By Jay McNair
My cubicle’s next-door neighbor was just about to light a piece of mugwort on fire on the supposed chi-blockage above my right elbow when the office higher-ups flooded back in to the office. My acupuncturist saw them coming first; worry flashed across his face like a summer storm, and we moved hurriedly to stow the contraband. We swept the bag of mugwort back behind the books, pocketed the lighter, and returned casually to our desks, as if we had barely noticed the return of Those With Power—as if we had nothing to hide.
It was funny—though at the time I deeply resented the return of authority—because the loss of our acupuncture lesson was trivial to our futures, even for my career-ensconced office-mate. We stood to lose very little, and anyway our bosses are friendly people. But go fifty miles north from our Seoul desks, into North Korea, and the threat posed by those with power is no longer a small matter. The cards are sometimes similarly trivial—the unauthorized sharing of knowledge, as we were doing, for instance—but the stakes there are imprisonment or death. Citizens of North Korea have everything to hide.
Here, however, we are free to share knowledge as we wish. It is our goal! So, for me, these articles will attempt to offer glimpses into a country and a situation that is, for most of us, very difficult to learn about.