Kim's Death Met With Joy, Concern In Koreatown

Dec 19, 2011
Originally published on December 19, 2011 6:54 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Many Koreans who live in the United States are following the situation in North Korea closely. Southern California is home to a huge Korean community.

And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, news of Kim Jong Il's death has been greeted there with shock and anxiety.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: There are nearly a quarter of a million Koreans living throughout the L.A. area, but the center of the community is Koreatown, just west of downtown. Today, the talk around its markets, cafes and shopping centers is the news of the death of the North Korean dictator.

PARK SUNG-UHUNG: We've been waiting long, long time.

KAHN: It's been a long wait for Kim Jong Il's death, says Park Sung-uhung. Park is repairing shoes in a small shop in the parking lot of a strip mall.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

KAHN: He says he heard the news last night. Kevin Park, who owns the small locksmith kiosk next door, had no idea.

KEVIN PARK: He died? (Speaking foreign language)

KAHN: He quickly tried to confirm the news with his customers.

KEVIN PARK: Yeah, I didn't know. I didn't know he was dead.

KAHN: What do you think?

KEVIN PARK: I hope nothing happens.

KAHN: That is the main worry among many Koreans immigrants: What now?Sixty-two-year-old Gary Cho, who was waiting for his Asian chess club to open, said he worries about elements in the North Korean military that might take advantage of Kim Jong Il's death.

GARY CHO: Well, for that opportunity, maybe there might be a war occur between South and North.

KAHN: Cho has an aunt and cousins in North Korea. He says he's worried about their well-being and is hoping for the best.

Local businessman Jason Kim was discussing the same worries with a friend, in front of a local bakery. But first he said he was just trying to deal with the news.

JASON KIM: I was shocked yesterday because I thought he's going to live longer.

KAHN: Kim emigrated from South Korea 11 years ago, and owns a small clothing business. Like most everyone here, he says he's worried who will take over in North Korea.

KIM: I don't think the succession of power has, you know, settled down completely. And Kim Jong Il, you know, died before that.

KAHN: The dictator's son has been tapped to take power, but Jason Kim worries the North Korean military leaders may not let that happen.

KIM: The worst scenario I fear is that, you know, some hard-core military members elect to do some stupid things against South Korea. So that's my fear.

KAHN: Kim says he hopes China will keep the pressure on the military to have a smooth change in leadership, and keep the peace between the two Koreas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

KAHN: Back in front of the locksmith kiosk, customers keep arriving to have keys made and talk about the news of Kim Jong Il's death. A local security guard who only gave his name as Shiun says the dictator was lucky - he died of natural causes. He says he should have been shot like Libya's former dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

SHIUN: I don't like him. He killing too many people. I don't like him.

KAHN: Do you think things will be better without him?

SHIUN: I don't think so.

KAHN: Shiun says North Korea will still suffer if Kim Jong Il's son comes to power.

SHIUN: No, it's not better. So his son is stupid.

KAHN: Everyone around laughs and nods in agreement. But next door at the shoe-repair shop, Park Sung-uhung is a bit more hopeful.

PARK SUNG-UHUNG: Pretty soon, you know, North Korea pretty soon with freedom.

KAHN: Park says soon, he hopes, in North Korea there will be freedom.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.