Opening Day // Some thoughts at the start of this Winter Olympics
Confucius had once stated
All across the land
Below the surface, crime and love
They go hand in hand
The fire dragons burn
Buddha's lost his smile
But swears that we will meet again
In just a little while. -The Band
Pyeongchang 2018: Parades, the President of the Presidium of the (Supreme) People's Assembly, and VP Pence. This Olympics is certainly off to an interesting start.
From here on out, and likely for some time to come, there is going to be a whole lot of speculation and a wide range of opinions on what it all means for the future of the Korean Peninsula. No matter where you stand, this will likely be a memorable few weeks, and my best advice is to expect the unexpected.
Having lived and worked in both North and South Korea, I am all too aware that both states are prone to political posturing and capable of indulging in political theatre, often just for the sake of appearances. Yet I also know that both are fully capable of sitting down and pragmatically hammering out practical solutions to extremely difficult and complex problems – despite (or perhaps thanks to) their carefully projected images. Often these two go hand in hand. Looking at this year’s Olympics, it is easy to become either overly mushy or overly cynical, but we perhaps should not be too quick to judge how it will all play out.
Have the games been politicized so far? Yes, to a degree. Is that politicization a zero-sum game? By no means, and like in all thing – crime, love, war, peace - all sides have their own interests and intentions, some of which overlap, others which do not. The important thing is that the interactions of politicians, athletes, and artists from both sides in an international setting may open up new potentialities for dialogue, communication, and perhaps lasting peace, which would no exist otherwise.
In the least, we have a few weeks respite to reflect on one of the world’s longest running, most convoluted, and often very contradictory conflicts. With the world watching, there will hopefully be room for more positive developments, although perhaps not all of these will be immediately recognisable.
I often recall the advice given by an American professor on my first day of language study in South Korea over a decade ago. The professor told our class that Koreans will often do things for someone without ever telling the person and it is something that one should always be aware of. While this is, of course, a generalisation, I have found it to hold true across the peninsula more often than not. In Korea, we often do not realise that someone has been helping us significantly until long after the fact. It is my sincere hope that this Winter Olympics will give the opportunity for Koreans from both north and south will have the opportunity to help each other, even if it is only in a small way and not apparent to others.
And in the end, amid all the politics, let us not forget to wish the athletes from all nations in both the Olympics and Paralympics the best of luck in Pyeongchang!
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