NZ’s Korean expats celebrate war’s end, soccer’s gain
KOREAN-EXPAT Han Chong-uk is 65 and the only Korea he has ever known is a Korea at war.
When the announcement was made on Friday the leaders of North and South Korea had agreed to formally end the state of war between the two countries by the end of the year, he didn’t know what to feel.
‘‘Every Korean person expects big things, a bigger country, a bigger more powerful country,’’ he said.
The Wellington man was born in South Korea in 1953, the same year an armistice was signed after three years of bitter fighting that left millions dead and the country in ruins.
Chong-uk remembers a hard childhood.
‘‘Some days I remember I had no food for about three days, but everyone was in the same situation.’’
‘‘We learned in school days that the north was our enemy. With my age people everyone sort of hated the North Korean people. These days young ones’ minds are changed, North Korean people are our family or neighbourhood.’’ It’s not the coming-together of two vastly different cultures, or the integration of a high-tech south with a resource-rich north that excites Chong-uk – it’s a unified national football team. ‘‘To me – that’s the main thing,’’ he joked.
Chong-uk spent three years completing his mandatory Baby steps to peace World, p12 military service in his early 20s.
He said it was a blessing young men may no longer have to spend some of their best years serving, and no longer have to live under the threat of being called to arms against their northern neighbours.
Chong-uk arrived in New Zealand in 1989, and knew families who had been separated, caught on either side of the border for 68 years.
He was expecting last night’s annual meeting of the Korean Association of Wellington would be a celebration.