Of Korean war and taekwondo
MANILA, Philippines — Sung Chon Hong was five when the Korean War broke out in June of 1950.
And despite warning signals brought on by recent events, he firmly believes he’s not about to witness another 60 years later.
“It was a Sunday morning when North Korea attacked,” says Master Hong, a 9th Dan black belter and former world champion who has been running the Philippine Taekwondo Association as its vice president since 1976.
“My parents brought all of us to Pusan (now Busan),” he recalls. “To get there, we have to pass through the Han River where there’s only one bridge at the time.”
They managed to cross the bridge to safety. But shortly after, the only concrete link between Seoul and Pusan was destroyed, trapping those left behind and forever splitting apart family members separated in the chaos.
“Yes, I can still remember the war,” says Master Hong, married with three children, all of them Filipino citizens. “That’s why I don’t think North Korea will start one again.”
The Philippine taekwondo jins were in the heat of battle during the Guangzhou Asian Games in China last month when it happened: North Koreans fired around 200 artillery shells into the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, lying 120 kilometers west of Seoul.
The attack sparked outrage in the South and triggered fears of a full-blown war between the two Koreas, divided for six decades now by a huge cultural and political barrier and a demarcation line known as the 38th Parallel.
Speaking from childhood experience and adult calculation, Master Hong says the entire episode might have been blown out of proportion in theinternational community.
“I was in Seoul a few days after the incident. Very peaceful there,” he says, laughing. “Nothing happen. Only in newspaper. And the internet.”
Even concerns and talks, he says, of transporting Filipino OFWs back from Korea, is unnecessary.
“No need,” he says. “In South Korea, we’re just sympathizing with those who lost their houses, trying to generate funds to support them.
But the general perception is that life goes on as usual. Everything is normal. Nothing to be scared of.”
Not even of an impending war?
“War? I don’t think we would go that far,” he says confidently. “The North, for instance, I don’t think they will initiate one. I don’t know much. But nowadays, from what I’ve heard, one push button and you can destroy the whole city. Now why would they want that?”
Without justifying the act, Master Hong believes the strike, as destructive as it is, establishes an incontrovertible fact.
“They want something. I don’t know what, but it’s their way of expressing it. Because if they do it in ordinary way, maybe we won’t react. Of course, I’m speaking only as an ordinary citizen.”
From deduction, he offers a premise as to why he believes no escalation will take place.
“If they really want war, they could have attacked Seoul,” he says. “It’s congested. We have about 12 million people. If they really want war, why attack a small island with only 1,500 people? That’s why I’m wondering why they hit that island. So they must need something else, not war. ”
Is this the reason why his six siblings continue to feel safe living in Seoul with their families? And why an Olympic gold medal remains a realistic goal for him?
“You know what most Koreans want?” Master Hong says. “To recognize North Korea as a different country, like thePhilippines and South Korea; then we can visit each other. If they ask for a visa, we can apply for a visa. But at least we can visit, like visiting Malaysia. I hope that happens in the future.”
The vice president of the Asian Taekwondo Union and World Taekwondo Federation executive council member takes a pause, reflecting perhaps on the brief discourse he just gave on the history of his homeland and pondering the task set before him by his adopted country of nearly 35 years.
“The Olympic gold medal is a dream for all of us, and we’re very near,” he says, nodding his head sagely. “We didn’t really perform well in the Asian Games, but we’re getting there.”
Whispers of war breaking out any time soon back home apparently doesn’t stir up Sung Chon Hong as much as talks of striking gold in London in 2012.
Somehow, he knows which one is forthcoming.