Where was I, at that time?
Up on a hilly park called Nam-San, somewhere in Seoul. My Korean colleagues had assured me that this was the peak of cherry blossom seasons, and that here at Nam-San, I should be able to see some really pretty sights like this:
So, two colleagues and I had gotten up extra early, left our respective hotels and taken a cab to Nam-San that morning. We saw plenty of cherry blossom trees, but unfortunately no blossoms. Except for one single cherry blossom tree in full bloom (this tree must have been either clueless or rebellious by nature), all the trees were leafless and flowerless. The winter had been too cold, and the blossom season was delayed.
What a dud.
So we took a little walk around the park anyway, although now it wasn't that much fun. And then suddenly, my colleague got a news alert on her Blackberry, stating that North Korea had just launched its rocket. It was just a one-liner news alert. She got a little nervous and said that maybe we ought to head back now.
I was thinking to myself that this wasn't much of a game plan. If a rocket were to hit Seoul (I know that isn't supposed to be North Korea's game plan at this time, but then you have some crazy people up there), it probably wouldn't make much difference whether you were in a park, or back in the hotel or office. It would be a bloody mess anyway.
Later we learned that the North Korea launch that Friday morning was just like the Nam-San cherry blossoms. The missile did take off, but it didn't quite work. A short time after take-off, it proceeded to break up and crash harmlessly. So that was another dud, and a clear indication that North Korea's missile technology is still a long way off from posing any real long-range nuclear threat. At the least, in the words of one expert observer here - "It certainly degrades that threat considerably."
Internationally, North Korea's rocket-related behaviour had caused (and is still causing) a lot of international consternation and worry, receiving plenty of attention at the U.N level and also from the U.S. and China. But how do the South Koreans themselves feel about the matter? One might imagine that the South Koreans should be the most worried people of all. After all, North and South are enemies, and if the North actually had missiles that worked, the South would be their most obvious target.
If you talk to the South Koreans though, you'd see that they don't care that much. They have lived with their crazy neighbour up north for so many decades that by now, they have grown somewhat numb to the whole situation. Life has to go on, and it does, for the South Koreans, who have no intention of postponing their usual lives and activities to get all worried and upset, every time North Korea says or does something about missiles and rockets.
Over lunch that same day, a Korean lawyer remarked to me that the blase-ness with which most South Korean citizens view the North Korean threat is perhaps not that healthy. She said, "Perhaps we have grown too complacent,. We have become used to the threat, but now perhaps we might be forgetting that the threat is actually real."
But a short time later, as we were still talking about the failed missile launch, she laughed loudly over her kimchi and said, "I knew that was going to happen. I already told all my friends - that rocket is going to crash or stall or explode right after take-off, or something. The North Koreans - they can't get anything right."
In other words, a dud.