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Kim’s death greeted with caution in Koreatown

Richard Chong’s first reaction was skepticism.

“Why are they releasing this information so easily,” wondered the Koreatown resident, after hearing reports that North Korean strongman Kim Jong II had died. “Hopefully this is true, but in a country like this, you never know.

In grocery stores, shopping plazas and all-night diners in L.A.'s Koreatown, the news of Kim’s death was greeted with both happiness and a deep sense of caution and unease.

Residents and visitors, many of them of Korean descent, said they have long viewed the North Korean leader as a divisive and erratic ruler who put his own whims ahead of the good of a country and a shadowy figure capable of using body doubles and fake news reports to throw off the rest of the world.

Chong, a 27-year-old graduate student who was born in California but worked in South Korea, said he’s been fixated on Korean news for years and has come to expect the unexpected out of North Korea.

“There is so much ridiculous news coming out of North Korea,” Chong said. “It’s just one thing after another.

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Daniel Oh was eating at a restaurant in Koreatown when the news popped up on his smartphone.

“I’m a little worried about how the North Korean situation is going to change,” the 40-year-old computer technician said. “I just hope everything will go smoothly. Hopefully, they can cooperate with the south.

“I have my doubts,” he added, “but hopefully they can start the healing process.”

Jung Im Moon, a pastor who heads Arise Mission Church, a small congregation of about 20 North Korean refugees in L.A., welcomed the news but said she knew hard times were ahead for people in North Korea.

“It was great news,” said Moon, who has been working with the refugees for about eight years. “It was so shocking.”

Yoon-hui Kim, a defector who fled North Korea about 10 years ago by crossing the border into China, said the refugees in the L.A. area were all on edge waiting to see what would come next in their homeland.

“It was no surprise, since we all knew he was ill,” said Kim, who is in her late 30s, but was careful about giving out personal details about herself. “The most worrying is what will happen to the North Korean people.”

Badral Ulziitogtokh, a 23-year-old originally from Mongolia, said the Long Beach church he attends has been praying for the death of the North Korean leader.

“I feel like God is starting to finally change the world for the better, but I worry about what will happen in the immediate future,” Ulziitogtokh said.

He said that North and South Korea have been divided for long, and with a distrust that runs so deeply, that few people remember anything different.

“I don’t know if this will be a turning point,” he said. “But I hope so.”

Garret.therolf@latimes.com

Victoria.kim@latimes.com

Times staff writer Matt Stevens contributed to this report.


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