The middle-school pupils I’m here to meet are all in their mid-teens, and clearly primed for a visit. As I’m introduced by their teacher they sit upright at their desks, all in Persil-clean white shirts and all bearing the red badges of the Children’s Union. They greet me in English, which, I learn to my surprise, is a compulsory subject for them. They’re well drilled, and spirited. I produce a blow-up globe like the one I’ve taken on many of my round-the-world travels, and as I puff it up with exaggerated effort, they urge me on with each breath. “One! Two! Three! Four! Five!” until at “Ten!” the world is inflated.
The globe had been a source of contention earlier as Mrs Kim, having asked to see it first, noticed that it showed Korea as a divided country. The official line here is that, as there has been no officially agreed conclusion to the civil war of the 1950s, South Korea should not be seen as a separate, sovereign country. The problem was eventually solved by inking in the whole of the Korean Peninsula with a Sharpie.