Life As Usual For Ordinary Citizens In Seoul

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The fires sparked by the exchange of artillery between North and South Korea were finally contained Wednesday. When South Korean marines and emergency workers went to assess the damage, they found two more bodies, this time not marines, but civilians, taking the death toll to four. The incident has drawn international condemnation and talks of possible war, but in Seoul, ordinary citizens aren't rushing to supermarkets to stock up on supplies.


As we just heard, North Korea's artillery attack on the South Korean island has drawn talk of possible war. But as Duoaly Xaykaothao found, people in the South Korean capital seem relatively undisturbed.

(Soundbite of shopping area)

DUOALY XAYKAOTHAO: The shopping area of Myeong Dong in central Seoul is packed. And it's evening here. Attendants are hollering out to locals and tourists to go inside their stores. Outside vendors like Sun Mon-sung(ph) take up a lot of sidewalk. His cart holds socks, hats and scarves.

Mr. SUN MON-SUNG: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: There have been a lot of incidents with the North, he says. And each time there's no outcome, no ending. Asked if he ran out to get flashlights, batteries or extra food in case of emergency, or war, he shrugs and says...

Mr. MON-SUNG: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: Not at all?

Mr. SUN MON-SUNG: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: Not at all.

(Soundbite of shopping area)

XAYKAOTHAO: Over in Chongno(ph), an old, but popular hangout after hours, well, just listen.

(Soundbite of Chongno)

Unidentified Man: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: Men and women are flirting. Some with red faces and not from the cold, each glowing like the holiday lights around them. Chong Kwan-ek(ph) is a businessman just finishing dinner and drinks with his pals. Asked about his thoughts on the incident, he laughs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHONG KWAN-EK (Businessman): No, no, no. Nothing changed in our exporting(ph). (unintelligible) Korea.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking Korean)

(Soundbite of laughter)

XAYKAOTHAO: On a corner near Loteotel(ph), a gigantic igloo made of plastic containers houses a Christmas tree. Shin Jae-ing(ph) and So Ye-jing(ph) are snapping photos of each other. When asked about the exchange of fire between the two Koreas, both looked guilty, as if they shouldn't be enjoying life.

Ms. SHIN JAE-ING: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: Shin explains that it's a strange incident and since she's so far removed from it, she's not so scared. But she imagines for the islanders it must have been terrible.

Ms. SO YE-JING: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: So says she doesn't have any relatives or people that she knows involved in the incident, so she feels no immediate connection.

(Soundbite of Blue Christmas)

XAYKAOTHAO: Inside this busy coffee shop, couples chat, one person is reading.

(Soundbite of Blue Christmas)

XAYKAOTHAO: Kim Hu-jin is enjoying coffee with her girlfriend. When told about the two South Korean civilians who were killed in the attack, she was surprised and saddened by the news.

Ms. KIM HU-JIN: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: She says she didn't learn about the incident until an hour after it happened.

Ms. KIM: (Speaking Korean)

XAYKAOTHAO: Yongpyong Island is not that far from Seoul, she says. So if North Korea wanted, they could easily attack here.

For NPR News, I'm Duoaly Xaykaothao in Seoul.

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