I haven’t been on the Korean peninsula for more than fifteen years. Two visits. Both were just a day and a night in Seoul with scant chance to bear down on cultural understanding. A friend spent a bit of time in Seoul since then, and declared South Korea the hands-down most difficult, inscrutable, cloaked and mystifying of all lands. From the point of view of an American unattuned to Korean culture.
I imagine the skyline has changed a lot since this photo from one of those sky needle observation tower buildings. Pretty big even then, though.
The two Koreas are scheduled to meet in two days time, ahead of the proposed Donald Trump/Kim Jong-un affair. Why shouldn’t South Korean politics be as local (and complicated) as Tip O’neill said all politics is? For a quick catch-up on a generation of South Korean politics, read Anthony Spaeth’s useful Aiming for a Nuke-Free Korea: Bold Diplomacy or Dangerous Delusion?
Meanwhile, the definitive book to read on the Korean War for my money is The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War by David Halberstam. A wicked, evil, brutal and ungodly affair.
Then maybe order up one or two of these:
North Korea Confidential by Daniel Tudor and James Pearson, a 2015 book that seeks to cast a rather more realistic light on the reality of North Korean life than the popular media stereotype.
Only Beautiful, Please a memoir by British diplomat John Evrard, a thirty year, four continent British ambassador to un-Commonwealth lands like North Korea, Belarus and Uruguay.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick, Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times.
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader by Bradley K. Martin. Portraits of the first two leaders of the only Communist dynasty, Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il.
French Canadian graphic artist Guy DeLisle’s graphic novel Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
And for the scariest of all, The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by escapee Chol-hwan Kang.