[Outlook]Chance of a lifetime

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[Outlook]Chance of a lifetime

‘Sir, you should live an honest life.” This is what a caddie said to me when I asked her to increase the number of birdies on my score card. But it did not sound offensive because even though she was half serious, she said it while smiling a big smile, so I only laughed when she said it.
In the spring of 2006, I started my golf outing on a course in Pyongyang with laughter like this. The Pyongyang Golf Course is located in Taesong-ri, Nampo, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Pyongyang.
It is North Korea’s first golf course and was completed in April 1987 to celebrate the late Kim Il Sung’s 75th birthday.
The local legend goes that when Kim Jong-il played his first-ever round of golf here, he scored 38 under par on a 72-par course. It is a beautiful, picturesque course on the shores of Lake Taesong. A fresh spring breeze blew off the lake, and green leaves had just sprung from budding trees. In a small and shabby clubhouse, nothing compared to the one I am used to, we drank soda, which tasted just great.
The caddie’s unsolicited advice, which I was not used to either, made the play even more enjoyable. “Isn’t your tee too high? You should focus and target the fairway toward the green.” She even nagged. “You are better with irons than woods so you will have difficulty on the par-five holes.”
The golf clubs that I rented at the clubhouse were very old. As I have played golf for a fairly short period of time, I realized for the first time why woods were called woods. They really were made out of wood. They felt totally different from the ones I practice with in South Korea. Some irons were missing. The drivers were also old-fashioned models with small heads.
The caddie said I should avoid a sand bunker but my first shot went into a hazard. I asked the caddie if I could get a mulligan. Smiling again, she answered, “Don’t you know that there are no second chances in life? You should have made a wise decision from the beginning when you hit the first shot.”
My round at the Pyongyang Golf Club ended with a good lesson.
One and a half years have passed since then, and South-North Korean relations have changed a great deal.
When I went to North Korea, I also visited a factory in Yongnam. Cha Son-mo, North Korea’s sea and land transport authority, came from Pyongyang to meet me there and talked of the necessity of cooperation in the shipbuilding industry between South and North Korea.
But I wondered when that could happen. When I asked about a summit meeting between the two Koreas, another North Korean high official mentioned some preconditions, implying a negative stance.
However, the summit meeting was held last month and many agreements were made on different business projects.
More concrete and detailed plans about the projects were reached at a recent ministerial meeting.
Cha also visited Seoul as a member of the delegation, and cooperation in the shipbuilding industry that he had wished for was agreed upon.
Some ask if it is right for the administration to make agreements economic cooperation projects between South and North Korea when its term is near its end. In particular, the administration made promises to establish businesses before any feasibility studies. That is in reverse order.
Some also ask if it is right that the government makes agreements involving businesses in the private sector. But it is certain that those projects will take inter-Korean relations to the next level if carried out properly.
The environment in North Korea is also changing.
North Korea is having direct talks with the United States, a wish that Pyongyang has long held. The United States will likely remove North Korea from its list of states that sponsor terrorists.
It is reported that North Korean government financial officials have received their educations on Wall Street.
These are major changes. The process for North Korea to become a normal country has begun.
It is important to keep the momentum going.
But this depends on Kim Jong-il. He will decide whether the Korean Peninsula enters a new age or goes back to the past.
I once again remember the caddie I met on the Pyongyang Golf Course. I would like to say to Kim Jong-il, “There are no second chances in life. I hope that you will make a wise decision this time.”

*The writer is a professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Dong-ho
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