There is a new show on Korea’s Channel A called “On My Way to See You”. The show invites female North Korean refugees to talk about the experiences they had as teenagers and young adults in the North. Some of the ladies were performers at North Korea’s national performing arts group in Pyongyang, while others had less privileged lives and witnessed their family members’ deaths to diseases that modern technology could have easily prevent. Kim Jieun, from Youngwon, Pyeongannamdo, had a particularly heartbreaking story about her grandmother.
With the 2012 London Olympics currently in progress, I thought I’d write about sports. Just in time for the international event, a movie was released this past May simply titled As One. It is based on the true story of Korea’s first unified sports team since the division, an event that brought patriotism and hope to the entire Korean Peninsula.
In February 1991, North and South Korean officials met at Panmunjum at the North-South border to make agreements on forming a unified soccer and table tennis team. Everything was decided on at this meeting. The flag was to be the unification flag, a blue Korean peninsula on a white background, and the anthem was to be the famous Korean folk song Arirang. And in April that same year, both the North and South Korean table tennis teams left for Japan to participate in the 1991 World Table Tennis Championships as the first ever unified Korean team since the division of the peninsula. History was in the making. Continue reading
In the News – Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South
SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Seong-cheol is a survivor. He left his home in North Korea at the age of 8 for a Dickensian existence, begging on the streets with a pack of boys when famine struck and his parents could not feed him. By his account, he endured several stays in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisons for attempting to cross the border into China.
Kim Kyeong-il, using cellphone, is president of a support group for North Korean-born students at Yonsei University in Seoul.
But when he finally made it to South Korea, and freedom, Mr. Kim faced an obstacle that even his considerable street smarts could not help him overcome. He had placed into a university under a new affirmative action program, but was haunted by the deprivations of his past and quickly slipped behind South Korean classmates who had already made it through years of an extremely competitive education system.
“I just couldn’t shake the memory of hunger from my mind,” said Mr. Kim, 26, who dropped out after just one semester and fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression.
Mr. Kim is part of a growing number of defectors who are making their way south — the number has increased sevenfold to 23,000 in the last decade — and posing a growing challenge for South Korea. Attempts at integration, including government-run crash courses on life in the capitalist South, have had mixed results, leaving many North Koreans unable to adapt to South Korea’s high-pressure society or overcome their stereotype as backward country cousins.
The government had hoped that education might close the chasm, offering piecemeal steps over the last decade that evolved into a full-fledged affirmative action program, which gives young North Koreans the chance to bypass grueling entrance exams to enter top universities. Now, even that stopgap measure appears to be failing as large numbers of North Koreans are dropping out, creating new worries that they and other defectors could become part of a permanent underclass.
“These children are simply not equipped for South Korea’s fiercely competitive society,” said Shin Hyo-sook, a specialist in education at the North Korean Refugees Foundation, a newly created government research institute. “They suffer identity issues due to their extreme experiences.” Continue reading
We open in medias res of Horst’s story. If you haven’t read Parts 1 and 2, you should go back and read them before continuing: [hyperlink to Part 1 post].
When we last left our hero, Horst had left East Berlin for the first time in his life and was eating pizza in West Berlin.
“Also, we are in West Berlin. And on this day Helmut Kohl [the Chancellor of West Germany] is visiting. He was traveling in Poland, and came back to West Berlin for this day and on the street we are on we see a big crowd of people and cars coming this way, and helicopters flying overhead. And this is Helmut Kohl. So I am standing there and next to me is a beige Opel sitting right there. And a large man walks up to me, very big and as tall as I am and very stern, just like this.” He demonstrates again, and it is intimidating. As I said, he is a believable actor and is also at least two meters tall. “And he throws the car door open”— fearing that I missed the verb, he adds, “Not opens it, but rather really throws it open—right into me, so.” Horst is acting his own part again and bends over in agony, clutching his crotch. “And out of the car steps Helmut Kohl! This was his car! Not some black state vehicle, but this beige Opel. So he is walking past me and I am bending over in pain. Hahaha. And so that is my first impression of Western government,” he adds, grinning, clutching his crotch again in memory.
“All right, now is when you should take notes again. A couple of years after, a friend told me that he remembered walking by the gate on Wednesday. The 8th. And a GI—the very lowest, a GI—told him, hey, do you know the Wall is going to be opened tomorrow? And he believed nothing of it, because it was just some GI and he hadn’t heard anything about it. So he forgot. Continue reading
This story was told to me by Horst one Friday morning, November 9th, when I was the only one who showed up for class. Horst was a professor of mine when I studied abroad in Germany. He is quite tall, probably 200 pounds, dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin, has an air about him like he may have been a former military officer. He is full of conspiracies, and when I knew him he was in the process of building a bicycle-powered wood-chopper for his cottage in the event of a crisis-level power failure. He carries around first editions of 17th century books, his finger marking the page.
In this particular class, we went through some of my questions about grammar, such as “Ob…?” implicit questions and how one uses Intentionalpartikeln such as doch, bloß, mal, etc. Then he said that he thought that today we would work on hearing comprehension, he would tell me a story and I should take notes, and then I could write something up and we could see how I did. So he told me this story.
If you are a particularly acute student of history—as Horst was—you might recognize the date on which he told me this story as a significant one. November 9th is the date the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Horst was 26 at the time; he had grown up his entire life in East Germany, behind the Wall. Continue reading
NEW YORK, Nov. 4 (Yonhap) — Seoul’s top policymaker on North Korea pledged Friday to start filling a fund aimed at preparing for reunification with the North, calling on the South Korean people to also take part. Continue reading