Want to see something heartwarming and a tad bizarre?

Hyundai driving home to North Korea

You may have seen the recent reunions between North and South Korean families in the news. It’s usually presented as a heartwarming story, which it is, with certain caveats:

  1. The North picks participants based on regime loyalty, coaches them on what to say and spies on them during the reunions.
  2. The North knows that this is an emotive issue for the South, so will put a stop to family reunions whenever it’s unhappy with the way relations are going, which is usually.
  3. Reunions used to take place in Seoul and be accompanied by exchanges of letters, but the North put a stop to this because it didn’t want its citizens finding out how much better life is in the South.
  4. Most of the participants are extremely old and when they bid farewell after the reunions they know they will never see one another again. Around half of the people who have applied to participate have died before getting the chance. Some of the attendees selected for this year’s round of reunions were too sick to make it. The South Korean MoU did not bother to select replacements.
  5. Despite all this, over half of separated families do not want to meet anyway. It would be awkward and the younger generation knows nothing about their North Korean relatives.
  6. When families do meet, things aren’t always particularly harmonious.
  7. The South Korean Ministry of Unification is frequently accused of not particularly caring whether reunions happen or not (see point 4), to the extent that many families have given up on official channels and prefer to pay illegal brokers to set up reunions with their family in the North.
  8. For years South Korea (supposedly the good guys) treated people with relatives in the North as potential spies anyhow, only relenting when the government realised they could be used for playing politics with. (Yes, just like the tale of the comfort women…)

Anyhow, that aside, Hyundai has some new virtual test drive software that it’s promoting at the moment, and it’s decided to do so by taking a North Korean guy living in South Korea on a virtual drive around his home town:

Hyundai Motor Company has put together a video documenting a project that allowed an elderly man, long separated from his home in North Korea, to drive back to his place of birth through the use of virtual reality.

The story, called “Going Home”, revolves around 88-year-old Kim Gu-hyeon, who in the spring of 1947 left his home in the north, six years before Korea was divided, and headed south.

Though the 6-minute short film doesn’t explain why he left, Kim felt a great sense of guilt for having left his home and having never being able to return –to never again see his mother and his family.

He is one of 66,000 North Koreans currently living in South Korea –many of whom, like Kim, have been away from their place of birth for more than half a century.

The creative and engineering team at Hyundai visited Kim at home Seoul and had him write down his original home address and describe his hometown in as much detail as possible as they set about recreating it for a virtual drive. After

Hyundai’s attention to detail produced Kim’s hometown landscapes including streets, pedestrians, traffic cops, wild flowers and even mist on the river –all restored in 3D inside a specially designed car.

As our regular readers will know we refuse to give away endings –you have to watch the incredibly touching conclusion for yourself.

You can watch the video at the link. I won’t spoil the ending, but get a box of tissues ready.

Interestingly, it is probably much easier to do this for a North Korean town than a South Korean one. South Korea is has extremely restricive rules regarding satellite imagery of the country, while Google Earth remains one of our main sources of information about the North.

It’s also interesting that – despite the positive reunification message at the end – Hyundai’s marketing guys appear to have a far more realistic view of the two Koreas’ future than pretty much any of the politicians involved in deciding it. While the latter still obsess about German-style reunification, to the increasing disintrest of the voters, Hyundai’s ad guys have posited – for the sake of this clip – a future where the two Koreas remain separate but allow free travel across what is now the DMZ (look for the “Inter-Korean Transit” area at the beginning of the VR section).

Bonus fun round: this is not the only heartwarming incidence of a North Korean encountering VR technology. Check out this picture from Choson Exchange of one of its workshop participants playing with an Oculus Rift headset.

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