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Friday, August 25, 2017

South Korean Civil Defense Drill

Dear Trevor (and others curious re. how South Koreans see the current political/military situation):

So much to say.  I shall limit myself, however, to a story about South Korea's annual Civil Defense Air Raid Drill (now in its 45th year; in Seoul they do this drill about 8 times per year).  My hope is that you will pick on some nuances that convey a great deal about current attitudes.

Now, this drill has been held since 1972. And citizens are encouraged to attend. I, as the mere wife of a foreigner, have not been educated about the time/date of such drills (not clear whether that's a university communication glitch or a marital one).  That said,  our kids' school does the drill faithfully.  Last year, however, the drill was aborted when the door to the underground air-raid shelter was locked .  And, maybe that's just as well!  Because access to said door was obstructed by a pile of old/broken university furniture.  Let us pause a moment here or reflection.  Last year, our campus shelter for 4000+ people was inaccessible for the announced, annual drill LET ALONE READY FOR ACTUAL BOMBS.

This year, I decided to take part with the kids' school.  I didn't know what to expect, so I asked google. The most information I could find for foreigners basically said, "when the sirens sound, follow Koreans."  (Ok, that's not quite fair; the best information was given in an adorable video made by a couple of tween Korean girls concerned about ignorant foreigners; they recommended a complicated shelter-seeking website that (a) is entirely in Korean and (b) has completely changed its layout since their filming so ... good luck, foreigners). Yup.

Ok.  So where's the shelter on campus?  No clue.  There are no signs.  Asking around led to information that the shelter was under my very office/classroom building!  Just a few minute walk from home.  Happily, a week ago I saw a laminated paper sign get taped up with arrow pointing downstairs.  The rest of the sign, like most things around here, was completely in Korean.  For all I knew, it was indicating the way to a faculty bar.

At 2pm on the designated Day to Practice Avoidance of Falling Bombs, a siren sounded (glad I was outside by the school already, as there were no other audible sirens on campus) and rapid Korean instructions issued from loudspeakers.

Teachers quickly got their grade 1-12 students into lines.
And, yes, those are twins.

Students followed their teacher in line across campus to the shelter.  And, hooray!
The door was open!

Here is the cement shelter/tunnel.  It is lined with pipes and cables.
I did not see any food, water, toilets, or first aid kits.
Several spiders, though.  And some puddles.

We walked and walked through this narrow space, passing many danger signs
(why? were the cables a threat?).
Do the children look worried? No. They do not.

And on and on, until we descended some rickety and slippery/wet steps...
...where we met up with Military Guy and Scary Plasticized Gas Mask Guy.
The latter of whom I thought was a robot.
Because they have those as flagman along highways; and in stores to promote smart phones.
Oops: He was not a robot.
(note: the wet floor was smelly - not the Guys)

Finally!  Going up the stairs to exit the tunnel/shelter,
were greeted by Scary Plasticized Gas Mask Guy #2.

And Plasticized Guy who said "good-bye" in Korean to every. single. person.
Do these children look frightened?
Sweaty and bored, maybe.  Certainly not scared of bombs.

 Students headed back to school just 15 minutes after the siren sounded. 

I asked around campus - long-timers mostly didn't bother doing the drill.  And people who were in the city at the tie said that no one was seeking shelter during the air raid drill.

So: do you get any sense that South Korea is freaking out about threats of war. Nope.  Neither do I.



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