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Many South Koreans Seem Apathetic About The North


South Korea's president delivered this message yesterday to North Korea: It will respond strongly to any provocations under North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong-un. However, in a televised speech, Lee Myung-bak also promised that North-South relations could improve if Pyongyang halts its nuclear weapons program.

Reporter Doualy Xaykaothao recently hit the streets of Seoul, to find out what South Koreans think of the power shift in the north. And for many the answer is simple: They don't care.


DOUALY XAYKAOTHAO, BYLINE: In freezing temperature, Chun Gab-chul listens to Korean music from the 1950s and chops traditional candy into sample-sizes. He sells sesame seed treats, peanut-covered sugar sticks, and pumpkin-flavored snacks for three to 10 bucks a bag.

CHUN GAB-CHUL: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: People aren't interested in Kim Jong-il's death, he says. Chun pauses to sell a merry customer a stick of candy.


XAYKAOTHAO: Then he says he felt no sorrow, no pleasure, when he heard Kim Jong-il had died.

CHUN GAB-CHUL: (Foreign language spoken)

XAYKAOTHAO: The reality for me, he points out, is making money. He asks, who has time to think about North Korea when it's hard enough to earn a living?

Still in uniform from working at a noodle shop, Lee Yong-nam says he doesn't expect North and South relations to improve under the new young North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

LEE YONG-NAM: (Through Translator) Help? How can he be helpful? He's trying to consolidate his power. Not just military power but control over his people. It's the only way to sustain the system, right?


XAYKAOTHAO: Just around the corner is an ice-skating rink. A huge tree of light bulbs blink blue and red, making it feel a lot like Christmas still. Two teenage sisters are about to jump onto the ice. The older one, Shin Eun-young, wears a red puffy jacket and has a lollipop stuck in her mouth. She says she read about Kim Jong-il's death on the Internet.

SHIN EUN-YOUNG: (Through Translator) His death doesn't feel real to me. I know someone died, but I don't really think anything of it.

XAYKAOTHAO: Lee Ho-yong is warming himself at a standing heater. His family is skating. He says he's more concerned about local politics and the upcoming South Korean presidential election, then Kim Jong-il's death. But like many Koreans, he's big into fortune telling. During a New Year's reading, he was told Baekdu Mountain in North Korea would erupt soon, bringing both North and South Koreans together.

LEE HO-YONG: (Through Translator) And one of these well-known fortunetellers said that it's also the reunification can happen in two to three years.

XAYKAOTHAO: But Cheon Yu-bin, a hairstylist in Seoul, says he doesn't want reunification.


XAYKAOTHAO: Outside a back alley, taking a break from cutting hair, he says...

CHEON YU-BIN: (Through Translator) I don't think about North Korea often, or have interest in North Korea. So, North Korea doesn't really affect my life.

XAYKAOTHAO: Lim Jae-min agrees. Asked about North Korea and its young new leader, Kim Jong-un, he looks blank.

LIM JAE-MIN: (Through Translator) That? I don't have time to be concerned about North Korea. I just turned 20. I'm a student. I'm mostly busy studying.

XAYKAOTHAO: Ordinary South Koreans may not be watching developments in the North closely. But the presence of at least 28,000 U.S. soldiers on the Korean Peninsula is a reminder that North and South Korea are still technically at war.

XAYKAOTHAO: For NPR News, I'm Doualy Xaykaothao, in Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Doualy Xaykaothao is a newscaster and reporter for NPR.