Local sushi chef grew up in South Korea; view on North Korea

ST. GEORGE St. George may be far from the tension radiating from North Korea’s nuclear missile threats, but it is home to at least one man who has a better understanding than most about what the mood is like across the sea in the divided Asian nation of Korea.  James Lee is a sushi chef who helps run the new sushi bar at Smith’s grocery store. Lee is also orignally from South Korea, born and raised there until his late teen years.

Lee described life in South Korea as a pleasant memory, but much different than how children grow up here in the states. The main differences that he  sees between life in Korea and life here is “the richness of it.”

“Citizens of the USA are blessed with very rich lives,” Lee said, “not in terms of money, but in opportunity.”

Lee went on to give examples of all of the different options and life opportunities that can be found in the different parts of the United States.

“There are so many things to choose from, all in the same country here,” Lee said. “You can find just about any type climate you want to live in, all different kinds of jobs, and almost an endless variety of food to choose from. Korea was great, but it’s not the same; and I guess that is why we came here.”

Lee explained that South Korea is largely all the same climate. It is also fairly crowded for its geographical size, and there are fewer resources and opportunities for different jobs and lifestyles there. Lee said that despite the downsides to his homeland, it is still the place of his birth and childhood and he misses it from time to time.

Some of Lee’s memories of South Korea are less pleasant than others, particularly when it comes to his homeland’s strained relationship with their northern counterpart. Lee grew up with the constant threats pouring over the border from the north, and over time became somewhat desensitized to them. When the recent news broke out about the nuclear threats coming from the new leader of North Korea, Lee said he was neither surprised nor worried about them.

“This is everyday life for South Korea,” Lee said, “I don’t think anyone really takes this guy seriously over there.”

Lee went on to compare the pattern of threats coming from North Korea’s administration over the years to the story of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

“A guy can only make so many threats,” Lee said, “before people stop believing that he would ever actually do something.”

Lee said that if Kim Il Un did in fact make a move, he would risk ending up with the same fate as Bin Laden.

“He would be very stupid to do something like that,” Lee said, “It would be suicide. Look what happened to Bin Laden, and he was hiding.”

Lee also explained something that he said he feels many people do not understand about the relationship between North and South Korea:

“We don’t like the leaders of North Korea, but we do care about the people,” Lee said. “Many of us have relatives and others that are stuck in the north, and with every New Year we hope and pray that they will be able to rejoin the world and find happiness.”

The future of North Korea in the short and long term is highly uncertain right now. It is a volatile situation, and at this stage all that most of us can do is watch and wait.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @stgnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.



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  • Isaac Reber May 14, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Excellent article by a very talented writer and photographer. I’m looking forward to more interesting stories from this author in the future.

  • Anonymous March 10, 2014 at 10:27 am

    You know this is racist.. You ask any Korean because he was born in Korea about what he thinks of North Korea. In South Korea they don’t care about North Korea, they all understand that the North Korea’s lack freedom and their leader is power hungry and crazy. And I have worked for this Sushi Bar James is a bully, he has told me that in High he bullied someone until they killed themselves and working for James Lee I was literally in tears everyday from constant verbal abuse. It affected my life where I because depressed and didn’t eat. If you ask any of his past employees have experienced the same results, he makes the burmese workers there, work from 7:00-7:00pm every day of the week paying them only $900 every 15 days, he’s paying them under minimum wage with no over time or benefits for working more than 40 hours a week. James is a greedy and abusive man, and this is a terrible place to work and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone to have to work for this man.

    • Dana March 10, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      Where is the racism in the article? I read it twice and can’t find it.
      If James Lee was such a bad employer, you should have quit before the waterworks became a daily occurrence.
      I’ll pass on their sushi. Tastes too much like sesame oil. Sesame oil in other Korean dishes, such as kal-bi or sookjoo namul is great. In sushi, not so much.
      Most of what passes for Asian food here in S.Utah is a joke.

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