Mixed Feelings in South Korea Over N. Korea Olympic Visit
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.
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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 neighborhood 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 also enjoy together with other countries.
Lim, 45, said she hates North Koreans and considers those who came to South Korea for the Olympics to be Kim's "puppets."
"I really don't like North Korea ... If we are unified with North Korea, I would think about emigrating to another country," said Lim, who visited the beach with her husband, Kang Il-Han, for a vacation.
When she saw news about the North Korean Olympic delegation, Lim said, she thought immediately of the money being spent to help finance their visit.
"They are all our taxes that we've paid through our hard works at our work sites," she said.
Kang, a 46-year-old office worker, once worked at a now-stalled joint factory park in North Korea from 2004-2006. He had bad memories of North Korean workers.
"We became close to some North Koreans. Then, they sometimes asked us to do something for them. When we didn't accept their demands, they abruptly changed and took some collective actions," he said. "Maybe it's the traits of those living in socialist or communist countries. They are so proud of themselves and they are united well, too. But they can't do lots of things on their own and they are not open to others."
LEE KYOO HONG
Lee said he wasn't that surprised or excited about the North's massive presence because similar things happened during a past era of inter-Korean detente from 1998-2008.
"I know it's still rare to see them here but I'm not curious about them," he said during a walk along the beach with his wife.
Lee, 64, said he's fine with the North coming to the Olympics.
HAN WOO GYEONG
Han, a 22-year-old college student visiting from Seoul with her friend for a two-day trip, said she doesn't want to welcome the North Koreans.
"I don't have a favorable view on North Korea. That's because its image isn't really good," Han said. "But I don't think it's strange to see those many North Koreans being here to take part in the Olympics."
Han said she has never met North Koreans but that she has no intention of hanging around any places in Gangneung or Pyeongchang to try to see any of the North Korean Olympic delegation.
Follow Hyung-jin Kim on Twitter at @hyungjin1972
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