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Freedom Obtained After Being on the Verge of Death (1)
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2016-01-21 18:05:16
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Freedom Obtained After Being on the Verge of Death (1) 


KIM Young

Defector Woman 
from Gaesung, S. Hwanghae Province

This testimony was taken in Laos in March of 2005.

Exiled to the Yusun mine in childhood due to family background 

My hometown is Woljung-ri Panmun-gun Gaesung-gun.  When I was 8 years old in 1968, I moved to Hyoreung.  I was happy to take a train for the first time in my life since I had been living in the countryside. But my mother and father cried. I learned this later from the note which my father had written.  During Korean War, my grandfather used to live in Gaesung which was then in South Korea and he was a farm servant.  As my grandfather cut woods a lot, his nickname was “claw hand” grandfather.  One day, when he was taking a rest under the tree, three soldiers in North Korean army uniform approached him and asked. “We have a mission to take the man who used to be the secretary of the Party.  Have you seen the man?” My grandfather answered that the man is over there below the mountain.  He believed them because they were wearing North Korean military uniform.  About 1 hour later, he heard a bang from the below of the mountain.  He realized the dead man was a communist.  South Korean soldiers disguised themselves as North Korean soldiers and found the man hiding in the cemetery.  As a result, my grandfather became an informer and was sentenced 15 years in jail.  

He was released from the prison in 1968 after having finished his prison term.  It was less than half a year since my parents took care of grandfather when the family was expelled from Gaesung.  At that time, all the undesirable families were expelled from Gaesung and our family was one of them.  My father was in charge of a coal mine in Gaesung.  We were sent to the Yusun coal mine that had been operating since the Japanese colonial period. During the first several months, we stayed with hundreds of people in a boarding house and later moved to the small house which was provided to our family. 

We were not acknowledged in school or in the village.  We were neglected and treated coldly in the job allocation or school because of our background.  We were blamed for everything all the time. Finally, I was stationed at Goksang industrial zone, and we received monthly meal coupons.  But I used two coupons for one meal because I ate a lot.  I was angry at my mother who used to tell me that I spend more than I earned by eating too much. So I decided to move to Yusun mine where I could get paid more and polished rice there. Yusun mine has two pits.  One pit is very close and the other one takes half an hour by car.  The regime provoked the competition with the slogans of 100 days combat or 70 days combat.  I worked to obey all the orders I got from above. Thinking about it right now, it was a bit stupid of me to work so hard since I wasn’t going to be credited for my work or be considered as a hero from the partisans due to my background. I worked there for seven years.  My mother was worried about me because people died frequently and labor was very intensive. Eighteen people died due to the gas explosion in 1987.  The corpses from the explosion were burnt and people could not recognize whose bodies they were.  The bodies were collected and the country organized the funeral.  My mother worried a lot after the explosion.  She also wanted me to get married.  Old ladies wanted to have me as their daughter-in-law because I worked hard although I was not pretty.  

After marrying in 1983 

I got married on November 20, 1983 when I turned 23.  The matchmaker told me that my husband was handsome but had a small shortcoming.  But I was happy to hear that he was handsome.  My husband had lived without mother since he was 4 years old.  He told me that he married me although I was not that attractive because he wanted to be loved. 

I had my child Geum Sun on September 9, but I worked in the farm until September 8.  I worked extremely hard without rest, raising dogs and rabbits and making soybean curd and liquor.  Doing so, I could make a good living. When my husband went for “independence training (military training for 15 days in winter)”, I moved to Hyoreung with my children in 1990. I built a big house using the capital I had in Yusun.  But I had no money left, because I spent it all to build the house.  So I tried everything except trickery.  I even committed theft.  I stole coal, maize and vegetables (I stole vegetables from the wealthy house to make Kimchi.) with my friend.  I sold soybean curd and donuts (I bought at 4.40 won and sold at 5 won earning 0.50 won per each.) 

My first and second child suffered from paratyphoid fever when it was widespread in North Korea.  I had to spend all of the saving, and I also got sick. The fever reached over 40 centigrade but I took no medicine as I didn’t have money.  I couldn’t even receive proper treatment in the hospital as  I did not have money.  I even couldn’t afford an apple worth 30 won that I really wanted to eat.  

When I was discharged from the hospital, there was nothing to eat at home.  I had no food to put into the boiling kettle.  So, my kids (Geum Nam and Geum Sun) went to the market and collected food thrown away by merchants.  But they could not fill even one can with those leftovers.  I smashed the food in the mortar and made soup with grasses, such as amaranthus that I picked from the mountain. But I could not even make two bowls of food from them.   

As I was confident about making soybean curd and taffy, I restarted soybean curd business.  But the curds became rotten when they were not sold.  We ate the rotten curd.  We ate the remaining bean-curd waste.  When we had to eat it without salt or garlic, it was hard to eat like that because the throat was rough.  But we had no other choice if we didn’t want to starve.  I was barely surviving like that, but I could not continue the curd business because the curds were hardly being sold.  I wrapped up the curd business and started working as a guard in the store that a friend of my husband owned.  I guarded at night and sold some products during daytime, but I was hardly making a living.  This was between 1995 and 1997.  It was the most difficult time of my life and I tried every means to survive.  

Luckily, I could have a chance to have soy bean paste and soy bean source from the store. I mixed soy bean paste with water and ate when I felt hungry.  I gave whatever food I could obtain to my kids.  They liked the rice cake that was made of flour that I got from the store.  

How did I get the flour?  There was a urea fertilizer in the store.  (I stole to survive. It was not because I had bad personality. ) I exchanged 1 kg urea fertilizer with 2 kg corn.  I could not support my family of four members because we only received the ration in autumn.  My friends and I decided to steal one fertilizer and exchange it with corn.  We succeeded at first but we were caught by the storeowner at the second try and got kicked out from the store.  

Defection from North Korea due to severe food crisis, and Entrance into China 

Many people collected grubbed up herb roots (Tractylis Ovata) and bought flour from China.  Most of Hyoreung people went to the mountain to grub up roots.  We ate soup in the morning and climbed the mountain with soup in the plastic bag.  We left for the mountain at 7 and arrived there at 11.  As we only ate soup in the morning, we ate the soup that we carried before we started to work.  We felt so hungry in the afternoon.  Because of hunger, we had to kneel down to work.  Then, we only collected about 2 kg.  The flour I got from this was only 1 to 1.5 kg. 

One day, I went to the market to sell Janchun.  On my way to market, I found an inside rubber of a bicycle on the ground.  I brought it home because I thought I could buy a bowl of noodle with it.  On the next morning, I asked my husband to sell it and I went to the mountain to work.  Several days later, I asked him how he had handled the matter.  He answered that he gave it to the bicycle owner.  I was upset and shouted at him “ What ? You gave it to whom?” I had a big quarrel with my husband.  He hit my waist with wood board.  I lived to feed my family.  Feeling mortified, I did not want to live any more.  I sat up crying by myself throughout the night.  As I was so sorrowful, I decided to drink Saina (toxic material) to die.  I mixed it with water but I could not succeed because my husband kicked the bowl.  

From the next day, I lay without doing anything.  I gave up roots and everything.  I did not care if I died of hunger.  My husband approached me and told me that he just got some liquor with the rubber because nobody was willing to buy it (Food was rare at that time.) So, all of my family had to miss all four meals a day.  I felt hungry and sore in the stomach when I missed two meals. However, I felt comfortable in the stomach afterward and felt sleepy and had no vigor.  I thought I was going to die like that. 

My neighbor visited my house because it was so quiet.  I told to my neighbor that I did not want to continue living any more.  He gave me 5 kg of corn (May 1997). My father’s 60 year birthday was during this time.  I wanted to buy one bottle of liquor by selling 10 plates (The price of the plate is 1 kg soy bean per each.)  But I could not exchange plates because food was so rare.  I took 10 plates and went to visit my father with Geum Nam. I felt shameful but I went to my younger brother’s house.  I found that my third younger brother also came.  I asked my third younger brother to exchange the plates with food but he also failed.  Another brother who was badly drunk became a bother to me badly drunk.   He said I wasn’t doing my duty as an elder sister.  I could not endure the contempt.  So I shouted at him. 
“She is my mother as well.  Did you work?  How dare you shout at me?” 
Angrily, he threw a pot lid at me and it made me start to bleed.  (I still have the scar on my left eye.)  Hearing a noise from this fight, my mother came out. 

I went to my mom’s place. I could eat herb rice cake and other rice cake.  I told her that I wanted to go to China.  Then, my mother gave me the photo and address of my aunt who was living in Mokdanjang in China.  After that, I did not return to Hyoreung.  Instead, I went to Songhak in the blood stained clothes. My mother packed rice cakes for me.  I asked her to take care of Geum Nam and I left (May 1997).  

At that time, there was a big fire and I could hear the sound of siren.  As it was a rainy season, Tumen River was swollen.  A group of two women, one man and a guide tried to cross the river.  One woman had already crossed the river several times.  She said that she was a single.  The river swell more and more as we moved forward.  The bottom of river was sand.  Therefore, we went deeper into the sand if we stood still. We moved forward. 

Finally, we crossed the river and arrived in China.  People discussed about the single woman and accepted her.  But I was rejected.  I told them that I would search for my relative if they give me a little money.  They told me to return to North Korea and I said I would never return to North Korea.  I asked them for help.  Then, they gave me 5 yuan.  So I left at 4 AM not knowing where to go and not knowing any Chinese language.  

They changed the address of my relative into Chinese address. I walked on and on to save money.  I walked from Daeso to the direction of Daegum.  I was wet due to shower.  I went into the fruit farm for a bit, because I might be suspected if someone caught me with wet clothes.  I saw three Chinese men, and I talked to them in Korean. “I would like to get out of the rain.” 

They allowed me to stay there.  They asked me several questions but I just showed the address in Yanji, and acted like a mute. They told me that bus would arrive very soon.  I took a ride on the bus.  Because I did not know the fare, I gave 5 Yuan and they gave me 2 Yuan back.  All the people got off in Yongjeong and I also did.  It was so noisy and crowded as if it was a movie making site.  

Being puzzled, I asked for the direction and one fat Chinese man approached me.  I told him that I was looking for my relative.  And then, one Korean man came to me.  I waited for a bit and an old man picked me up and went to his house.  After listening to my story, he gave me 50 Yuan (It seemed that he had a relative in North Korea) and I took a bus to Yanji.  I found that Yanji is more prosperous than Yongjeong.  I was roaming here and there.  One ethnic Korean noticed me and I showed the address I had.  It was in 1997 and a few people reported to the police.  It was around lunchtime.  It seemed that he was on his way to have lunch.  But, he could not find the place I was looking for.  When I thought he was going into the police station, I ran away and hid nearby.  I realized that policeman was not coming to catch me. I approached him again.  He said he was not reporting to the police but he was asking the address because the address was old.  In the end, I could find the place and paid him the money I have (2 Yuan.) 

I met my relative and I slept and ate for one day.  I told that I was headed to Mokdanjiang and I was given 50 Yuan.  One woman helped me to go to Mokdanjiang.  But she said that we took a wrong train in Heireungjiang.  I thought I would die in vain because I did not know Chinese and ethnic Koreans also used Chinese.  I went out to the train station carrying the lunch box I got from my relative in Yanji.  When I saw a disabled man in front of the station, I thought he was better off than me.  Then, I saw a woman looking for somebody saying “Is there anybody going somewhere?”  So, I seriously asked her to help me.  She showed me the bus to Mokdanjiang.  I could finally find my relative. 

My aunt in Yanji packed stuffs of 2000 won.  I gained some weight after the life in Yanji for two months.  I saved some money and visited the house that helped me when I crossed Tumen River.  I handed two bags of candy and rice.

Returning to North Korea 

I crossed Tumen River at 2 AM at dawn.  Songhak is next to Hyoreung.  From there, I walked about 120-ri (50 km) with back-pack.  My feet were aching.  Guards were watching me but I ignored.  A soldier called me trying to investigate my back-pack but I ignored.  I just drank water and continued my way.  But a soldier called me and questioned me.  I answered simply because I was afraid that they might search through my bag.  
To get a ride on a cart, I gave a snack and arrived in Hyoreung.   When I entered my house, my husband was surprised but welcomed me (August 1998).  However, labor coordinator came to ask about my trip.  His name was Chae Sung Jae. 

He was very mean although he was a guilty person just like me.  He harassed lawbreakers very much and beat them severely.  It was very tough due to heavy workload.  They forced us to work on and on only giving us a handful of corn.  We had to work running instead of walking.  They beat us with whip if we walked.  I spent my birthday, Aug 18 in the camp like this.  I was expecting food from home because we normally received food on birthdays.  Labor coordinator called laborers and ordered me to pick a stone.  I picked a large stone.  Then, he ordered us to run 100 circles on the fishery ground.  Men had a bear shoulder.  I saw that men were bleeding from the shoulder carrying stone on their bare shoulder.  He stopped us after we rounded 3-4 circles and then, ordered us to sit and stand repeatedly.  

And then, he ordered us to climb the waterway, which was too difficult.  We managed to climb and queued.  He ordered us to wash ourselves.  But the water in the fishery ground was so dirty and we even could see frog eggs.  More than 100 people were washing their feet and we drank the same water. After that, my son came to see me and I shed tears. I ate a lot of food because it was my birthday.  

What I experienced in the labor camp 

If we don’t receive food from the family (when they come to see us) any more, we become an idiot.  One kid was caught when he tried to run away. To show an example, they beat the kid severely saying to people that they can be treated like that if they try to run away.  And they beat him with stick on and on, until his leg bone was broken and he could not stand.  I heard that the beaten part was rotten and he died on his way to hospital. 

We ate raw potato, corn (the corn was not ripe in August), radish, and millet.  Millet head was so tasty but I could not excrete the bowels due to constipation.  I rubbed my ass hole to relieve the bowels.  Geum Nam and Geum Sun came to see me from Hyoreung walking two train stops.  It was hot and difficult in the summer but they walked singing together to overcome boredom and difficulty.  
“Where are we? We are in Daeduk.  Where are you going? We are going to Jungdo.  Why are you going?  We go to see our mother.  With whom you go?  Two of us go to see our mother.” 

Relatives did not welcome me as I crossed the river repeatedly.  So I needed to make money.  I have never made a big money. I know that I can make money if I bring a woman.  But I can be executed if it’s disclosed.  I did not want to do such a thing risking my life.  Two men and their relatives asked me to guide them to Yongjung and I accepted.  Women who were playing mah-jongg discovered us but we walked on not realizing that.  We were talking loudly about dog meat and funny things in China, not realizing that someone surrounded us.  Men jumped toward Tumen river but we all fell into deep hallow.  Chinese people approached us and lighted us with a flashlight.  We spoke to each other in Korean. “Remove the jewelry from your body.” We were all caught. 

After being caught, I was sent from Hyoreung security police to concentration camp.  It was 1998.  What I did during this time is to bake lime stone in Buksong, Hyoreung.  It was in April.  It was cold at dawn and a bit hot at noon.  We had to move 20 cm diameter stones.  It was very tough work.  Sometimes, even supervisors helped us.  I was a bit wild.  People in general are very obedient for the time being. But I did not feel small because my husband was a bit known in Hyoreung. I even confronted the foreman. The members in our work group were warm hearted.  So we received more work than other groups.  So I confronted the foreman.  The foreman called me in the general meeting and ordered me to do pumping (the repetition of standing and sitting down to check money or previous things hided in the body.)  I rejected.  I asked him why I had to do it. I told him that I would rather die than doing the pumping.  He said that he would order 100 people to do pumping if I do not obey.  There was uproar among people and I was afraid of them.  So I had no choice but to accept the 1000 pumping.  My forehead was all sweaty as if water was flowing down on my forehead.  However, I continued and finished 1000 pumping.  The next morning, I could not rise from the bed.  The foreman ordered me to run on the ground.  I asked for an interview with the head and I could meet him.  The head asked me some questions about the foreman (bribery or sex).  I said that I did not know.   The head also asked me what the foreman has done to our group.  He said that the foreman is a mean guy.  He realized that I was a very wild person. 

Since then, I had nothing to do.  I’ve been to concentration camps two times.  What occurred to me was to make money by trafficking women.  I wanted to make enough money by human trafficking to start my business.  But I did not have any particular skill.  I heard that there were many street kids in Cheongjin.  Holding some money in my hands, I went to Cheongjin station without telling my husband and slept in front of the station for two nights.  I could see street kids everywhere but I could not approach them asking whether they were interested in going to China.  It was also impossible to ask somebody else to approach kids.  Then, I met a woman.  I could not proceed to the main issue from the beginning.  I introduced myself saying that I came from Hyoreung and also said that it would be good if she went to China.  She answered that she also wanted to go to China.  I asked whether she knew a young woman.  I explained to her that we could save the sold woman after we make money and the woman agreed.  

Several days later, she appeared in front of the station again and asked me to wait.  I waited and she appeared with policemen.  They were policemen in civilian clothes.  I was caught again.  I was sent to the security police in Cheongjin.  I was treated as a human trafficker.  I was placed in solitary cell.  I was regarded as a human trafficker.  I felt mortified being a human trafficker when I have never done it up to now.  

The registration guy in the security police asked me why I was sent here.  I told him that I worked as a guide for the people who go to China.  Then, they asked me why I was caught.  I was refered to the police and they also asked why I came here.  They refered me to the traffic control team.  They ordered me to draw up of a protocol and I wrote that I had some tour guiding jobs a few times but I was never involved in human trafficking.  I spent two months in the concentration camp and labor camp.  

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