No one could help Ms. Lee and her husband, as he died of unknown causes. They had barely survived the Great Famine. Both were malnourished like the rest of the country, and no one could ever forget the years where people survived by boiling grass and eating it (if they could find it). And yet the people were continually told that they were living in the best country possible.
Now, after the Famine, eventually Ms. Lee was able to work, but the government- permitted job did not necessarily mean adequate pay for food. Since everyone suffered the same way, it was hard to question her circumstances.
And, even though the country was in desperate starvation circumstances, the punishment was severe for creating extra income by selling random items in the marketplace. At the same time, the population was continually brainwashed to believe that the leaders were sacrificing for the good of the people - and that other countries were totally undesirable.
“The only ones available were published by the government and had political themes. Instead of fairytales,they were stories setina place called South Korea,wherehomelesschildrenwentbarefootandbeggedinthestreets.Itneveroccurredtomethattheywerereallydescribinglifeinmycountry.
We also read about our Leaders and how they worked so hard and sacrificed so much for us. Our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il had mystical powers. . . His biography said he could control the weather with his thoughts and that he wrote 1,500 books during his three years at Kim Il Sung University, named after his father. This worship of the Kims was reinforced in documentaries, movies, and TV shows broadcast by the single, state-run station. Whenever the Leaders’ pictures appeared on the screen, stirring sentimental music would play. It made me so emotional. North Koreans are raised to venerate our fathers and our elders, and in our collective minds, Kim Il Sung was our beloved grandfather, and Kim Jong Il was our father.
Children were taught to hate the enemies of the state with a passion. Our schools and textbooks were full of images of grotesque American GIs with blue eyes and huge noses executing civilians. Sometimes at recess we lined up to beat or stab dummies dressed like American soldiers. Every subject in school came with a dose of propaganda. A math problem would go like this: “If you kill one American bastard and your comrade kills two, how many dead American bastards do you have?”
This is the culture that Mr. and Ms. Lee lived in. And after her husband died, Ms. Lee faced poverty alone. She had heard of other people escaping to China, of course; some women hoped that even life as a slave in China would be better than starvation in North Korea. And so, when she was nearly 50, in 2018 she was finally desperate enough to do it.
Like most she was caught by human traffickers, and sold to a man in the Chosun tribe: The Chosun people are ethnic Koreans living in China - Korean immigrants who moved to China, Russia, and other areas in the early 20thcentury. And even though she was among people of her own racial background, Ms. Lee was mercilessly beaten, and assaulted. The only good in that house was that she was able to watch South Korean Television.
Now, in contrast to all the brainwashing she had received in North Korea, she was shocked at what she has learned through television. All the children’s stories that presented South Korea as a wretchedly poor nation - WERE LIES! Ms. Lee sat in utter shock as she observed a South Korean president, and congressmen actually working for the country. And she could barely comprehend the economic growth that South Korea had accomplished!
This all seemed like another planet! How could it be? Then, one day, she found a way to escape her tormentors - and she found NAUH. Now Ms. Lee hopes to live in a country so different from everything she has known - she hopes to experience the dream of citizenship in a country where it is possible to work and honest job without being beaten; where it is possible to actually get paid for honest work, and eat food that is fit for the human body.