Koreana Plaza Market in Oakland's Koreatown. Photo: Michelle Gachet/KQED

At a busy Korean grocery story in Oakland, shoppers said they were shocked when they learned of the North Korean leader’s death. Yul Huh, a general contractor, said the first thing he did on Sunday was call family members in South Korea.

“Everybody’s scared of the situation,” said Huh. “Everybody say it’s more difficult after Kim Jong Il die.”

Kim died Saturday morning of a heart attack while on a train trip, according to a statement by the country’s official news agency.

Huh says his family worries the change in leadership will destabilize the region, making relations between the two Koreas less predictable. His family also worries about how the new leader, Kim Jong-Un, will compare to his father.

But shopper Young Kim said he welcomed the news of Kim Jong Il’s passing.

“His death is good for all over” said Kim. “All the world.”

Dining at a nearby sushi restaurant, businessman Alex Hahn has worked to create business ties in North Korea and visited the region about a decade ago. Hahn said he believes the Europe educated Kim Jong-Un will be friendlier to Western markets, though he wonders who the young successor will pick as his adviser. He is widely believed to be around 28 years old.

“I think, he’s too young and less experienced,” said Hahn. “So some senior will have to help Kim Jong-Un.”

But it’s precisely his youth that gives Isabel Kang hope. Kang is program director for the Korean Community Center of the East Bay. She believes the younger Kim will be more open to reunification with the South.

“Given the famine, given the desperate conditions of living for the majority of the people there, they want to go toward a resolution that is peaceful,” said Kang. “With every newer generation, I have that hope.”

Kang’s mother fled North Korea during the Korean War, and Kang believes she still has relatives there.


Mina Kim

Mina Kim is evening anchor and reporter for KQED News and Friday host of Forum. Mina got hooked on public radio in 2004, during a brief fellowship with KQED's Pacific Time, which is no longer in production. She became KQED's general assignment reporter in 2010, health reporter for The California Report in 2012, and KQED News' anchor a year later. She was named Friday Forum host in 2014.

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