Much-loved North Korean Footballer
There is a popular North Korean footballer who used to play in the professional league in Japan.
His name is Jong Tae-Se (Chong Tese). Born and raised in Japan and schooled in Korean institutions run by a group closely related to North Korean government, he identifies himself as North Korean, not South Korean, just like his parents.
His football skills reserved him a spot in the North Korean national squad and he participated in 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He also has a South Korean citizenship just like his parents. But studied in North Korean schools, his heart lies in North Korea. That’s his beloved home country. He is a very rare case that represents North Korea with a qualification to be a South Korean at the same time. Some South Koreans harshly criticized him for choosing North Korea over South Korea. But that’s what he is. That’s the identity he has cultivated since he was born in a foreign land. No one can step into his decision.
When he heard the North Korean national anthem in 2010 FIFA World Cup, he couldn’t hold his emotions and shed tears. His tears touched lots of people’s hearts and he was nicknamed “the People’s Rooney”(an allusion to the notable English footballer Wayne Rooney) by the English Media.
He began to be recognized as one of the best strikers in the Japanese league and moved to Bundesliga of Germany to express more of his talents after the World Cup. He is now playing in South Korea. With not much playing time in South Korea, he is being called to go back to show his talents in Japan one last time by many Japanese supporters.
He has a good sense of humor and is much loved in Japan. People feel his hidden struggles behind his shinny smiles as he is swimming through three countries in a very unique position. He and some Japanese players in Europe often had dinner gatherings together while he was in Germany. I always like that they kept their international friendship while they were far away from their home. He is certainly a good example of our intercultural societies.
Just because he is North Korean?
But the sad thing is, people sometimes discriminate against North Korean people. Several years ago when I said, “I like Jong Tae-Se. I hope he will do great in Germany like he did in Japan,” I received this response from a Japanese woman:
“Why? He is North Korean.”
It took several seconds for me to figure out what she meant.
Discrimination- that’s what it is.
Does being North Korean deprive him of the right to be treated with respect? Did he do anything wrong to the people?
Our discriminating spirit against North Koreans is more threatening than the Kim dynasty
Tae-Se is a practical example of hope in the midst of political conflicts in East Asia. North Korea, South Korea and Japan, I would say, don’t have a beautiful political relationship in the recent years. But if a notable figure like him shows a friendly attitude, I’m sure it influences his followers and people around him. What he plays is actually an important role, though he himself would rightly say he wasn’t into politics.
While he lives in peace with people, discriminating spirit within us just creates hostility and sadness among people. If we say the Kim dynasty is a threat to humanity, so is our discriminating spirit. Maybe even much bigger threat because it could be a source of endless cruelty.
Don’t ever treat anyone in a negative manner just because s/he is from a country you don’t like or understand. It’s not just unfair to them, but also a hidden threat to human beings.
Racism & Intercultural Education Article: