Okay, so what does American college sporting rivalries have to do with two regions in South Korea?
Simple. Imagine your favorite college rivalry, like say the KU/MU rivalry, multiply it by 50, stick it in the freezer, take it out put it in a pan of Hot oil and maybe you can begin to imagine a particularly hot (and sometimes not) regional rivalry.
As, I mentioned in my last post some of the first visiting Korean students and scholars that I met were from Kwangju in Jeolla province. As I mentioned before they were quick to differentiate themselves from their counterparts from other regions. I also noticed that they would get really worked up when speaking about Pusan people. One of my friends once told me that during his military service he was given a hard time by one of his drill instructors from Gyeongsang province. He said that the only reason that he was hard on him was because my friend was from Jeolla. Another friend stated that she had heard that most of the troops that fired on the protesters during the Kwangju democratic movement were from Gyeongsan (remember not my words).
Of course, when I lived in South Korea I lived in Pusan (to the chagrin of ) of my Kwangju friends. In Pusan I heard the exact opposite of the Kwangju perspective, right?
Actually, not really.
When I spoke of a rivalry between the two provinces most Pusan people would say: "yes there was some problems at one time but not anymore." And that is true...kind of. The two provinces have been trying to close the partisan gap. This article (found here on the Kyeongsang nam do government website) speaks of the joint new year convention held last month:
"South Gyeongsang Province and South Jeolla Province have decided to jointly hold a New Year greeting event for successful hosting of Ramsar Convention and harmony of Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces on the New Year day of the Year of the Rat at Suncheon Bay, one of the world's five mud flats. It is also designed to publicize the Ramsar Convention nationwide and enhance synergy effects of Ramsar wetlands."
But every now and again I would witness some semblance of rivalry. For example when trying to schedule a KTX train ride from Pusan to Kwangju I found that no such train ride existed.
For that matter, I can go from Pusan to almost anywhere in Korea EXCEPT Kwangju.
When I ask some people who I worked with (all from Kyeongsang) about this they replied jokingly: "Well, there is NO reason to go THERE."
This could all just be a coincidence and no real proof that the rivalry still exists but when I would ask people from both Jeolla and Kyeongsang about the absence of a direct KTX train between the two Major cities they would roughly have the same explanation:
Perhaps it is because of the bad History.
That history that carries back centuries to the three Korean "Three Kingdoms Period" where the Silla Dynasty (roughly in modern-day Kyeongsang Province) and the Pahkje Dynasty (roughly, in the modern-day Jeolla Province were in a life or death struggle until it's defeat (by unified Silla and Chinese T'ang dynasties) and subsequent fall of Paekje in 660 AD.
Ahhh, dates and names boo!!! hiss!!!!
What is this a History class or something?
Well, during the 2004 elections, Roh Moo-Hyun (who was actually born in south Kyeongsang)and the "URI-party" or "Our Party" won the presidential election; It was easy to see the political divisions were parallel with the historical regional ones.
So is there some kind of connection historically?
Here is a map of The Three (or four) Kingdoms during their height in the 5 century AD.
and Now a map of the 2004 elections
and finally the KTX Gyeonbu line
What do you think?