[Letters] Why We Cheer for North KoreaThe 2010 World Cup craze has come and gone, and the memories - England’s bitter loss to Germany, the triumph of Spain’s first World Cup victory, and the surprisingly accurate prediction of Paul the Octopus - will not be forgotten any time soon. One particular surprise for the football fans for the 2010 World Cup was the participation from the elusive North Korea - seen by the rest of the world (not incorrectly) as a volatile totalitarian state infamous for its unpredictable dictator, provocative outbursts, hostile threats and incalculable human rights abuses.
During the World Cup, myriads of American news organizations - from the New York Times to ESPN - questioned the future significance of North Korea’s involvement in such a beloved and widely recognized international sporting event.
This significance was not lost on our family; we emigrated from South Korea and lived in the United States for the last 10 years. Although football has yet to reach the level of passion as elicited in South Korea, it is nothing to scoff at.
In the beginning of the 2010 World Cup, our family was questioned by several zealous American fans regarding our enthusiasm for football. When they asked which team we would be rooting for, we confidently replied, “South Korea.”
Some politically savvy fans even brought up the matter of North Korea’s presence in the World Cup, to which we replied, “We will be rooting for them as well.”
Many Americans were dumbstruck. We cannot expect foreigners to comprehend the complexity of the bond that has existed between South and North Korea since the signing of the 1953 Korean War Armistice Agreement. While other proxy countries that unwittingly became ideological battlegrounds between Soviet Russia and the United States have outgrown their Cold War legacies, no answer has been found for the two Koreas. Families and friends still remain separated, and as the survivors of the Korean War begin to succumb to old age, these precious ties start to be severed.
Taking into account North Korea’s recent nuclear tests, the March sinking of the Cheonan, the hostile stance President Lee Myung-bak’s administration has taken against the North, and the beginning of the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, the progress that Lee’s predecessors managed to scrape together under the Sunshine Policy seem to have all but deteriorated.
Yet political entities cannot wholly represent our cultural consciousness. Despite the adverse relation between the South and North Korean governments, many South Koreans consider the people from both nations as one race, one entity, one culture, one minjok.
Under such premise, we hope that South Koreans can still root for North Korea’s sporting endeavors for years to come. Perhaps one day, South and North Koreans may find themselves playing for the same team. Although such possibility may seem bleak according to current politics, we won’t stop cheering anytime soon.
Yoo Jung Kim, freshman at Dartmouth College, and Yoo Eun Kim, student at Kamiak High School, U.S.A.
“Loan-sharking” and “social injustice”
You recently reported on President Lee Myung-bak’s shock and dismay upon learning of the high interest rates charged by local non-bank “capital firms” in South Korea. Lee called these interest rates, which can be as high as 40-50 percent, a form of “loan-sharking” and “social injustice” (“Lee slams capital firms for high rates,” 23 July, 2010).
I wonder if President Lee has paused to consider the underlying realities of this type of loan. As the article notes, the borrowers seeking such loans often have a poor credit history, and thus the higher interest rate merely reflects the added risk of lending to this person. Moreover, these loans are usually better than the alternative: as Financial Services Commission chairman Chin Dong-soo pointed out, actual loan sharks charge much higher rates of interest and tend to have their own unique methods of coercing repayment.
Given his apparent financial expertise, I suggest that the president lends some of his own considerable fortune to these high risk borrowers at “socially just” interest rates. Until he is willing to do so, I hope that he will spare us his moral indignation about an area from which he is far removed in both specific knowledge and circumstance.
Graduate Student, Korea Development Institute, Seoul