The first time I jogged around the beautiful river path in Seoul, I saw all the Koreans exercising, playing with their dogs, texting and even a few day drinkers. The geese honked in the Han River, and the birds chirped in the gingko trees.
I was so happy to be in a new country. Moving overseas was a huge risk, and it was hard leaving my friends and family (and unemployment) for a new job and new life.
"Holy crap!" I thought. "All of my friends and family warned me that North Korea would go crazy and blow up my new country and me!"
Another explosion. "KA-BOOM!"
Summer in Korea is hot and humid, and if I hadn't sweated everything out during my half of a half marathon, I'd probably have peed my pants.
"OK, no more screwing around," I reckoned. Another bomb went off. I covered my head, ran, dived under a tree and screamed "EEEEEEK!"
Then I heard new noises: laughter and the clicking of cameras.
Every Korean in the area stared, pointed and giggled at me. Not one of them had tried dodging the shrapnel or flinched during the bombs.
Because there weren't any bombs.
Nobody told me that my apartment was next to a Korean air force base and they practiced shooting howitzers on the weekends. I made a total ass of myself in front of my new country.
During my time in Korea, I worked as a professor, and I was there when North Korea made threats to demolish South Korea. The first time these threats came about, I asked my students what we should do.
They all cracked up, and one smartass jeered, "We should watch a movie instead of doing your usual boring class."
Every Korean male is required to be in the military for two years. So I posed another question. "You guys are the first in line if North Korea actually attacks. Aren't you worried?"
"Nah. He does this every single year and has for decades. Who cares?"
None of my students and nobody else seemed to be bothered by a crazy man who could erase our home.
I still took my precautions. I kept a bug-out bag equipped with a Korean-to-English dictionary (because jack-booted NoKos have enough patience for an American mush-mouthing words), a box of granola bars (that I'd eat when I was drunk and rarely replace), about $20 of American money (that's a lot of money for a teacher) and a bandanna that I figured would be a pretty decent gas mask. Hey, I'm an educator, not a survivalist.
Now, I'm back in the States. I still keep in touch with my Korean friends, and they still laugh at my concern. "Only foreigners are worried," my ex said.
While I admire this nonchalant attitude, it's also pretty worrisome. Now we've got two wackos with bad hair, huge armies and no clue how the world works. They've got access to nuclear bombs. A couple mean words could hurt feelings and cause fuses to burn.
Let's hope all of this new flare-up is just another stupid misunderstanding, and we can straighten out our jogging clothes and try to pretend nobody watched us making asses out of ourselves.