A Jolting Reminder

I’m sitting in a chair in a conference staring at my laptop and jamming away at my keyboard almost like a piano. Nothing makes a sound above the clicking of the keys and the spinning sound my computer makes when I’ve got too many windows open. I keep on glancing at my cell phone wondering if I’ll get a email response from a job application I submitted a few days ago. I’d check it on the wireless network but it’s a company computer and I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve been looking for a new job.

My fingers begin to cramp and suddenly I realize that I haven’t blinked my eyes in two hours. I lean back and close my eyes trying to focus on something else besides my work. My attention gets drawn to the faint sounds of the street drifting in from the outside and then I hear it. A faint sound that makes me it’s a car alarm at first or maybe someone honking from a distance. But no, the rhythm is distinct and it doesn’t sound like any car alarm I’ve ever hear before. Still, the sound is familiar. I don’t realize what it is until by boss pokes his head into the conference room and says it with a smile, almost as if it were a joke. He gauges my reaction and he’s not disappointed. At first I feel the panic and a slight burst of adrenaline and my nerves immediately kick and I feel myself calm down when he says it’s just a drill.

He leaves the room and afterwards I repeat his words, slowly trying them out for the first time almost like a pair of shoes that don’t fit. They’re unfamiliar, unwelcome and unsettling.

“Air raid siren.”

On November 23, 2010, the North Korean Army shelled Yeonpyeong (연평) island in disputed waters off the coast of the Korean peninsula. The island is officially territory of South Korea but has always been disputed by the North Korea government. Only just before, the South Korean Army and US troops stationed in South Korea were military drills off the coast of the peninsula as well with one huge difference; no one was shooting across the territorial line. In retaliation for the drills, the North Korean army shelled the island resulting in 2 deaths and a mass migration that would’ve made Moses proud.

"Oh fuck..."

An immediate artillery response followed but it is unlikely they hit anything. It wasn’t long before the picture of smoke rises from the ashes of the island was circulating across the internet and security cam footage of people running from artillery sites was being shown everywhere. Politicians would make their way there for photo ops while residents got the hell off the island. It had only been a few months before that a Korean ship was sunk in the ocean by a torpedo resulting in the death of 40 sailors onboard.

Why run drills? For good reason.

And they’re running drills. The latest one came just yesterday, November 16, at 2:00 pm. Just about every major city in Korea had sirens blaring while people were rushed off the streets and traffic was supposed to come to a halt. Later on I watched footage of subways as they shut down at stations and lights cut to emergency and guards who had been posted there guided passengers to designated safety points. The only drills I’ve ever participated in were in school and those never had more than a few hundred people involved.

Last year was a tumultuous time for South Korea with the downing of a warship and the shelling of an island. Surprisingly, 2011 has come and almost gone without any bombings, torpedoes or missile launches but then again… we’ve still got a month and a half left. And who knows?

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