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"I Was a Broker" (3)
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2016-01-26 10:39:42
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"I Was a Broker" (3) 


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



Where are they?  Thought of not seeing my companions ever again scared me. Soon after, a few officers surrounded me and led me to a nondescript room. The room was large with two desks put together in the middle. There was also a sofa with a bookcase with wheels next to it. On the other side of the sofa was a rather plain looking desk with a computer, some files, and a few books on it. Next to the bookcase was a coat hanger with both male and female officer’s uniforms hanging from it. Judging by the decorations on the uniform, the owner seemed to be a very high-ranking official. 


The officer who was in charge of me and other five officers surrounded me and talked amongst themselves. A young official put on a pair of disposable gloves and began the physical examination, starting with my clothes. He checked both my outerwear and my underwear, even examining my belt and below the soles of my shoes. After finishing examining my possessions, he handed me a piece of toilet paper, and an introductory letter written in Mongolian. He asked what was written on these papers. The piece of toilet paper was what I had given to Eun-Sim earlier in the bus. I had written, “I have greatly wronged you, please forgive me. Please don’t lose hope and live to the end so that we may see each other again. The soldiers must have taken it from her. The introductory letter said, “We are refugees, please protect us and direct us to the South Korean Embassy.” Before, I had provided an introductory letter for everyone but now I had handed out only one letter for each group of refugees. The letter was given to someone who was strong-willed, responsible, and fast learner of the escape route to Mongolia among the group members. I had been teaching them how to get in touch with me by pressing ‘send’ button before leaving them at the border. 


I had given the letter to Young-Ok this time, and had sternly warned him to never let this letter end up in the hands of Chinese officers and soldiers. I had told him to dispose of it by either eating the letter or rubbing the letters away before throwing it out. Previously, when I had given the introductory letter to women, they had usually folded it into their breasts or their waists, but I was unable to see how Young-Ok had taken care of the letter. I explained the contents of the letter is broken Chinese and told them to check with an interpreter if they didn’t believe me. All the preliminary stuff seemed to be over and they brought me lunch. Lunch consisted of steamed white rice and seaweed soup all tossed in a large bowl. I wasn’t hungry. I told them that my companions was deprived of dinner and breakfast and implored them to provide meals for them as well. They must have misunderstood my request and assumed that I was being petulant at the condition of the food so they brought me the rice and the soup separately, and warned me to eat up quickly. I told them I was very grateful but I was in no state of mind to eat at the moment. 


The young officer who had examined my materials left, only to be replaced by a 

young woman who claimed to be a translator. The officers and the woman asked me the same questions that I was asked last night, such as where I lived in South Korea, when I came to China, what methods of transportation I used to China and so on. They all left afterwards, leaving me with two soldiers. I beseeched them that my companions narrowly escaped death to get to China and that they have to get to South Korea with me. I added that If they were not able to come with me to South Korea, then at least let me return to North Korea with them since I had grown up there. The officer seemed shocked at my words and replied with a firm ‘No.’ My sixth sense told me that that they had lots of experiences with dealing with North Korean refugees.


How much time had passed? I asked the officer giver permission to read the Bible in my bag, and they did without giving me much difficulty. I sat on the sofa with my Bible but the words didn’t register in my state of mind. In my line of work, I had spent hours on buses and trains and I usually passed the time reading my small bible. I wanted to read it now, but I couldn’t focus. I just ended up sitting silently on the couch. After some time, the interrogator (So Young-Gil) came in and asked the officer to buy something from the market outside. They brought me two drinks and a bowl of ramen and told me to eat. I repeated that I didn’t want to eat anything and asked them to bring it to the North Korea refugees. He seemed like he was swearing at me but reconsidered my request. He indicated that we should go down and led me to Young-Ok, Eun-Sim, and Gal-Lyang. The interrogator told the translator that if they all spent about 2 to 3 months in the detention center, they would be able to get to South Korea. I told him that we would be happy to do so, begging him to let us all get to South Korea together.


We were cuffed and chained together and tossed on the bus heading for the detention center in Siringworeo. The detention center is near a small village, unknown in the province with the detention center right out the outskirts of the town. However, I felt light hearted with the belief that I could get them to South Korea just as they desired. I signed my contracts and put on a prisoner’s uniform. As we all changed and split up into our different prison cells, I could only wish for us to get to South Korea and for that day to come soon. I was assigned to Section 2, room 12, in the detention center. The cell had two doors: the entrance and a set of barred doors. A cell could hold about six prisoners. As I entered the cell, prisoners, sporting short hair, rushed toward the doors in curiosity at the newcomer. I told them in Chinese that I was a South Korea and that I wasn’t good at Chinese and asked for their patience. A heavy set woman asked me in Korean if I had come from South Korea, and how I ended up here. I told her that I had been helping North Korean refugees escape to Mongolia until I was caught. The woman told me that she too had be helping refugees get to South Korea and that there was another Korean in the detention center who had originally come from North Korea named Jang Mi-Suk. Im-Chul, the woman, asked me who I knew since a lot of refugees probably knew her as well. I responded that I had helped a lot of refugees that she had previously helped.