Monday, April 4, 2005

Insightful Seminar by Philip Yun on North Korea... Twilight Zone World

Last Friday, I went up to Seattle to attend the Korean American Students Conference XIX(KASCON) hosted the University of Washington. The conference is the largest annual ethnic student conference where college students from across North America attend each year to discuss political, social, economic, and other issues that affect and will impact their future as Korean American professionals, parents, and citizens. It was my first KASCON since KASCON XIII, which was hosted by Stanford.

Since I've been back in the U.S. I decided to settle into some of my old roles. One was with The Mirae Foundation, which is the parent organization of KASCON. I was a co-founder and board member, but was out of the loop while I was in Asia for four years. I had a light role in advising this year's KASCON student organizers, but primarily attended this year's conference to meet with the other Mirae people about internal strategic issues and next year's conference, which will be the important 20th anniversary. The students that won the bid for next year's conference were from Princeton University, which is where KASCON was founded, and their preparation was excellent and one of the best proposals I have seen.

In terms of the substance of this year's conference, it was pretty good. Some old voices that I was bored of but new to many students. One seminar I attended that I enjoyed was by Philip Yun, former Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Stanley O. Roth) and served as a deputy head U.S. delegate to the Korea peace talks based in Switzerland and participated in U.S. negotiations with North Korea between 1998 and 2000. Philip Yun traveled with former Secretary of Defense William Perry to North Korea in May 1999 and in October 2000 accompanied Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyongyang.

These trips to North Korea were the basis of his seminar. He discussed how his perception and thinking changed through his visits inside the closed world of North Korea (great satellite image that he and John Park showed during their seminars of North Asia at night and see how North Korea is basically blacked-out). A few interesting pictures he showed was a row of storefronts that looked great on the outside, but were emptied inside. There was just a display of items for sale in the window, but the door was locked and nothing was inside. When I saw those pictures and some others of people in a marketplace, I felt like I was watching "The Twilight Zone." One of those eerie episodes where everything in a town is revealed to be fake and the people are just robots made by some mad scientist hundreds of years before.

Philip Yun also told the story of a North Korean diplomat visiting Seoul and upon seeing the crowded downtown area he asked,"How did you get so many people and cars here together like this? I must meet your logistics people and learn from them!"

The South Korean counterpart responded,"The people and cars are easy. It's the skyscrapers that were difficult."

Amazing. How removed are North Koreans from the rest of the world to believe a crowded downtown is some display for visitors to admire or see? It's not even a narrow world view that we are dealing with. It's a narrow view of reality and that scares me.

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