Every week or so, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Got a question? Email it to [email protected] with your name and city. We’ll be publishing the best ones.
This Ask a North Korean is a little different. Je Son Lee has been writing for us since 2014 but has, sadly, decided to focus on other work.
During her time writing for us, Je Son has covered everything from married life to black markets. In a farewell letter, she has decided to share some thoughts on writing about her homeland for a foreign audience:
Thank you for taking time to read my columns. It is sad to think that this is my last time with you, but I enjoyed our time together.
Whenever I would get topic requests, I’d spend some time debating which stories to write about. There were times when I felt bit overwhelmed because some topics are quite sensitive, but I always enjoyed writing columns as it allowed me to reflect on memories of my homeland. It helped to look back at memories in North Korea while trying to adjusting to life in South Korea.
When people think about North Korea, most people associate it with poverty, starvation, and dictatorship, but the truth is, there are normal people living in North Korea. In the face of adversity, people search for hope. Just because one was born and raised in North Korea does not mean that they have lost all hope or that they do not laugh.
Compared to those who grew up in better environments, people in North Korea have to try much harder than most to not lose hope and stay optimistic. In this very moment in that very place, there are people who are living with hope despite poverty, starvation or dictatorship.
The biggest reason I decided to write for NK News was because I wanted people to learn about the lives of North Koreans, about everything from hunger and human rights to daily life, about what people think or perhaps, rather than writing about what North Koreans think of the dictatorship, I wanted to write about what makes them smile, what makes them cry, or what makes them happy.
Let me give you an example. In our daily lives, one piece of candy is not valuable. But if one were to be lost while hiking or stuck in a place somewhere without any food to eat, then that one piece of candy becomes very valuable. That one piece of candy allows one to keep going on or if that piece of candy can be shared among others, then it would bring greater happiness.
I decided to write for NK News was because I wanted people to learn about lives of North Koreans
North Korea is a poor country, but because of this, we are able to endure hardships together and we can be grateful for little things.
Lastly, I want everyone to remember that in the end, North Koreans are people just like us. People come from different backgrounds and there are some that are well off but there are also people that are in need.
And just because someone is wealthy does not mean that they are well off in every way, but I believe that regardless of where a person comes from, life is about learning from each other and helping each other out. This goes for North Koreans too. We might pity them, but through these people, we learn what it means to not have food to eat or how important freedom is. In other words, they offer us a different perspective on life.
Now it is your turn. Give the gift of abundance and freedom to North Koreans. Of course, it’s not possible to give this gift to them immediately, but if we work toward this goal, I believe that someday North Koreans too will be able to enjoy freedom and abundance of life. This goal can be achieved by taking an interest in the topic.
This means that we should not merely focus on the dictatorship or what kind of nuclear tests that North Korea carries out, but focus on the lives of North Koreans. This can be about how they live, why they lead difficult lives, or why their circumstances are this way.
We must take an interest in how North Koreans can achieve freedom and abundance. If you are reading this letter, then you have already made a step forward in helping to achieve this.
Every person who shows interest becomes a pebble that helps build a bridge that will eventually create a path to deliver this gift of freedom to North Koreans. I hope every one of you will help to create this.
Translation by Rose Kwak
Edited by Oliver Hotham