The whole world tuned in last Friday when the two Koreas held the first summit in over a decade. The South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un of North Korea met at Panmunjeom, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Plans for denuclearization have been made, and North Korea seemed more eager than ever before to join the club of non-crazy nuclear countries. So far, so good. I watched on and off throughout the day and felt honestly hopeful and optimistic. I still feel very optimistic, but I’d be more at ease with a different resident in the building on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. (btw this is not limited to how I feel about North Korea, this is in general).
So how are the South Koreans feeling about the summit? They seem cautiously optimistic, but what seems to be a common concern among South Koreans is how we can trust that North Korea will really deliver on their promises. At least this is the concern I’ve heard South Koreans voice the most when I’ve discussed the matter with them. At first, I thought “why would North Korea commit to doing something if they really don’t intend to?” Then I remembered that this was, well, Korea.
Ah, trust… How can we ever trust anyone? Though never trusting anyone blindly, I actually used to be full of trust before moving to Korea. I used to trust that people I encountered had kind intentions and no hidden agendas, I used to trust even our country’s politicians also when I didn’t agree with them. I’ve always trusted my family and friends and in general, I believe that trust is one of the key drivers for the general level of wealth and wellbeing in any country. I used to be full of trust, but I can feel that my trust has been gradually eroded after living two years in Korea.
Well, two years in a completely different culture can make most people develop serious trust issues, and with such distinct differences between Northern European culture and Korea, clashes are bound to happen. I used to highlight appointments with friends in my notebook in bright colors and look forward to gatherings, but living in Korea has taught me that great expectations do indeed bring great disappointment. Too many times, I’ve been canceled on mere hours in advance that I’ve completely stopped looking forward to anything before it’s actually going on. I’ve also learned the hard way that Koreans tend to play fast and loose with the word “Let’s”, as in: “Let’s talk tomorrow”, or “Let’s hang out next week”, or “Let’s get together soon”. Translation: I’m way too busy for you and you shouldn’t hold your breath.
So, if what Kim Jong-un said was “Let’s start denuclearizing soon, and let’s definitely hang out in Pyongyang at some point”, well then I’d also be quite cautious and not overly optimistic. But who’s to say if North Koreans are just like South Koreans? Let’s (ah, that word again) just hope that having spent his formative years in Europe, where a promise is considered a promise, Kim Jong-un actually means what he says. This time, I’ll summon my last portion of trust and dare to be optimistic.