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Teaching Without Payment
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2016-01-20 14:29:24
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​Teaching Without Payment 

KIM Heuy-yong

Before I finally got out of North Korea, I was a teacher in middle school, which I never dreamed of in my life. I was forced to take the job, regardless of my opinion, which was one of the unattractive jobs unwilling to be taken in North Korea. It was required to work in schools for a given period, designated by the N.K. government, after graduation from school of education. Every graduate, without any exception, is positioned in a certain work place following the order from the public security authorities. Some graduates, by pulling a string behind, were sometimes exempted from the responsibility. They instead enlisted the North Korean People’s Army, which I’ve long admired, but I was refused to go for it because of my lower social status. There still exists social class so stern that always gets in the way of what we are doing. My family belonged to the worst of it not only because we were not landowners in the past but also because we have relatives living in South Korea and America as well. My father, separated from other siblings who later entered South Korea and parents who happened to reside in America, left behind in North Korea where he lived under surveillance all the time by security police in the fear of becoming pro-US. 

In general, those who are in the low social status couldn’t enter a senior school in North Korea, which enabled me to enter a college. I chose to work in a factory in Shin-euy-ju instead. With the help of bribery, I got the admission from the College of Education, majoring in physical education later on in English Education. Without the bribery, my father forwarded to the chief of the admission department, I, including my brothers, could not dream to enter a college. I owed much, undoubtedly, to my uncle living in America who sent us lots of bucks to us. It was not imaginable, however in the past, to play such a dirty trick, which has been rampant since 1990. 

I chose to major in English Education in the hope that English may be useful when encountering some events in the days to come. I graduated from the college in 1995 and immediately after that I got a notice from the security authorities to work in the Hyang-kyo High school in Shin-euy-ju. As I mentioned above, being a schoolteacher is the very job that is avoided by many but I couldn’t help. 

Commuting on foot 
It is hard for a teacher who has no avocation to spare some money aside. Actually in North Korea, there’s a lot who goof off and spend all day long in idleness. When it comes to teachers who should devote their time in class shouldn’t be absent or late to work. Worst of all, teachers cannot benefit privileged treatment in distribution and payment. Lots of workers began to suffer from nonpayment, which like a dire illness spread out nationwide. Most of teachers should go without payment.I wanted to ask what we were working for. 

The school I worked for was located far from my house. It took 50 to 60 minutes for me to get there on foot. I should wake up at least 5 o’clock so that I should attend the meeting in the morning starting at seven thirty. I became depressed when thinking of commuting of 2 hours walk without being paid any distribution, not to speak of the salary. Although we got some financial support from my uncle in USA, the 200 dollars a year, we got was not enough. We should eat corn soup mixed with flour for the breakfast. Under this terrible circumstance, we hardly see meat served on the table. 

Some people in South Korea often ask me why I didn’t use bicycle, but unfortunately we couldn’t afford to buy it, which was pretty much expensive in North Korea. If I could use other transportations, I wouldn’t take such sour pains. There was a train in the middle of Shin-euy-ju but it was not available for me as I lived far from the downtown. Actually it was a castle in the air. When thinking of the 5 trains, transporting 300,000 up to 400,000 commuters in Shin-euy-ju, getting on the train itself must be painstaking. I was not disposed to go to work at the expense of 2 hours of walking, all-day working hours and nonpayment. Only one thing was clear that I could see nothing but the darkness awaiting me. 

Go to work or go to a mine 
Although the new semester started, I stayed at home, waiting for being laid off from the job. Informed my delinquency, an officer from the security authority came to see me when I was not at home. My mother made an excuse as saying, “Sorry. He went out to get some food.” How he could criticize me when hearing that excuse? “This is against the law. Tell him to come back to work when he returns. Otherwise he will end up to be deported to the mine, said the officer. I was afraid of nothing. If they actually arrested every person who didn’t do his duty, one of every two persons must have been delivered to the mine, which would be inundated with such persons like me! It was obvious that I could be released from the mine if I give some bribery to the officers in charge of it. In this way I refused to work, which was a sort of protesting to the social system already-deteriorated. I tried to go on a slowdown strike in a way to avert criticism from the authority, which band ordinary N.K. people from unfolding anti-government protest. 

The security authority was not naïve enough to believe the excuse as it was. It has been 5 months since I first began my ‘slowdown’. Unfortunately I was at home when the officer from security authority, who warned me that I would be deported to the mine if I went on insisting not working at all, came to see me. 

Remembering the life in the mine, which I’ve heard from others, I became frightened. The story was indeed hard to believe that people are exposed to an emergency such as a landslide and a roof fall. Worst of all, workers ended up to be frozen to death due to the severe cold in winter. Thus, I decided to get back to the school. 

Teachers involved in commercial 
I taught students in the 3rd and 6th grade. North Korean students usually spend 6 hours during weekdays and 4 hours on weekend in school. Nothing is valued more important than revolutionary history, which consists three major sub-field such as ‘History of the great leader Kim,il-seong,’ ‘History of our dearest leader Kim,jeong-il,’ and ‘Lucubration of Kim,il-seong and Kim,jeong-il’, among other subjects. 

English was important followed by Russian, which became popular when the relationship with Russia was pretty close. English was overemphasized owing to have a deep insight about the ‘enemy of Chosun’ to realize unification between North and South. 

What amazed me most was every teacher in the school was involved in the trade. Most teachers have their family to support, which prompted them to throw themselves into commercial by collecting a handful of money. After collecting money from other teachers, for example, one who is in charge of it bought goods produced in China, and exchanged them with rice, which was again sold in Shin-euy-ju. In this due course, teachers could get some profits. Those goods transported to countries were electronic devices such as TV, sewing machines, electronic fans, and some clothes. Among them electronic fan and TV drew attention. 

Seven to ten teachers were involved in the trade, which was opened in outskirts such as Shin-kae-kun, Pyong-san-kun, Kok-san-kun, and Su-an-kun in Hwang-hae province. The regular curriculum used to be balked due to the ten-day-absence of seven to ten teachers, which outnumbered one third of the total number of teachers. Interestingly, those teachers were not the newcomers but the experienced ones having long history of educational careers. It is quite clear that students were to be far behind the due schedule when we think of classes canceled frequently, which otherwise could not happen in the normal state. 

The dean and senior administrations looked over it because they knew that teachers could not survive in a dire situation when they could not but engage in other commercial activities to support their families. It was natural for them to have their mind occupied by other ways to earn money rather than devoting their time in lecturing in the class without payment. There were some schools where more than half of teachers went out to open a trade. As for the school I was working for, most of teachers lived from hands to mouth. For me, I got paid only once during two years in the school and the salary was only 50 won in total. When it comes to food distribution, I got less than 10kg of flour transported from China although I was supposed to get 700g a day.