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Community reacts to Kim Jong Il's death

The news draws a mix of relief and worry from SoCal residents with ties to North and South Korea.

December 20, 2011|By Brittany Levine, brittany.levine@latimes.com
  • David Kim, a cell phone salesman, does paperwork at HK Market in Glendale on Monday, December 19, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)]
David Kim, a cell phone salesman, does paperwork at HK…

Images of military planes flashed on a large TV screen at the Good Barbershop. A South Korean newscaster reported the country was on high alert following reports of Kim Jong Il’s death.

The passing of the North Korean dictator had been a hot topic all morning. Kim, 69, reportedly died of a heart attack Saturday. His death was announced on North Korean state media on Monday.

“It’s unstable in North Korea so they may want to do something to South Korea,” said Ben Nam Kung as he got his haircut.

Nam Kung and others said the Korean community in Glendale has been shaken by the news. At first some didn’t believe Kim died, but skepticism quickly morphed into concern for friends and family thousands of miles away.

“I hope there’s no war,” said Eunice Son, as she browsed the aisles of HK Market, a Korean grocery store next to the barbershop on North Pacific Avenue and West Glenoaks Boulevard. She said she has family in South Korea and fears for their safety.

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Local news reports were filled Monday with analysis regarding any political or military fallout, punctuated with anxious interviews with residents who have ties to the peninsula. Los Angeles County is home to the highest number of people of Korean descent in the county, according to U.S. Census figures.

“A lot of uncertainty creates anxiety among us,” said Chang Lee, a Glendale Planning Commissioner and community leader. Lee said uncertainty over Kim’s future successor is also stoking fears.

Kim’s son Kim Jong Eun is the likely successor, but political watchers both here and abroad have said they are troubled by his inexperience.

“There’s a lot of questions. More questions than answers because he’s so young,” Lee said.

David Kim, an electronics salesman at the market whose parents immigrated from North Korea, said he hoped someone other than his son would take the reins.

“I don’t like his son because he has a more aggressive personality,” David Kim said.

Since the dictator’s death, North Korean media has aired reports of supporters crying as they mourned his death, but Lee said in South Korea it’s a different story.

“In some sense we’re kind of relieved his reign has ended,” Lee said.

Jean Choe, who was having lunch at a restaurant in HK Market, said the political insecurity has also spooked the Korean stocks.

“A lot of my friends have money in the stock market,” she said, noting that the shock has dragged down their investments.

Despite the safety concerns and financial drawbacks, there was speculation about unifying South and North Korea, longtime political enemies.

“I hope the country is united, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Son said.

David Kim echoed her sentiments, adding that if unification was a possibility, it should be a slow transition as Koreans tend to prefer gradual change.

“Step by step,” he said.”First they need better communication.”
 
 

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