|A Country Where All Bad Things Exist (1)|
A Country Where All Bad Things Exist (1)
Even Entering University Depends on Bribes
I was born in Gae-chun in Pyung-an south province in 1968. Our family moved to Shin-eu-ju when I was 5-6 years old and I finished secondary school there. I worked a while in the physics lab in a oxygen disintegration factory and then I entered the Shin-eu-ju Education College. I graduated in 1995 and worked in Nak-won secondary school as a physics teacher.
My background is very bad. My family was originally landlord and during the (Korean) war, part of the family fled to South Korea. Also, my uncle (my father's younger brother) lives in the US, so our family had three reasons to be treated as a family of enemy. Ordinarily, it's impossible for me to go to university. However, my brother and me entered university by bribery. My uncle living in the US sent us money, so our family had some money to spare.
It was an impossible thing in the past but in the 1990s, entering a local education college could become possible by bribing.
After graduating, the Labor party decided my work place. Jung-mu-won decides work places for graduates of engineering colleges but for graduates of education college, Labor Party of the district controls their work places. There are no interviews and one's preference for certain jobs is not considered at all. One has to work where he/she is told to work. One cannot say, "I don't want to become a teacher." There is no use for saying that.
A Society where Bribery is the Best Policy
As shown in the case where my brother and I entered college by bribery, nowadays in North Korea, we cannot do anything without bribing someone. Everyone is using bribery everywhere.
We even need bribe someone in order to by a train ticket. Nowadays, as more and more people move around to sell things or to look for food, it is getting more and more difficult to get a train ticket. To get a train ticket we need to bribe a pack of cigarettes. To an average citizen, it is difficult to afford that. For women, they need to bribe more even after getting train tickets because in a train full of people, it is not safe at all to stand in the hallway. The safest seat is near the window and to get a window seat, they need to give two or three packs of cigarettes. We still need to bribe more to ride a train. To cross the province boarder, we need approval from the department of Social Security. Without a "Movement Approval" number, we cannot buy a train ticket. However, if we give 1000 won to the An-jen-won, we can always get the number.
Other than that we need to give bribe, whenever we ask favor to others. For example, to see a doctor, to ask for a job, to move to a bigger house and so on. My father used to say that we even need money to walk one step, and that is true.
Therefore, to go to school or to get a job, we need to bribe a large sum of money. We need to give money to every one from the executive in the Labor party to the person in charge of the factory, just to get a job in a factory. Moreover, to get our daughter a job in a place that everybody admires, such in a restaurant, a hotel or a shop where they only sell things in foreign currency, we need a huge amount of money.
When I was going to college, we could only go to Education Colleges in province by using bribe. However, nowadays people say that it is possible to go to colleges in Pyung-Yang by bribing a new fridge or a new television.
Collecting Food is Prior to Having Classes
When I had my job as a physics teacher in Nak-won Secondary School, my first salary was only 50 won, which is the same price as a bottle of alcohol. Even that salary wasn't given in time and the Labor party stopped distributing food, so it was difficult to carry out our lives.
In order to get food for the teachers, the principal of the school selected three teachers and made them to go out and look for food, instead of teaching. I was one of them because my father was a "foreign currency business man (who sells things to foreigners and earn foreign currency for the country)". Therefore, I was usually working to collect food rather than teaching.
When the principal tells us to get three kilograms of crop in one month, we would find cocoons of a silk worm or medical herbs and exchange them with Chinese flour with a "foreign currency business man". Then the "foreign currency business man" will sell the things that we sold to him to a Chinese- Chosun merchant. We usually get paid in flour and the "foreign currency business man" would get profit, for example by selling the cocoons that he had bought from us for 100 kilograms of flour, for 120 kilograms of flour.
I moved around with my father, because we have to take care of our lives by ourselves. We had to move around and sell things in order to live with things such as television, fridge and recorder.
Therefore I never thought of living my whole life as a teacher. I knew that my uncle in the US sent us money from time to time, so I thought that I would become a merchant some day with the money.
I thought of this because I wanted to make my wife and my son to live a comfortable life. In 1995, the year that I met my wife, it started to get difficult to get food and by the following year, the situation got worse. So naturally, I started to think that I should earn money.
My wife's parents were born in Japan and then moved to North Korea, so they had many relatives in Japan. This means that her background is as bad as mine is, for I have uncle and grand mother living in the US, an enemy country. Also, we both got help from our relatives abroad. In another words, we had the same background.
Of course, we didn't get married just because we had the same background. It is rare in North Korea but we got married thought seeing each other for a long time. It is embarrassing for a man to say how we started to go out with each other, so I will let my wife talk about it.
The Mass Public Indifferent to the Defection of Hwang, Jang-Yup
I think the whole world was astonished by the news that Mr. Hwang, Jang-Yup defected to the Republic of Korea. I guess seeing one of the chief executive in the government defecting, people must have thought that the North Korean regime is falling apart.
All the North Koreans knew about this. Someone who had listened to the South Korean radio had spread the words. At first the North Korean Government announced that it was a kidnap instead of a defection. However, soon afterwards, they changed their words and announced that even though Hwang was a son of a landlord, the generous state had given him an important place in the government and that he had forgotten all the generosity and betrayed the government.
The authorities were concerned about the fact but the mass public was indifferent.
Most mass public including me in North Korea don't like Mr. Hwang very much. It's because everyone knows that the founder of the Theory of Ju-che is Mr. Hwang. Another reason is because he fled all by himself leaving his family behind. People think that he had founded a theory which have made the people suffer and made people to starve while he ate well and lived a comfortable life and then when he felt that he was in danger, he just fled leaving his family behind.
Of course, we cannot come out and say this. However, a lot of people think this way.
Mr. Hwang talks about the miserable lives and warlike atmosphere in North Korea and says that he has come to South Korea to prevent war.
I am not very interested in what he says but it is true that the warlike atmosphere is wide spread in North Korea. Most people think that there is no other country as poor and starving as North Korea and that there is no difference between dying from hunger and dying in war. They think that it's better to die in war because in that way dying is easier and faster. If a war really breaks out, about 80% to 90% of the people will support South Korea. Soldiers will fight but no one can be sure about that. Soldiers fighting in the front might surrender easily.
Find your earnings on your own
Now, I will talk about the hopeless situation of the North Korean society as I have seen and felt it. First, I will talk about the living situation.
As I have said before the food distribution from the government had stopped from 1995. However, our family could eat 3 meals everyday, even it was only corn. It was due to the money that our uncle sent us from the US and the hard effort of our family. When we have money, at least we don't starve even though we cannot eat rice and meat.
However, other families had more difficult lives. Nine out of ten could not maintain the lowest limit of the living standard. People who didn't have money to merchandise would steal goods from their workplaces or equipment from the factories they work in.
Taking equipment from factories and selling them to "foreign currency business man" is stealing. Though, there is no choice, because otherwise we have to starve. Also, we could say that instead of getting money or food as our salary, we are getting factory equipment and goods.
This factory equipment sold to "foreign currency business man" is sent to China and in return we get flour. People who have sold this equipment make noodles out of the flour. To save flour, we mix flour with powder that we have made out of various kinds of vegetable, such as grass, corn, root of rice, bark of tree.
People working in factories can steal these things and live by changing them with food but how about people working in offices where there are nothing to steal? These people steal public facilities. Electric and telephone wires are especially good targets.
People cut these electric or telephone wires at night and make these into a piece of copper and sell it to the "foreign currency business man". The electricity is not sent until 10:00 at night, so it's not very difficult to cut electric wire. At first, the government pretended not to notice this, but as people started to steal wires everywhere, electricity and telephone were cut off in many places. Then, the government started to look for people stealing wires and killed them when they were caught.
A man who had cut a large amount of wire in summer 1995, were shot dead in Shin-eu-ju. However people continued cutting wire. In May 1996, two soldiers and a woman were executed in public for cutting wires near a factory in Shin-eu-ju. In October 1996, two brothers working in the military factory 303 in Shin- eu-ju were caught for cutting telephone wire connected to the factory. The elder brother was shot dead and the younger one was sentenced 15 years in prison.
The brothers were ordinary workers without any criminal records but they had cut the wire to buy food because they were so hungry.
An-jen-won also started to search the merchants who buy the wire and send it to China. A middle-aged women who had two tons of wires hidden in house killed herself by jumping off from her roof when the An-jen-won came to arrest her.
An-jen-won playing safely
There are people losing their lives by stealing wires. On the other hand, there are executives of factories earning money by selling materials and products from their factories. For example, this is how the executives of the factories earn money in a silk thread-producing factory.
The factory doesn't produce anything due to lack of electricity and transportation. Therefore, in order to maintain the factory, the factory sells the raw material (cocoon of the silkworm) to China.
The international trade price of a ton of cocoon of the silkworm is 4 thousand dollars. But the Chinese will insist that they cannot pay more than 3 thousand dollars. When the factory reports this to the Central Price Committee, the Committee would order that they should still sell it for 4 thousand dollars. The orders from the Central government have an absolute power. The company executives try very hard to obey the Central orders but since the Chinese know that the company desperately has to sell the cocoons, they don't try to compromise with the North Korean executives. Therefore the factory executives have no choice but to play some tricks.
Officially they would write in the papers that they have sold one ton of cocoons but in reality, they give 300 kilograms more to the Chinese. Then they would report that they have got rid of the 300 kilograms of cocoons because they had bad quality. In this process, the factory executives usually accept bribe from the Chinese.
These kinds of tricks are everywhere in North Korea. Injustice and corruption especially prevail in light bulb factory. No shop in Shin-eu-ju sell light bulb, but we can always buy it in the black market. However the price is very high. The official price of a light bulb is 0.5 won, but in the black market, it's 50 won. People think that the light bulb factory is profiting from selling most of its products in the black market. Bo-we-bu and An-jen-bu should catch these kinds of wrong doings, but they are busy accepting bribes from these people.
It's all because even these people with power have to earn their own food, since even these people don't receive the food distribution. Moreover, they are not shot dead even they get caught for the wrong doings that they have done. Only the laborers are caught. There is no use in trying to explain what we have done. It's just better to stay quiet. Hungry people would joke and say " Why don't we eat food that the government provide?" It means that since it's so difficult to find food by ourselves, we should rather steal something and go to jail.