Welcome back to the NK News feature, “Ask a North Korean!”
After a brief hiatus our feature that gives readers an opportunity to send in questions to North Koreans is back, with two new writers.
Mina is a female who left the north-east of North Korea in 2010 and Ji Min is a male who left Pyongyang in 2006.
Together, we hope their two perspectives will help shed light on day-to-day life in North Korea. We re-start the feature today with introductions from our new writers to get you acquainted with their background. Ji Min tells his story…
Introducing Ji Min
Hello my name is Ji Min,
I have long known that I’d become a writer. I wanted to write about the place I’d been born and brought up in, the hardship and oppression I had lived under and my desire for freedom.
My thoughts sometimes go back to the rainy day my friends sent me off at the platform and I remember not being able to tell my girlfriend that we would never see each other again. I reminisce about the river where I often went fishing with my father, and a street in my town where apricot trees showcased their beautiful snow-white blossoms. There is often a painful overlap between my fond and painful memories, between my tipsy, unshaven father belting out “The Spring of Homeland” and then desperately crossing the frozen Tumen River alone in the pitch-black night.
I remember sitting on the back seat of a middleman’s shabby motorbike and staring back at the country I left – a country with no food, clothes, electricity, human rights or freedom. Terrifying memories haunt me still – the faces of the “slash-and-burn” farmers who transform steep mountains into fields yet barely sustain themselves, and the barking of starving, gaunt dogs that coughed up their own blood.
It was one thing forgetting my friends and family but even the scent of the grass outside my home remained in my memories. The happier and more peaceful my life becomes, the more sorrowful these memories become. The tears while looking at photos and watching Pyongyang’s misery on TV make it clear that my soul remains in that land
I’m Jimin. I was born in Pyongyang. I left North Korea in the autumn of 2005 and since then, time has sped by. When I was born, my father was a writer with a bright future and my mother was a cellist in a famous art and music association. My family was constantly monitored and under full control of the state. It was unthinkable for me to even imagine becoming successful or a political figure. To the state, our family was worthless, with a suspicious background and who one day should be wiped out.
My mother’s father was victimized in the political struggle and executed. My grandfather used to be a fairly big landowner in the countryside. But when Kim Il Sung came into power, the first thing he did was purge private landowners and businessmen, confiscating their property. In fact, it was quite ironic that we were labeled “landowners.” We took the land that no one wanted in an extremely rural area. Yet because the land was my grandfather’s property, our destiny was decided and we suffered for decades. Despite living in a brainwashed society, I held my own distinct perspective on the world, thanks to my parents.
Having read the hundreds of books stacked up in my father’s study, I was able to think critically and recognized the huge gap between the concept of human rights I had learned in school and the stark reality of North Korea. Even though the state claimed to be a socialist nation, it accept materialism and I witnessed an authority that promoted deification and educated spiritualism. Having spent my teenage years in a cage of lies, I wanted to know more about the real world. I had read tons of books that were published in North Korea and I had the opportunity to compare the alleged “absurdity of capitalism” these books talked of with the so-called socialist reality of North Korea.
I also experienced and felt how many people wanted freedom and to enjoy being free. The people of the North desire a piece of music or film that stirs their inner emotions and whispers a word of love amid the vicious propaganda and roaring music that only warp your mind. Their hopes are stirred by listening to “a voice of rich freedom” leaked from China or South Korea. Their mothers shed tears when their sons, who are barely old enough to hold a rifle, are conscripted into the army.
I want to tell these stories. I want to share my many memories rather than keeping them to myself. If anyone is curious about North Korean reality, I’ll eagerly share my stories, whether it be in person on the corner of a random street or via the Internet. We can share the sadness of such harsh reality, over days if necessary. I am more convinced of my mission after writing this piece – my stories will be spread, more people will hear and the memories and feelings will be no longer be my own, but shared.
These are my hopes.
Got a question for Ji Min? Email it to [email protected] with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.
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