NZ’s Korean ex­pats cel­e­brate war’s end, soc­cer’s gain

Sunday News - - NEWS - GED CANN

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.

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