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North Korean Women on the Market (1)
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2016-01-20 17:03:40
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North Korean Women on the Market (1)

KIM Min-Hee 
Recently Arrived in South Korea 

This essay was given to NKHR’s field survey team in September 2000 by the author in her secret shelter.

I write this essay in shame and grief over the tragedies of my motherland that once had been time-honored and civilized nation in history. I pity my fate that led me into this strange land, where I now sit down to write the most tragic account of my homeland. 

Although I feel somewhat guilty now as if I am betraying my countrymen, I am obliged to write it in the hope that people in other parts of the world, especially in South Korea and China, may know the reality in North Korea. 

I was born in Kumjong-ri, Daedong-kun of South Pyong-an Province. I’ve been there until seven, and then I moved to Kangso-kun(which is now called Kangso Koo’yok) due to my father’s new assignment to work in the heart of the town. My father was originally from Dodoon-ri, Sochon’myon in Sochon-kun of South Choongchung Province. He served the North Korean militia during the Korean War and fared well. As the top graduate of the first class of Korea Workers’ Party, he was given a good job. However, it became the starting point that the tragedy began. My father was in charge of delivering secrete files, which was allegedly turned out to be a espionage paper, to a senior in another government agency, not knowing what was written on the paper. As he became responsible for the work that he was unintentionally involved in, my father was fired and sentenced to be in prison for 5 years only because he did what he was told by his boss. 

At that time I was eleven. I remember how difficult it was for my mother to raise five children without any help of her husband. I remember clearly what she used to say: “I wish I could eat even a hominy until I become full for once in my life before I die, which is still ringing my ears. 

My father was released from prison when I was 15. As my father was severely suffered from hepatitis he could not start working. Under such circumstances I grew up to a young woman of 23. 

My sister arranged my marriage and I moved to Hoeryong in North Hamkyong Province with my husband. When my daughter turned one in 1994, our Great Leader Kim Il Sung passed away. He was idolized as the Sun God to all of us, and all the people grieved as if the sky and the earth were turned upside down. We assured, however, that as long as there is Comrade Kim Jong-il we can regain our confidence, making songs praising him. But even citizens of Chosun, who are well known to be as strong as iron in the world, found themselves helpless in front of hunger. 

As there is a saying that “Compassion breeds in the rice chest”, I could no longer expect happy times as our supply of food dwindled, and my husband and I had quarrels everyday. I soon divorced my husband and stayed with my sister for five months until I finally came here to China guided by a woman. 

On November 10, 1998 a group bound for China arrived at the Tumen River. Our destination was to across the river. Our group of nine soaked ourselves in Tumen River at ten pm, and we felt as if the cold water cut through my skin like knives. At last we had arrived at the other side of the river. We embraced each other, crying again and again. 

Our journey was not over. We had to walk Longjing desert, as long as 28 km, overnight until we reached a large road. Three out of nine were human-traffickers. They give 2000 yuan to the Chinese border police when bringing the North Korean women into China and 200 yuan on their way out. While two of the three men went to Yanji to bring their car, we waited all day long in the woods in soggy clothes and shoes. It was soon passed eight o’clock and there was no sign of the two who left us, saying that they would come back by that time. The women cried in fear of not knowing what to do, and the man left behind suggested that we should wait until 11 o’clock. If the two men failed to return by that time, we should determine whether to go back to North Korea or to anywhere else; but definitely no one wished to go back across the Tumen. 

Finally, at 8:40 in the evening, the two men came back in two cars. We cried for joy and relief when we saw them return, although we all know that their objective was to sell us. Nevertheless, they were our saviors in a sense. 

In Yanji we were led into a house where two men lived. There we warmed ourselves, got washed and ate dinner. After all these done, we quickly fell into a deep sleep out of the fatigue of the day. Once we all woke before dawn to go to the restroom together with the men who guarded us to prevent us from running away. 

After we finished our breakfast, a young couple from Antu came in. They wanted pretty women and selected me, my niece and a maiden from Hoe’ryong from our group. Three of us were accompanied by the young couple to a bus station in Yanji where a man was waiting. Our group then went to Antu where we met three Chinese men. 

We were taken to a house where the bargain was made between the young couple and the man who had waited at the bus stop. I saw the man hand over 150 bills each marked 100 yuan. In other words, each of us was worth 5,000 yuan. I became nothing but merchandise on the market behind closed doors. When the deal was done, the man told us to stay for a while until he would bring another woman. Half an hour passed before a young woman from Hoe’ryong came in and asked, “Who wants to go to another place?” When I asked her the reason why she was asking she told me I didn’t have to know. I said I would go, and the woman asked why I volunteered. I answered, “I am sold anyway, and I’d rather go on my own feet.” I had answered thus because when the deal was made, I had noticed that they would forcibly seize us.