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Ask a North Korean
December 2, 2013 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Ask a North Korean, a periodic special feature from nknews.org (about) in which North Korean expatriates discuss their experiences living in the most oppressive nation on Earth.

Thanks to Pope Guilty for the link.
posted by JHarris (27 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
For some reason, the submit form identified a link in the post as a duplicate. All the links found were other pages on nknews.org, but not things that had been linked before, so, not duplicates. I don't know why it flagged.
posted by JHarris at 9:33 PM on December 2, 2013


Excellent site. Thanks for this.
posted by bookman117 at 12:51 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


"What do you do for fun?"

Step 1: Leave North Korea.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:41 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hope it is replaced with a new system that allows people to dream of what they want to be and encourages them to make their dreams reality. That basic freedom of choice is on my wish list for the North Korean people.

that is depressing. she is literally asking for the chance for the her people to DREAM.


i really like the Inspector O novels by James Church and the way jobs are described has always sounded pretty much like what she says. people don't go to to work to work, unless it's your turn in the fields. there's often not work to do even in an office, unless you are working for a high ranking official of some sort.

for a while i thought i was misunderstanding the subtext until i realized that there is nothing to do. that you don't go job searching. that most people aren't aspiring to a promotion if they aren't connected because they know it will never happen.

i just never really thought about it as a freedom, being able to dream. i guess that is the pursuit of happiness part of our country.
posted by sio42 at 4:37 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


and thanks for posting this!
posted by sio42 at 4:37 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It must be noted at this point --

I read another article on the site and was told that I've "reached my limit of four free articles per month."

If I had known there was such an arbitrary, and more than that low limit on the number of article reads on this site, I would not have posted this to Metafilter. Even if one might be about to get around it using Incognito mode, it's the principle of the thing.
posted by JHarris at 5:58 AM on December 3, 2013


I read another article on the site and was told that I've "reached my limit of four free articles per month."

I reached that limit too but that hasn't prevented me from accessing more stories, at least from the Ask a North Korean series anyway.

Reading these articles made me wonder what kind of support North Korean refugees get from the South Korean government. Wikipedia provides that information as well as some startling statistics on the exponential rise in refugees in recent years.
posted by Pseudology at 6:12 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


from I've read in some nonfiction books, South Korea tries to help but it's not very popular because there are soooo many refugees and it's very expensive to basically clothe, feed, and shelter people who can't perform anything but menial jobs.

most of them have never used a modern computer. they don't know how to use the Internet. most of them wouldn't be able to be a basic office admin because they don't know about email or how to use a shared calendar and schedule an appt in outlook.

so it's like in doctor who or Torchwood when they were trying to help the people from 1940 who ended up in 2005. sure, they can be smart capable people, but they've missed out on 50 years of modern news, culture, and technology. and unlike the people from 1940, these people have lived lives of quite often terrible circumstances, perhaps with guilt of what may happen to their families or that they may be kidnapped back, not to mention if they were alive and survived the horrible famine in the 90s.

so there's a lot going on that is very expensive to help and the voters aren't exactly happy with shelling out the money needed.
posted by sio42 at 6:48 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just a question, are they really the most oppressed nation on earth? I would think that some countries in the Middle East or Africa are.
posted by stormpooper at 7:01 AM on December 3, 2013


Just a question, are they really the most oppressed nation on earth?

Without a doubt.

I would think that some countries in the Middle East or Africa are.

Can you name one?
posted by BobbyVan at 7:07 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


It is a statement that seemed obvious when I wrote it, but it's possible that there are more oppressed countries. I don't know if there is an objective yardstick of oppression. The details of such a thing are to depressing to contemplate, so I will just say, maybe?
posted by JHarris at 7:07 AM on December 3, 2013


Jesus. It's Panem IRL.
posted by disconnect at 7:08 AM on December 3, 2013


I mean, I'll bet there are particular neighborhoods in Syria or sections of the Congo jungles that might be - at this very moment - more horrific than North Korea in general. But in my judgment, North Korea comes closest to embodying a totalitarian, Orwellian dystopia.

The oppression in NK is just that much more effective and deliberate, as opposed to places where human misery is more Hobbesian in its origins.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:14 AM on December 3, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think there are several different criteria to grade oppression. Off the top of my head I can think of several.

Economic
Freedom of movement
Privacy
Freedom of Expression
Discrimination

While some countries may be more opressed than NK on any one of these areas, judging from the articles, NK scores very highly on almost all of them.
posted by Pseudology at 7:15 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


countries in the Middle East or Africa riot and start movements and stuff.

people who do that in NK get sent to labor camps along with 3 generations of their family.
posted by sio42 at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


After escaping to South Korea, some defectors now want to return north
Son, who's 47, wants to go home because he's ill. He says his liver is failing and he wants to see his family in Pyongyang again before he dies.

He's also broke. Son couldn't pay back a loan and he lost his apartment and most of his belongings. Now, he says he regrets coming to South Korea and claims he's not the only one.

"I'm not making this up. Eighty out of 100 defectors say they'd go back to North Korea to be with their families if it weren't for the punishment they'd receive there,” Son says. “They'd go, even if it meant they'd only be able to eat corn porridge."

For many defectors, not adjusting means no jobs, failed businesses, and growing debt.

Kim Suk-woo, a former Unification Ministry official, says many go bankrupt after paying back the brokers that brought them and their families to South Korea.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:36 AM on December 3, 2013 [5 favorites]


these people are screwed. they are basically in a no win situation and i have no idea what could be done short of all out military intervention, which in itself is a terrible idea.

there will have to be some sort of internal coup.
posted by sio42 at 7:42 AM on December 3, 2013


Even though you have a job from the government, you have to find ways of earning your living on your own.

That one sentence is pretty good at showing just how different a world NK is.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:51 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I heard a bizarre interview piece last night on NPR about a dying defector who wants to "redefect" (his/their term) so he can die in NK with his relatives. My immediate thought was: Oh, sure, they'll let you in... and you'll die a LOT sooner than you expect. And worse.

Then it got weirder. First he claimed that SK banned him from all air travel (I can see why they might not want him to go to NK, but elsewhere? Maybe...). Then he and the interviewer discussed how "several" defectors wanted to "redefect"... usually out of financial need.

Apparently they get an endowment from the SK govt - something like $40k or more. Then they have to pay the guy that got them out - "usually about $2k". Then housing in SK is very expensive, and there is discrimination against NKoreans in SK (no surprise at all).

Still, you're starting life outside prison (essentially) with $38k in your pocket. I think the real problem is something completely different: a daily, nonstop and overwhelming feeling of weirdness. For the first time in your life, you can walk, talk, work, dress, and just plain live however you like.

Ever get faced with too many decisions? "I'll have a coffee, please." "Cream or sugar? Reg or decaf? Small, medium, large, or x-large? Americano or drip blend? French roast or..." "JUST GIVE ME A FUCKING BOTTLE OF WATER!"

This is what it's like to them 24/7. And, while I may sound like I'm making too much of what we think of as a good thing, remember that the urge to return to "normalcy" is intense in every living thing. Mice want to find corners and holes. Cockroaches want the dark. Humans joyfully move out of their tiny hometown and parents house AT LAST!!!! and a decade later move back, eventually buying their parents' place.

And the librarian who was paroled in "Shawshank Redemption" hung himself, because he couldn't take the unnatural (for him) freedom outside the prison.

NK defectors probably do want to repatriate (and, BTW NPR: the word is repatriate, not redefect). Hell, almost none of them would have left if the government was endurable - people stay in hellholes all over the world, unwilling to move until they are forced to become penniless refugees.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:24 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


That may be the interview I linked to above.

remember that the urge to return to "normalcy" is intense

I don't think it's just an urge to return to "normalcy," but an urge to return to family and loved ones. It seems the social safety net in SK has failed DPRK defectors big time.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:28 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine recently visited the DPRK. I can't really explain it, but something about the whole thing -- relatively well-off westerners going there to gawk at Evil Disneyland -- that just doesn't sit well with me. It's almost worse than poverty tourism somehow. It would be like if Nazi Germany offered tours of a concentration camp, but it was the cleanest concentration camp in their whole system, outfitted with 1980s fixtures and a fake subway to make it look "modern", and everyone looks happy and professional and busy because if they don't, they'll get beaten with a shovel and electrocuted.

I mean, I get that it's a cheap vacation, I think like $1200 for a 3-4 day excursion (although I guess you still have to get to Beijing somehow). It's like, my friend went there, was served some generally awful food (with the full knowledge that everyone around him was starving), was taken through what's essentially a museum tour with all the interesting bits glossed over, hung out in a city with no nightlife or available women, had to pretend the Kims were something other than decadent murderous shitheads, and really, I just don't get it. I mean, yeah, it's a place most people don't go to, but maybe that's because it sucks? I'd rather go to South Korea, I'd imagine you'd get a more accurate impression of real Korean culture there (although I have no knowledge or facts to back that up). At least you'd have some fun, instead of just reminding yourself that bad people exist, they make other people miserable, and it's possible for people to believe absolutely anything if their lives are threatened enough times.

Only part that would be fun would be watching their TV. I wish we could get DPRK propaganda TV in the US. As awful as the Kims are, they have like a monopoly on hilariously un-self-aware propaganda. Would love to light up a bong and hear all about how the North really won the Korean war.
posted by evil otto at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2013 [6 favorites]


Golden Eternity: "That may be the interview I linked to above. "

Oops, yes it is. Missed your post.

I don't think it's just an urge to return to "normalcy," but an urge to return to family and loved ones. It seems the social safety net in SK has failed DPRK defectors big time.

I'd say the "return to family and loved ones" is just part of the return to normalcy.

When my parents moved to a new house after I graduated from college, it was weird - the place never felt like anything other than "staying at a relative's house". It couldn't become "home" to me, even with my brother's family and grandparents there.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:17 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


in terms of oppression, i should think Burma is up there with the worst (despite all the PR - the West's just after it's natural resources), Central African Republic and Congo are hell at the moment but that's not the same thing, Gaza is very bad, North Sudan isn't good, Bahrain and (for the minority who are against the Kingdom) Saudi aren't good, but it's really the migrant workers who suffer in North Africa and the middle east. Honduras is bad. Chechnya is awful. Uighurs in China is bad (that area) and at the moment Tibet. Indonesia's treatment of Papua New Guinea.
posted by maiamaia at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


It makes absolute sense that $38k is not enough to start over wth in S. Korea. Housing there is not rented by paying daily/monthly/weekly rent; you pay a large amount- it's $40K for the 2 bedroom in Ansan, a suburb of Seoul, that my inlaws have had their eye on for several years - all at once to your landlord when you move in, then get some back when you move out.

Imagine moving to a place where you know absolutely no one, and have no job skills, are likely unable to do hard physical jobs due to years of malnutrition, and after you find somewhere to live, having only $5k in your pocket to pay for everything you need until you get a job, in a country where friendship and kinship networks are very important for job opportunities.
posted by holyrood at 7:39 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


> It's like, my friend went there, was served some generally awful food (with the full knowledge that everyone around him was starving), was taken through what's essentially a museum tour with all the interesting bits glossed over, hung out in a city with no nightlife or available women, had to pretend the Kims were something other than decadent murderous shitheads, and really, I just don't get it

In a box somewhere I have a zine that Nick Johnson wrote about a brief trip to North Korea. He had a very different experience than your friend did -- he walked around on his own, saw interesting things, and found "available women" (which is a weird thing to say). I understand what you say about the gawking, though. It's a fine line.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:10 AM on December 4, 2013


Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty sure my friend enjoyed himself, or at very least found it a fascinating experience. I just don't think I could enjoy it, having read things like accounts of what it's like to be thrown in to one of their labor camps. My friend did say all the anti-American propaganda got to him after a while. I guess it's different for us, sitting at home. We read some typical ridiculous press release from one of the Kims, touting themselves and their country as superior and triumphant, with their hilariously belligerent pronouncements about how they're going to crush America and all that, and it's like, ha ha ha. But if you're there, it's probably something different, you may start to think, ha ha ha? Maybe these people are serious.

But yeah, I threw in the part about available women because my friend is single, in his 20s, and likes to party, and North Korea has basically none of the things he'd typically look for in a vacation destination. Actually, at one point, one of the female guides made some joking remark about him looking for a North Korean woman, something having to do with the fact that my friend is tall (he's like 6'6"). My friend, knowing that North Koreans are really into the racial purity thing, asked a question to the effect of, "Do North Koreans date Americans?" to which she responded, "You could be the first!" Kind of odd she'd raise the subject at all.

I really do think he just saw it as a cheap vacation and an odd experience he couldn't get anywhere else. Were I in his position, I'd probably have just stayed in Beijing for a week and spent the $1200. Always wanted to see Beijing.
posted by evil otto at 8:04 AM on December 5, 2013


It would be like if Nazi Germany offered tours of a concentration camp, but it was the cleanest concentration camp in their whole system

It was called Theresienstadt.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:05 PM on December 5, 2013 [5 favorites]


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