Ask a North Korean: What do people really think of South Koreans?

September 17th, 2012

Welcome to the latest NK News feature, “Ask a North Korean!”

Ever had any questions you’d like answers to when it comes to life in the DPRK? Well our latest feature now gives you an opportunity to send in questions to our new recruit from North Korea, Jae-Young Kim.

Having recently left her native DPRK for a new life in the Republic of Korea, Jae-young will be available to answer questions on anything related to daily life in North Korea, what it’s like settling into the South, and even for North Korean solutions to Western problems.

If you’ve got a question then you can find out how you can get it answered by visiting our “Ask a North Korean” page here.  We’ll start sending the best of your questions to Jae-young from early next week, so get writing now!

We start the feature today with a question about what North Koreans really think of their cousins in South Korea.

Chad O’Carroll, September 2012.

Question: What do North Koreans really think of South Koreans?  Does North Korean propaganda really influence what people think when it comes to South Korea?

Jae-young: Those who live near the borders with China know a lot about South Korea. Information about South Korea flows in along with the Chinese products, video and radios that are smuggled into North Korea. Many South Korean TV programs are also smuggled in the form of videos often and surprise North Koreans who obtain and watch them secretly. However, people in most areas that are far from the borders do not know much about South Korea. A North Korean who became a friend of mine during the process of escaping from North Korea told me that the friend only learned about South Korea after arriving in China. People in most inland areas do not have much access to transportation and communication and receive ideological education through the state TV which is the North Korean government’s propaganda tool. As a result, information about South Korea cannot reach them even through word of mouth.

I was in high school when I was first exposed to news about South Korea. I went to visit my uncle’s home where I watched a South Korean TV drama called “The Staircase to Heaven”. It was the first time ever I saw a South Korea drama, and was very surprised. I could feel for the first time that South Koreans live much better than us. It was shocking to see that young South Koreans who seem about the same age as I were having a completely different lifestyle. The sophisticated looks of the city streets and the actors and actresses shown in the drama was enough to excite me. I was so saddened by the heroine’s death in the drama that I had a mild case of depression for three days, and had my heart pounding a bit when I was watching the actor who played the main male character. I can never forget all those strange feelings, the excitement and the fear from the possibility of being caught. It was such an unforgettable experience that I searched for that same drama as soon as I arrived in South Korea even though it is now just one of many distant memories.

That first experience opened my eyes to South Korea and kindled more curiosities. I began listening to South Korean radio broadcasts. I could catch Chinese and South Korean radio channels where I lived. My parents tried their best to stop me from doing so for fear of getting caught, but I was drawn to South Korean radio news more deeply like a piece of metal to a magnet, even though it all began as a simple curiosity. I remember so vividly still that every night after 10 pm I would take out the match stick that was put into a whole in the radio in order to block foreign channels and listen to them at low volume all the while watching over to see if my parents were seeing me. The hassle of having to put back the match stick to the radio during the daytime was in no way enough to put down my curiosity.

I had to ensure the security of our home when I listened to the radio. All lights had to be turned out, all the curtains had to be drawn, and the radio volume could not be louder than a whisper of an ant. An occasional barking of a neighbor’s dog would just cause my heart to drop to the floor and my eyes double in size. Situations like a scene from a movie were our reality. Radio sounds were clearer on cloudy days. I was so taken by the accents that were so different from ours I even tried to repeat after the words in Seoul accent, all in a very low, hardly audible level.

What caught my ears especially in those days was the “news”. So different from the North Korean news, the South Korean news talked about some events that happened in real time. It also included news about various food and medical supplies that were being sent to North Korea as aid. I was confused for a while when I realized that South Korea and America were sending aid to North Korea and that was so different from what the government was telling us. I was questioning who was telling the truth. Meanwhile, I was happy writing down the lyrics of some happy music and learning the songs. It was a very simple song, and I remember that even my parents joined me and sang along.

Every week, the North Korean government conducts ‘Kangyeonhwe’, or lectures, that disparage the South. Some North Koreans may believe such propaganda wholeheartedly, but most of them let it in one ear and out on the other. Where the lectures portray the South as evil and impoverished, some North Koreans see evidence to the contrary in the form of food, fertilizers and medicines that come from the South. As a result, many North Koreans know that the South is wealthy and feel envious. Strict North Korean laws keep them from expressing any such knowledge and feelings about the South, however. I believe that much information about South Korea has become available and made many North Koreans change their image of the South, so in general positive feelings about the South outnumber the negative. I believe also that the growing positive feeling of the South is causing more North Koreans to escape from the country and eventually arrive in South Korea.

If you’ve got a question then you can find out how you can get it published by visiting our “Ask a North Korean” page here.  We’ll start sending the best of your questions to Jae-young from early next week, so get writing now!

Artwork by The Morning Skyrail

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About the Author

Jae Young Kim