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2016-01-21 14:46:31
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Hyuk KIM

I was born in Chungjin, North Hamkyung Province, in January 1982.  At that time most people could eat rice and there were no one who ate gruel or starved to death.  People were very kind and neighbors helped each other in times of need. People were also strongly united under Kim Il-Sung’s Juche ideology.  When I was four, my mother passed away due to a heart attack, and I think my father passed away from starvation in front of Chungjin Station in 1995 when I was 12.  Afterwards, I stayed at an orphanage for three years and left at the age of 16.  What I now want to explain are my experiences at the orphanage in North Hamkyung Province.  When I went to the orphanage, I was in fourth year of the People’s School (primary school) and my brother was in fifth year.  Up to that time, the government tried to provide food at least to the orphanages and so while the general public was beginning to suffer from famine, the orphanage managed with corn meals.  

However, between late 1995 and 1997 many people died and the orphanage was no exception.  The “march of hardship,” a result of Kim Jong-Il’s policies, hit the orphanages as well.  That is when the flour from the roots and hulls of rice plants, which were said to be invented by a certain research institute, were supplied as supplementary food along with a mixture of 70% corn and 30% grounded hulls of rice.  From then, a few children in the orphanage died of malnutrition and diseases such as febrile disease, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and paratyphus began to spread.  Finally, between 1996 and 1997, of 76 children, 23 died of febrile disease and tuberculosis.  Of course, everyone was suffering from serious malnutrition. Everywhere was the same and many people died.

There was a young boy that I looked after at that time.  Since I was older and a senior, I used to take care of the young children who were obedient, but in the end the boy I looked after died as well.  As the food we ate was the hull of rice plants, we suffered from constipation.  During class, we would go to fields to pick handfuls of ears of beans and brought them to the fireplace to eat them ear by ear.  However, there was a limit to the amount that we could get.  Due to the food crisis, many people would go to the fields to pick ears of beans.  So even if you searched all day, you would only be able to find three handfuls.  Teenagers, who were somewhat alert, could at least go to the market and steal food or pickpocket to buy food.  Children who adjusted to that life left the orphanage together and began to lead a wandering existence.  I also went to Chungjin in early 1996 and experienced life as a Flower Swallow (homeless children).  In those days, there were always groups of corpses in front of Chungjin Station.  Before you checked, you could not tell whether it was a corpse, but if a person was still lying in the place they were the day before, chances were they were dead. 

At that time, I was the last of all the children at the orphanage to suffer from febrile disease.  If you suffer from febrile disease, you lose your appetite and dreams feel like reality.  Even if you place a handful of salt in your mouth you cannot taste it.  You can only regain your appetite with sweet things like candy.  The reason why I was the last to come down with the disease was probably because I ran many errands and was able to eat more than the other children.  I would chop firewood for the homes of the teachers at the orphanage.  As I was considered strong and skilled with wood, the teachers would ask me for firewood and thus I could eat at their homes.  In this way I developed good relationships with the teachers and so my health was better than that of the other children.  After I became sick, even though the teachers offered many good meals, I was unable to eat. I had no appetite and I barely survived on a few pieces of candy for the next three months because I always had a fever.  What is most memorable from that time were dreams that felt real.  Once my brother appeared and asked me to go see our dead father with him, saying we had to cross over a mountain.  It was dawn when I woke up from that dream.  As the dream had seemed so real, I ran out of the ward on my weak legs.  I could hear my brother’s voice from far away, so I yelled: “Brother! Let’s go together.”  My brother was telling me to come out quickly.  Nonetheless, my brother’s voice wasn’t really there and it was all a dream.  In the end, I began to go toward a hill, but fortunately staff at the orphanage saw me and stopped me.  I heard later the orphanage was a mess at that time because they all believed I was missing.  Later I was diagnosed with tuberculosis and pneumonia, but miraculously I survived without any medicine.  

At that time, there were many pubic executions in Chungjin or in north Chungjin.  The instruction of Kim Jong Il that “we have to sound a gunshot” was given from the National Security to the Ministry of Public Security and people who had frequented China were either executed or put into concentration camps for political offenders.  Once my friend’s grandmother and uncle, who had been to China three times, were taken to Chungjin and executed.  That was in 1997. 

The first time I saw a public execution was when I was 9 years old.  The two people executed were brothers.  The execution took place next to the Soosung stream bridge which connected Soonam District and Songpyoung District, Chungjin Province.  It was winter and the weather was very cold.  The brothers were convicted of stabbing an old lady and stealing her money.  They were shot at the same time.  After the corpses were taken away, my friend and I played with the bullets that were stuck in the post. 

After that public executions took place in many places, including Soonam Market, Chungam Market, Songpyoung Market, and Ranam Market.  Many people were convicted of dismantling the engine in the steel mill and selling the copper wire to China.  There were even people who were caught for cutting the copper wire of a trolley car.  After that, these occurrences became more common and the number of people visiting China increased.  People would prefer to become a “ghost that died while eating,” even by committing a crime, rather than simply sit to die from starvation.  I went to prison at the age of 16 after being sentenced to three years.  I left the enlightenment camp as an adult after having come near death on several occasions.  This is the reality that I saw, felt and experienced during my youth in North Korea These are all memories that I want to forget.