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"I Was a Broker" (9)
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2016-01-26 11:09:06
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 "I Was a Broker" (9)


Ryu Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



My plan was that when the bus arrives in Tongliao station, we were not going to go outside of the terminal; and take a bus to Gaeruro from inside the terminal to our next destination. However, when the bus actually arrived in Tongliao, the terminal was empty and the manager yelled at us to get out of the station. However, if we wanted to come back to the station, we would have to go through security again. There were police officers patrolling the station, which wasn’t a good news for us, but we had no choice but to leave. We made our way through the crowd outside the terminal and instructed the refugees to stay there. I went to the ticketing office alone where they told me that today was a holiday. Even this morning, Changchun bus station was crowded with people and all buses were operating—this place seemed like a new country. I asked Mrs. Cho to double-check at the ticketing office. They told her that the ticketing office was closed for three days due to the Lunar New Year. I hurried back to our companions and formed two groups with Mrs. Cho and me as one and Sung-Sun and the children in the other. We planned to get in a cab according to our groups. We wanted to give the group with the teens a phone in case something went wrong. 


I explained to Sung-sun in great detail about where our destination was and what they should do. Sung-sun was short but brave, strong and could speak both Chinese and Korean. Sung-Sun could also read most Chinese characters. Mrs. Cho and I, along with two other women got into a car and instructed the teens to follow us. Everything seemed to be going smoothly but we ran into an unexpected trouble. Previously, the traffic police would stop cabs or buses to inspect inside. On buses, there were many passengers and the risk was low but in taxies, there was no way to avoid inspections. We must place all of our trust in the heaven. We took a cab to Gaeruro and called a three-wheeler to Gaeruro station. The reason why we didn’t take a cab straight to the station was if the taxi were to report to the police, our route would be exposed right away. The train, that we meant to get on, arrived at the station on time and we made it to Jining safely. Since it was the day before the Lunar New year, the train carried only my companions and three or four other passengers. When we arrived in Jining the next morning, all restaurants, stores, public telephone facilities, and motels were closed. We weren’t even able to get a drink of water. I had to call Seoul to let them know how our trip was going but everything was closed. Perhaps this was what the city of the dead was like. All of my companions were starving since they hadn’t eaten since last night on the train. I asked Mrs. Cho and Sung-Sun to ask if they could enter the safety prison. I was preoccupied with the thoughts of how we would get through this unexpected situation. If transportation was still operating, we must move forward, despite our hunger. If we were stuck in this city for three days, all of our hard work will be for naught. The buses that had filled the train station plaza were all gone and the loud taxis soliciting passengers were nowhere to be seen. 


Soon, we heard that the safety prison was accepting guests. I took my companions there and found two rooms, each holding four people each. I placed an individual who was able to speak Chinese in each room. I asked Cho and another woman to buy whatever food they wanted from the counter and to distribute it to the rest of our party. Since there were no buses, we had to takea e train. The problem was that the train that we were supposed to take might go through rigorous inspections. So far, I had been on four trains that underwent inspection. Usually, about two hours after the train departed, the police officers would ask the travelers for their identifications. In order to avoid this inspection, I thought that it would be best if we got on the train after the inspection. As a result, I would make my party get on the train at Hop Psy. Yet, today it was impossible to get to Hop Psy. There were neither buses nor taxies and we were just stuck there. There were still a few hours until the train departed and I told our companions to get some sleep. I was contemplating our situation when I noticed that the woman in the bed across from me seemed unable to sleep. She seemed afraid and anxious. Her fluttering eyelids gave her away. If one person got anxious, the others’ confidence would shatter along with hers. They needed to laugh. I had to reassure them. Everyone seemed at peace but I was worried for Yun-Wha. I shook Park awake, who was sleeping next to my bed. I asked him how he felt. Park said that he believed that everything would go smoothly. He reminded me that of the missionary’s prayer and that he believed in our success. I asked the woman, who couldn’t sleep, to sit up. I asked her if she was honestly at ease. She replied that she felt anxious but that she didn’t know why. What could I do? I thought it over and asked the men from the other room to come over and tell the funniest stories from their lives. Park, who was seated next to me, started telling stories about people he knew and even showed off a funny dance. At this point, people started telling stories and even the anxious woman seemed to brighten up. After a lot of thinking, I decided to get on the train. My theory was that there would be fewer travelers today. The officers on duty today might not inspect too closely. Just in case, I prepared some emergency money to hand over to the officers as bribe money. I asked the women to buy two bottles of Eulgotuh (A brand of Chinese alcohol that is small enough to be portable.) We all gathered in my room where we came together in a short prayer. I told them of the things they should be careful of, once on the train. After an hour after the train departed, Nam-Chul and Choi would drink some alcohol and spray some on their clothes. Afterwards they would lean back, never forward, and sleep. I warned them not to wake up, even if someone came and tried to shake them awake.