone from starving.”
Woo, who described himself as a conservative, said the Olympics are world festivals that North Korea can …read more