Tag Archives: North Korea

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North Korean Defector Joseph Kim Shares His Story in Reddit AMA

by KARIN CHAN and JAMES S. KIM

 

After his father died due to starvation and his mother and sister left for China, Joseph Kim was left homeless as a child. He grew up learning to beg and even worked in a coal mine before he was finally able to escape to China himself at age 16, Kim recounts in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session on Thursday.

Kim has since resettled in Richmond, Va., where he calls home. He graduated high school and is currently a university student working towards a degree in international relations. He continues to work closely with Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a nonprofit that helps with rescuing and resettling refugees as well as raising awareness about the North Korean people.

He recorded his experiences in his memoir, Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America, which chronicles his will to survive through harsh conditions and dangers of getting caught by the Chinese authorities.

Earlier this year, Kim spoke at a UN panel with other defectors to share their personal stories about North Korea’s human rights violations. Having grown up in North Korea during the ’90s famine, Kim also shared his story in a 2013 TedTalk about building a life for himself in America.

Below are some highlights from Kim’s AMA session. Kim’s responses have been edited for length and clarity.

On what led him to leaving North Korea:

 

I didn’t see much hope to survive in North Korea much longer because, at this point, I had lived on the street as a homeless kid for about three years. I could die of starvation like my father did, or try to escape North Korea for a better life.

On whether the average North Korean believes in the regime’s propaganda:

 

Well, it’s hard to say. Yes and no. Because if you’re talking about nowadays North Koreans, it’s a little bit hard for me to say that a majority of North Koreans believe propaganda.

But I do think that older generations definitely believe in the government propaganda because in the 1970s, the North Koreans were economically better off than South Korea. After the 1990s famine, things have proven that North Korea is not the best country in the world, as the government or state claims. Because how can you accept the propaganda when your best friend dies of starvation?

So I think nowadays, more and more people are critical of government propaganda, but I can’t say what all North Koreans do now.

On what he thought the U.S. looked like before moving to the country:

 

I expected coming to America, thinking that I would end up in New York, with tall buildings, but I ended up going to Richmond, Va., where I realized that I was almost in the middle of a forest.

The next morning I woke up, there was a deer around. That was confusing for me because the America I had imagined was a big city, with really tall buildings. I thought I did something wrong to be put in some other place.

His thoughts on moving from China to the United States:

 

Definitely, the language and cultures were the biggest obstacles, but what really struck me was not knowing what to do with my life. That was the hardest because in North Korea, my daily dream was to find food and have enough food. In some sense, food was the entire dream for me.

But coming to America, I think the food was provided, so in that sense, my dream was already achieved. So I didn’t really know what to look for afterwards. And a lot of people told me I had freedom to do everything, but nobody explained to me what freedom meant. So, I had to figure that out on my own. I think meeting new friends, and talking to older people, helped me.

What he believes has yet to be revealed about North Korea:

 

A lot. I mean, especially in the Western media. So much political conflicts and issues. Just about the leader.

But I think what we are really missing is that because of heavy subjects, we tend to forget that there are people like myself who have hopes and dreams for a better life. And people who want to be happy. But because of all those heavy subjects, I think we sometimes don’t get to see the average North Korean, and you can’t really connect or relate to them because of heavy subjects.

On pursuing a degree in international relations:

 

Studying for undergraduate, it can only give you some tools. But I don’t think I have the solution to make a better place for North Korea overnight. What I believe is that education will help me to be empowered and overcome those issues one day. But as of now, I don’t see much hope. One thing I can do is help make sure that we are prepared for ex-North Korea someday, with education.

 

On North Korean culture aspects he misses and learning what freedom meant:

 

That’s a bit of a tough question. I think one thing that I kind of miss is that back in North Korea, before the economic collapse, there was much more communal sharing. And I feel like everyone was really sharing with each other. I think North Koreans used to be more communal and family-oriented, celebrating the holidays together

When I was in China, I was offered to come to the U.S., and I said “no” because I was told that in North Korea, the U.S. is our enemy state and we have to destroy it someday. I asked [my pastor], “Why should I go to America?” and he said I could continue my education and have freedom. [The latter part] didn’t catch my ear because I knew what freedom was. But until he was elaborating what freedom was—[he said] I could go outside anytime I wanted to go out. When I was in China, I was hiding and stayed in an apartment for long [periods], so going outside was something luxurious. That was a real turning point for me.


 

You can read Joseph Kim’s full Reddit AMA here. You can also purchase his memoir Under the Same Sky through the LiNK Shop, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

See Also

North Korean Defector Joo Yang Shares Eye-Opening Tales In Reddit AMA

DocKim Shares How He Escaped North Korea in the 1950s

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Featured image courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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North Korea Claims to Have Cure for MERS, Ebola, AIDS

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

 

North Korea said on Friday that it has developed a miracle drug that can prevent and cure not only MERS but also Ebola, SARS and AIDS, reports the Associated Press.

Needless to say, the isolated country’s claim has raised widespread skepticism, considering North Korea’s poor healthcare system and reputation for spinning bizarre tales (like the one about discovering unicorns).

On Friday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the Pugang Pharmaceutical Company has developed Kumdang-2, a vaccine created from ginseng grown from fertilizer containing “rare-earth elements.” The media outlet added that the vaccine could easily treat “malicious virus infections like SARS, Ebola and MERS.”

“As a strong immune activator, the injection has been recognized to prevent different malignant epidemics,” Jon Sung-hun, the director of the pharmaceutical company, told KCNA.

North Korea touted the same golden concoction during the SARS outbreak in Asia in 2003 and the bird flu outbreaks between 2006 and 2013, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Although it has not submitted any medical proof to the other nations, Pugang Pharmaceutical claims that people injected with Kumdang-2 have not contracted any of the aforementioned viruses even after venturing into infected areas.

North Korea, however, has been highly sensitive to the outbreak of infectious diseases. Last year, it banned foreign tourists from entering the country for five months due to Ebola concerns.

Surprisingly, the hermit kingdom has not shut down its borders, even though South Korea continues to fight the outbreak of MERS, which has already killed 24 people and infected at least 166 people as of June 19.

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Featured image via Yonhap

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North Korea Hit by ‘Worst Drought in 100 Years’

 

by KIM TONG-HYUNG, Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea says it has been hit by its worst drought in a century, resulting in extensive damage to agriculture during its main planting season.

The official Korean Central News Agency said the drought has caused about 30 percent of its rice paddies to dry up. Young rice plants normally need to be partially submerged in water during the early summer.

“Recently in our country, there has been a severe drought with sudden extremely high temperatures and nearly no rain,” Ri Yong Nam, a senior North Korean weather official, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “Now the drought is causing a water shortage and great damage to agriculture, and we foresee this drought will continue for a while.”

He said temperatures in May were 5-7 degrees Celsius (9-12 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than normal.

Both North and South Kore have had unusually dry weather this year.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said precipitation in North Korea was abnormally low in May, and food production could decline significantly if the shortage continues. However, a ministry official said he couldn’t confirm NorthKorea’s claim that it was experiencing its worst drought in a century.

Jane Howard, a spokeswoman for the World Food Program in Rome, said North Korea has been experiencing water shortages since late last year because of low rain and snowfall. “The lack of water now could seriously affect the main crop season later this year,” she said.

The main crop season is planted in June-July and normally accounts for 90 percent of total food production, she said in an email.

“We are very concerned that if there is poor crop production this year, there will be a significant increase in malnutrition especially among children,” she said.

KCNA said South Hwanghae province was one of North Korea’s worst-hit areas.

Farmers at Gangan Cooperative Farm in the province said they have been unable to grow rice seedlings.

“This is the first drought damage in my 20 years of farming experience,” Sin Jong Choi, head of a work team at the farm, told AP. He said the seedlings dried out, so farmers plowed the fields again and planted corn instead.

But even the corn plants “are completely burned to death,” said Bae Tae Il, the farm’s chief engineer. “We are launching all-out efforts to overcome the drought damage.”

In Pyongyang, the capital, the water level of the Taedong River was very low Wednesday.

The United Nations said in a report in April that about 70 percent of North Korea’s people face food insecurity, and more than a quarter of children under age of 5 experience chronic malnutrition.

It said North Korea continues to restrict proper monitoring of aid operations, while international financial sanctions targeting the country’s nuclear and missile programs have added to the difficulties of aid distribution.

International aid donations to North Korea have fallen in recent years as it continues to pursue nuclear development. The U.N. report said it is seeking $111 million for North Korean operations this year, its lowest such funding appeal since at least 2009.

North Korea suffered a devastating famine during the 1990s that is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The famine is also believed to have loosened the authoritarian state’s control over the economy by damaging its public food distribution system and paving the way for private economic activity in unofficial markets.

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Associated Press writer David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report. Featured image via YouTube/YTN. 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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North Korean Soldier Crosses DMZ to Defect to South

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

A teenaged North Korean soldier walked across the heavily mined Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Monday in a bid to defect to South Korea, the South Korean defense ministry said.

After crossing the 2.5-mile-wide DMZ, the 19-year-old soldier approached a remote South Korean guard post in Gangwon Province’s Hwacheon county at around 8 a.m. on June 15, according to the New York Times. There were no warning shots or exchange of fire, as the solider clearly expressed his wish to defect as he crossed the inter-Korean border, according to defense ministry officials. He is currently being held in custody while South Korean authorities run a background check.

It is extremely rare for defectors to walk across the DMZ, especially since it is heavily fortified with land mines, barbed wire and patrolmen. The last such crossing was back in 2012, when a North Korean serviceman scaled three barbed-wire fences and knocked on the barracks of South Korean border guards. That same year, another North Korean soldier killed two of his commanding officers before crossing the western side of the DMZ.

Most North Korean defectors, many of whom are civilians, usually cross the North Korea-China border and travel through Southeast Asian nations to reach South Korea.

According to South Korea’s unification ministry, the number of North Korean defectors dropped from 2,706 in 2011 to 1,397 last year. So far, 535 North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea within the past five months of 2015.

In recent weeks, North Korea has been increasing guard patrols along the DMZ in order to prevent defection through the inter-Korean border, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Also on Monday, North Korea said it would release two South Korean detainees who were arrested on May 11 for illegally entering the country through China. South Korea’s unification ministry agreed to the proposal and announced that the two detainees will be received at the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.

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Featured image via journeylism.nl

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North Korea to Release 2 South Korean Detainees

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North Korea will release two South Koreans who were accused of illegally entering the country last May, according to Yonhap News Agency.

On Monday, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said North Korea announced via fax message that they will return a 59-year-old man, identified by his surname Lee, and a 51-year-old woman, surnamed Jin, to the truce village of Panmunjom on the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

The ministry agreed to Pyongyang’s proposal.

Seoul said the two South Korean nationals went missing together near the North Korea-China border during their trip to China. North Korea claimed that the travelers illegally crossed its border on May 11.

In a press release, the unification ministry said the two South Korean returnees will be inspected for health conditions upon arrival on Wednesday and later questioned for their reasons behind entering the North.

Meanwhile, North Korea has yet to respond to Seoul’s request for the release of four other South Koreans, including a New York University student.

Won-moon Joo, a 21-year-old business school student with permanent residency in the U.S., was arrested on April 22 after crossing the Amnok River from the Chinese town of Dandong, according to North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA.

North Korea is also currently detaining two South Korean nationals, Kim Jung-wook and Choe Chun-gil, for alleged espionage.

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Featured image by Henrik Ishihara/ Wikimedia Commons

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Manwoldae restored

North and South Korea Join Forces to Excavate Ancient Palace

Pictured above: A replica of the Manwoldae. (Photo via Ilbe.com)

 

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

North and South Korean archeologists have joined forces to research and excavate Manwoldae Palace, an ancient royal palace built during the Koryo dynasty in the 10th century.

Manwoldae is considered to be one of the most significant historical sites in Korea, as it once served as the home of Koryo rulers for more than 400 years. The palace was burned to the ground in 1361 during the Red Turban Rebellion, a Han Chinese uprising that overthrew the China’s then-ruling Yuan dynasty.

On June 2, South Korean researchers traveled to Kaesong, North Korea to begin the excavation, hoping that the project will raise awareness of the common history shared between the two Koreas, according to The Guardian. About 80 South Korean archeologists and researchers are expected to work in Kaesong for the next six months.

“It is the first time since the division [in 1945] that Southern and Northern members have worked at the same place for 40 to 60 days per year. There were wars of nerves between South and North scholars due to differences in methodologies, but we were in a same boat on the achievement of this excavation,” the project statement reads.

The project initially began in 2007, but was discontinued after the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2011.

About 80 South Korean historians and archeologists are expected to work in Kaesong, the capital of Korea from 935 to 1392, for the next six months. During the current phase of the project, the inter-Korean team will focus on excavating Manryeong-jeon, the king’s palace bedroom.

Manwoldae was designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2013. The organization described the palace as the embodiment of the political, cultural, philosophical and spiritual values of the Korean peninsula as it “transitioned from Buddhist to Confucian philosophy.”

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North Korea Woos Tourists

Pictured above: A North Korean family at Pyongyang’s “fun fair.” (Photo courtesy of Roman Harak/Flickr)

by ERIC TALMADGE, Associated Press

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — If you’re still looking for somewhere exotic to go this summer and don’t mind a vacation that comes with a heavy dose of socialist propaganda and leader worship, North Korea says it’s just the place for you.

Fresh off a drastic, half-year ban that closed North Korea’s doors to virtually all foreigners over fears they would spread the Ebola virus — despite the fact that there were no cases of Ebola reported anywhere in Asia — the country is once again determined to show off its “socialist fairyland” to tourists.

The focus on tourism is the blessing of Kim Jong Un himself and, in typical fashion, officials have set lofty goals in their effort to please their leader.

About 100,000 tourists came to North Korea last year, all but a few thousand of them from neighboring China.

Kim Sang Hak, a senior economist at the influential Academy of Social Sciences, told The Associated Press the North hopes that by around 2017, there will be 10 times as many tourists and that the number will hit 2 million by 2020.

Pyongyang’s interest in attracting tourists may sound ironic, or even contradictory, for a country that has taken extreme measures to remain sheltered from the outside world.

But Kim said the push, formally endorsed by Kim Jong Un in March 2013, is seen as both a potentially lucrative revenue stream and a means of countering stereotypes of the country as starving, backward and relentlessly bleak.

“Tourism can produce a lot of profit relative to the investment required, so that’s why our country is putting priority on it,” he said in a recent interview in Pyongyang, adding that along with scenic mountains, secluded beaches and a seemingly endless array of monuments and museums, the North has another ace up its sleeve — the image that it is simply unlike anywhere else on Earth.

“Many people in foreign countries think in a wrong way about our country,” Kim said, brushing aside criticisms of its human rights record, lack of freedoms and problems with hunger in the countryside. “Though the economic sanctions of the U.S. imperialists are increasing, we are developing our economy. So I think many people are curious about our country.”

Opponents in the West say tourists who go to North Korea are helping to fill the coffers of a rogue regime and harming efforts to isolate and pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and improve its human rights record. For safety reasons, the State Department strongly advises U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea.

None of that has stopped the number of American and European tourists from gradually increasing, and such concerns are not so strong in the countries North Korea is most actively wooing — China, Russia and Southeast Asia.

“About 80 percent of the tourists who come are from neighboring countries,” said state tourism official Kim Yong Il. “It’s normal to develop tourism within your region, so our country is not exceptional in that way. But we are also expanding to European countries as well.”

While the overall quality of life in North Korea hasn’t shifted much in the past few years, efforts to build attractions for visitors and the infrastructure required to host them are already beginning to change the face of the capital and some scattered special tourism zones recently established across the country.

Amid the generally Spartan context of their surroundings, those attractions, which are also used by average North Koreans at much lower fees, can be quite striking.

In Pyongyang, some of the more popular tourist sites include a new, high-tech shooting range, where visitors can hunt animated tigers with laser guns or use live ammo to bag real pheasants, which can be prepared to eat right there on the spot. There is also a new equestrian center, a huge water park and revamped “fun fairs” replete with roller coasters, fast-food stands and a 5-D theater. After a year of feverish construction, Pyongyang’s new international airport terminal could open as soon as next month.

Outside of the showcase capital, where funds, electricity and adequate lodging are much scarcer, development has been focused on the area around Mount Kumgang and Wonsan, a port city on the east coast.

A luxury ski resort was recently opened just outside of Wonsan and a number of new restaurants have sprung up along the city’s beachfront area, which is popular with tourists and locals alike for swimming, clambakes and outdoor barbeques.

But like everything else, North Korea is approaching tourism “in its own way.”

Tourists of any nationality can expect constant monitoring from ever-watchful guides and a lot of visits to model hospitals, schools and farms, along with well-staged events intended to impress and promote Pyongyang’s unique brand of authoritarian socialism. Like all other visitors to the North, they have precious few opportunities to interact with average people or observe their daily lifestyle.

Tourists can also expect severe repercussions if they step out of line.

Tours to Mount Kumgang by South Koreans were quite popular for about a decade until 2008, when they were halted after a South Korean housewife who walked into a restricted area was shot dead by a North Korean guard. More recently, an American tourist who impulsively left a Bible in a provincial nightclub was detained for nearly six months until the Pentagon sent a plane to Pyongyang to pick him up.

See Also

 

“Uri Tours Focuses on North Korea Tourism”

“Commentary: A Medical Mission to North Korea”

“North Korea Arrests Korean NYU Student for Illegal Entry”

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Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Women Activists Cross DMZ Between North and South Korea by Bus

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
reera@iamkoream.com

International female peace activists crossed the heavily fortified border between North and South Korea on Sunday, calling for an end to the Korean War, according to the Associated Press.

The group of 30 women from 15 countries included pioneering American feminist Gloria Steinem and Nobel Peace laureates Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. Although the activists were denied an attempt to walk across the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea allowed a bus to transport the women from the North side of the DMZ to the South.

“We have accomplished what no one said can be done, which is to be a trip for peace, for reconciliation, for human rights and a trip to which both governments agreed,” Steinem told reporters after the group arrived in South Korea. “We were able to be citizen diplomats.”

Christine Ahn, co-organizer of WomenCrossDMZ, said the group initially wanted to march through the symbolic truce village of Panmunjom, where the armistice was signed in 1953. Still, she called the crossing a success and a “historic event” despite government restrictions.

The activists were also able to speak at a series of women-related events and seminars in North Korea ahead of the rare crossing, according to the Washington Post,

In Pyongyang, the women marched, carrying banners and singing songs, until they reached the first checkpoint leading to the DMZ. They were allowed to march again after passing the final checkpoint on the southern side of the DMZ, where a large number of media outlets as well as several protesters greeted them.

Many conservative protestors, including North Korean defectors, chanted “Go back to North Korea!” and carried signs that accused the group of legitimizing Kim Jong-un’s regime, according to the New York Times.

Other activists have criticized the peace walk, saying that the female activists are overlooking the well-documented human rights abuses in North Korea.

“It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women,” Suzanne Schlote, head of North Korea Freedom Coalition, told CNN. “If they truly cared, they would cross the China-North Korea border instead, which is actually more dangerous now than the DMZ.”

Joshua Stanton, who runs the blog One Free Korea, also criticized the group for sidestepping North Korea’s “war on women.”

In a recent blog post, he wrote, “Steinem has had to duck questions about the regime’s rape and murder of female prisoners, the endemic and unpunished rapes of North Korean women by its soldiers, and the infanticides and forced abortions this regime inflicts on North Korean refugee women and their babies.”

However, after the group landed in South Korea, Steinem told reporters that human rights issues were mentioned in a declaration released during a seminar with a North Korean women’s group.

Maguire, who is renowned for her contributions to the Northern Ireland peace movement, said the human rights situation in North Korea would likely improve once the two divided Koreas signed a full peace treaty.

“You can get to human rights when you can have a normal situation and not a country at war,” she said on Sunday. ”

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Featured image via Tim Shorrock/Twitter

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