Confessions Of A Former North Korean Citizen

February 12, 2018 | 4 Comments » | Topics: Life Experiences

How/when did you get out? 

I fleed from North Korea when I was 17, in 2006, by crossing the North Korean-China border with my mom and younger sister, with the help and under the arrangement of middlemen.

How easy was it to travel from Pyongyang to the border of China? Is it difficult? It seems like a fair amount of distance to travel when you are not in favor of the regime.

Not very difficult. No road block and no tracing, simply not exciting as you might think so. The distance is not very fair away and the travel only take 2 days.

Would you say most people in North Korea have an idea of what life outside of the country is? Were you able to pick up South Korean radio signals or use uncensored internet?

No, I never able to pick up South Korean radio signals or use uncensored internet. For common North Korean we nearly had no access to the information of what life outside of the country is life, save as those taught in school and in the media controlled by the party. 

What does the population get taught about the outside world growing up?

We had little contact with the outside world in North Korea. We were taught that other countries are full of bad things such as oppression and crimes and pollution. We were taught that the imperialist United States and the South Korea were seeking all the chance to attack and occupy North Korea.

Are people in N. Korea really as brainwashed as they seem or do they just act like that to avoid problems?

We are taught to follow and not to question the official doctrines since kindergarten. I would say brainwashed may be not the most appropriate adjective and there was nothing to wash in the very beginning when we were growing up. However, I think just like in all other societies, there were someone who have rebellious mentallity whilst there were also a lot just follow the social norm. The only difference may be that for those who have rebellious mentallity, they might be forced to act in accordance with social norms just like that to avoid problems and for the majority others we were indoctrinated to act as the others.

Do you hold the belief that as a sentient being you are entitled to certain inalienable rights, such as: freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly? I would assume most of those would threaten the North Korean regime and would not be allowed. Also, do you believe that the North Korean people are being oppressed and mislead by their government?

I believe a person should have absolute freedom and no restrictions should be imposed unless he or she is doing harm to other person. I don’t believe in those doctrine that you have to give up a part of the freedom for the good of the country or the society.

To be fair, every governments are misleading and oppressing its people, just North Korea is far more serious in doing that. I believe that all governments are bad.

Have you read George Orwell’s 1984, from what I have seen in the media N. Korea seem scarily similar to the world in that book.

I have not seen the book but know what the book is about. In North Korea the survelliance was not as intentive as you may think. We were taught from very young to follow and obey the party line and the majority of the people just not bother to question the party line so far as the people were able to maintain a livelihood. Further, all the people well understood what was the consequence of saying or doing something wrong and the people knew how to do to avoid trouble.

Media reports show a lot of north Koreans mourning over their leader’s death. Was it genuine, faked or just nurtured?

When Kim Il-sung died (I was still very young at that time), I could feel many, including my grands and my parents, were really sad. For Kim Jong Il, I do not know. However, I would say most of the mourning was nurtured, though a few may be genuine.

What went though your mind when Kim Jong Il died?

No feeling, really.

Are North Korean people properly nourished? How is the amount and variety of food?

For those in Pyongyang I would say no to your question. The variety were not much and most food was only vegetarian but the food was just sufficient. However, for the countryside the situation is much different. I would say most of the resources and food went to Pyongyang and there was not much left in other part of the country.

What are north koreans taught about other countries? What about western nations such as the US and the UK?

We were taught from the very young that other countries were full of bad things such as oppression, crimes, pollution, low moral standard, etc. We were taught to prepare all the times for the agressive attack of the imperialist United States and South Korea as they were taking every opportunities wishing to attack and take North Korea.

Are there things about the United States/China/South Korea that you were told in North Korea while growing up that you found to be true?

Yes, they are :-

  1. United States is always agreesive and like to attack other countries;
  2. South Korean are arrogant, especially to North Korean;
  3. Pollution is wide-spread in China and all the Chinese already lost their revolution spirit and all are of very low moral standard.

What is an average day like for a family in North Korea?

An average day was very simple. Mother would prepare breakfast in the morning for the whole family. Father went to work and children went to school after breakfast. Mother usually remained in home for housework. Children usually had lunch at school. After school we did homework or other reading and playing to wait for father. Then the whole family had dinner and after dinner there was not much entertainment and we usually went to bed early.

In some special days such as the nationsal day and the bithday of Kim Il-sung, the school would usually arrange the students to join and participate some large scale rally or show to “celebrate” the special days. At the spring festivals, we would decorate the home and made some special food.

I understand the life in the countryside was much different and much harder.

How was life growing up there? How strong of an influence did Kim Jong Il’s have on the nation?

Actually I did not feel very bad with my life growing up in North Korea. I had a happy childhood and youth years, as my family was not amongst the lower class and we are not living in straving. My childhood and youth years were simple but happy. Contrary to what you may think about, I never think about we were living in no freedom and under many restrictions. As life was like that since I was born, there was no comparison.

I would say that the influence of Kim Il-sung was very strong in the North Korea, even after his death and in the Kim Jong Il’s era. You saw the protriats of Kim Il-sung everywhere and everythings were following the teaching and doctrines of Kim Il-sung. Kim Jong Il took his authority as the successor of the Kim Il-sung and his line, not as a leader on his own. North Korea is indeed ruling by a person who dead for years.

Did you have a hobby growing up (i.e. music, art, athletics), and what were the common pass times of children in N Korea? Also, what were you NOT allowed to do as a pass time?

I liked drawing and painting and was able to paint some good picture. I did spend a lot of time in drawing and painting in my leisure. We went to park or skiing during school holidays. No one had told me what was not allowed to do to pass time.

In a VICE documentary I saw that a lot of Pyongyang restaurants are always completely empty but the staff tried to make it look like they’re expecting a lot of visitors while putting old breadsticks on the table and rushing around with a stressful look on their face like hundreds of visitors will be coming in soon. Apparently there is a lot of (bad) acting in front of tourists to make North Korea look worldly and cultivated. Can you confirm this type of behavior?

I would say they were not doing that look like they were expecting a lot of visitors, but doing that to prove they had somethings to do and value of being employed. Even outside North Korea, I can see many people doing some meaningless work pretending they were busy to cheat their employer.

How is the education in North Korea? Were you only able to learn a second language because of your father’s position? Or is every student well-educated?

I agree that it may be because of my father’s position that I was able to receive a better education. I would say not every students in North Korea were well-educated, but at least every students in the family of party official or army received good education, no matter how lower was the rank.

I’ve always wondered about children of high ranking North Korean party officials that study abroad in Western countries. If they are allowed to live abroad and witness how life is outside of North Korea, how do they return to North Korea and still believe what is told to them by the North Korean government? How many of these children are “converted” to more Western norms yet hide that in order to get by in North Korea?

I don’t think those in the highest ranks do really believe the doctrine, even for those who never study aboard. They only believe in power and authority. Those children are not returning to take up the belief and party line, but returning to take up the power and authority. I do think many do “converted” to more Western norms but power and authority are much more attractive. You do not need to really believe in a doctrine in order to practise the doctrine.

How do marriages work? Is it usually arranged by the families to maintain social class or are people pretty much free to date/marry who they want without much outside pressure? Also, does the government have any role in this?

Amongst the young generation arranged marriages by the families were not common. The young generation were rather free to date and marry, but of course the parents’ opinion sometimes still played a part in the marry and the parent’s “objection” is usually “respected”. Just as in other society, the socal class was maintained not through arranged marriage but through the reality that most people could only have contacted and a chance to meet and date others in similar social class. I did not hear that the government have any role in that.

What do N.Koreans think of gay people? Are there any gay people that come out in N.Korea? Or does the country claim that no one in N.Korea is gay?

Never heard about any gay people come out in North Korea and personally I did not know any of the gay people in North Korea. This even not a topic in North Korea and so the country had never said anything on that.

So its true then….when some one defects their whole family get sent to a labour camp?

I can only say usually when someone defects his/her whole immediately family would have a high risks to be sent to labour camp. It also depends on how serious the allegations were.

Is there such a there such a thing as speaking ill of Kim jong?

No one would speaking ill on the the leaders, no matter openly or privately.

What is your opinion on the internet censorship in North Korea? What is the general public’s attitude toward such practices? (Do people try to circumvent it, or just live with it?)

Not many people had access to internet in North Korea. The usage of the internet were mainly for education and research and official purpose and was under a highly control environment. The general public even didn’t have the connection to access to internet, not to say any chance to try to circumvent the censorship.

Do you feel that most of the North Korean population, if they had the opportunity, would want unrestricted access to the internet? Would they challenge or defend their indoctrination (as you put it) as they learned more about the rest of the world?

I think sure. If you ask someone whether you wish unrestricted freedom to anything, I think nearly all will give you a positive answer.

Indoctrination will surely collapse with free access to information, just like the case of China.

Have you seen this video? Are things really that bad or is it “imperialist propaganda”? How many North Koreans live in these conditions? Do the people of Pyongyang know about this?

I did know there was famine and starving in the countryside though the media never told. We did see that when we have chance to go to the countryside. I wouild say there was about half of the population in North Korea living in the countryside and they were suffering from certain degree of famine and starving.

Are there charities in North Korea where more well off North Korean citizens can help the very poor citizens of North Korea? Are there charities of any kind or is that unheard of? 

I had not heard about there was any charities in North Korea. Everythings and every areas of life were controlled by the party and I do not think they would allow any charities operating in North Korea.

I heard that Choco Pies are used as currency in North Korea and nowadays North Koreans watch smuggled DVDs of South Korean TV Shows. Was this common when you were living in N.Korea or is this a more recent thing?

Choco pies are not used as currency, but commodities exchange were still practised in North Korea.

When I was still living in North Korea, the trend of watching smuggled DVDs of South Korean TV shows was just beginning and the party were trying its best to suppress that.

I’ve heard Marijuana grows freely in North Korea and smoking it is common. Is this true?

I can only said that I had never heard or seen any of that. If there is sufficient water and soil and fertilizer, why not rice but Marijuana?

Are there any illegal drugs, commonly consumed in North Korea? I read some articles about the country, trying to handle a crystal meth epedemic.

Personally I had never seen or heard about drug. I think it may be difficult to traffick drugs into North Korean and they were also too expensive and not affordable to North Korean.

What is an item that you have used after leaving N.Korea that has simplified/made doing something much easier than the how it is done in N.Korea?

Mobile phone. Mobile phone is not availale to common people in North Korea.

What is one custom from North Korea that you feel other countries should follow?

After thinking, I really can’t name anyone, sorry.

Who do you think is really pulling the strings in North Korea? How much power does the military have?

I think it was the few military and party heads, collectively, not Kim Jong Un, who were actually in charge of the country. It is difficult to say how much power does the military have because most of the party highest ranks come from the military and the two ranks were widely overlapped.

Do you think this the Kim Jongs will ever been taken out? Is there a possibility of North Korea becoming what most of us would consider a “normal” country?

I would have a hope on that. You can never know what would happen tomorrow and there is never anything impossible. To be honest, I don’t think the present Kim’s dynasty can survive for hundreds of years and change is only a matter of time.

Would you ever choose to return to North Korea? That is, if the current regime were to fall.

Not if the current regime were to fall, but when there is an hopeful new and good regime. The falling of the current one does not automatically mean the next one will be good.

If you could introduce one aspect of a stereotypical democratic nation to North Korea, excluding freedom or the right to vote or things like that, (examples are press, right to rally, simple freedoms), what would that one thing be?

freedom to information

If the regime changed, do you think North Korea could become a good tourist destination? What are some places that would be considered “Tourist spots” in North Korea?

I think North Korea is now a good tourist destination for many people in the World. Many people just want to see how different the country is in comparing to the rest of the world. That is a selling point and everywhere in North Korea are “tourist spots” in such circumstances.

What are your thoughts on an unified Korea? Also what do you think about the rehabilition programs in S Korea which help N Korean children and adults into adapting S Korean lifestyle?

Just as an usual Korean, I hope for a peaceful, democratic and strong unified Korea. But I don’t think when will the hope be truth. And do you know that in the 2,000 years’ history of Korea, there was only an unified Korea in about 1/3 of the time.

I don’t know much about the rehabilitation programs. Wish those are not another type of indoctrination.

Would you ever want to move to a western country like the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, or any other?

Wish to move to European countries or Australia or New Zealand, but not United States or South Korea. Not much good feelings about United States and South Korea.

Can you expand on your feelings about the United States? Is this because of things you were taught in North Korea, and do you feel they were accurate?

Not because the things taught in North Korea. I understand United States is not a good place to live especially for the poor and the Asians. And also becasue personally I have some bad experience with Americans and South Koreans, I would say both are usually arrogant.

What was something about life outside of N.Korea that surprised you the most/seemed strange to you after leaving? (This can be something that might not seem significant to everyone else. Just something that really shocked you.

The wasting of food. Why do the Chinese always orders more than what they are able to eat and why do the American and the Europeans destroys the corn or wheat or milk just to put up the price in the market?

Is there one thing you actually liked about North Korea you miss?

The simple living and everythings are in order.

What political ideology do you belong to?

You mean now? I hate any form of government.

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