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"I Was a Broker" (16)
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2016-01-26 11:38:21
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"I Was a Broker" (16)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



   The memorial became filled with sobs from the poem and the eulogies. The young boy’s miserable death, their bitter days, longing for their homeland, longing for their families and siblings…all of these must have caused their tears. Sung-Min planned the memorial and spent the night before in tears while writing and erasing the eulogy countless times. I would like to take a chance again, through my writing, to thank those involved with the memorial from the Odusan Unification Observatory as well as those attended the memorial. I don’t know how I can even begin to thank Sung-Min and Huh Kwang-Il. Who helped me with the memorial despite their busy schedules. Now, I must tackling everything I have to do, one by one. Regarding passport issue problems, I had already asked for National Human rights department for their help and they said that they would take care of everything. My travel to China would be focused on the status of the refugees and how I would choose those who would help me on my quest. It had been three years since I hid out in China and their way of life must have changed. I thought that it would be best to figure out how the refugees were populated in the area before I started work. I wasn’t planning on asking for help unless it was a dire situation- I would simply come back to South Korea. The material I had prepared for my trip included a few books a that Hwan Jang-Yup provided for me, the magazine “Refugees” from North Dongjihoe , and about 30 kg of clothes to be provided for the refugees. I asked a man that I knew from China that if he got a call asking if a relative was visiting, he was to say yes. This was to ensure that my China visa application would go smoothly.  At the time, it was my first entry to China and I knew nothing about the visa application procedure. As a result, I applied for the easiest visa that gave me a few months, a visiting visa. After then, I chose to apply for a one-year a multiple entry visa where I wasn’t limited by the length of my stay, permitting me to enter China whenever I wished. Before I left for China, Kim Sung Min and Ju Sun-Ae wished me safe travels and gave me donations soaked with their efforts and concern. I worried since I did not know any Chinese, nor did I have a translator with me. Yet, I believed that once I took my first steps, the next steps will be shown to me. I got on the boat to Incheon-Dalian, and as the ship landed in Dalian port, I picked up my luggage and headed toward customs. The inspection area was far away, and the incline was steep—it was difficult to maneuver with my heavy load. As I exited customs, I called a cab and headed toward the train station. I had previously checked the times and the routes for trains entering China and if I hurried right now, I could get on a train going to Tumen. It wouldn’t be possible now, but in 2003, if I hurried, I could make it. I worried about the language barrier but thanks to the long hours of practice, I managed to buy a ticket Basic conversation didn’t seem too difficult for me. My destination was Yanbian. I had spent three years as a slave, and faced harsh beatings. The refugees there were waiting for someone just like I had been waiting for someone’s to come help me during those years. The train arrived at Yangi station in the morning and I quickly got on a bus to Wangqing and headed toward a house of an acquaintance. 


   Not much had changed since the last time I had been here except for a few soldiers that stopped buses on the street to inspect the passengers inside. I had haunted these roads before, and there hadn’t been soldiers then. It seemed that refugee settled here wouldn’t be able to walk freely. Especially those who had a weak disposition would be easy prey for the soldiers. After I arrived in Wangqing, I took a taxi to an acquaintance’s house. I was pleasantly surprised at how warmly he greeted me and was joyous at my arrival. I think he was glad to see me alive and whole after thinking it impossible for me to survive. Also, he seemed proud that I would make my way back to this barren land to make a difference. We shared stories and he told me that the money I had sent him was used in separating a refugee couple and the rest was used for sending his son to high school. Out of the money I received as my first settlement fees in South Korea, I had sent 2,000,000 won as South Korea entrance fee, 3,000,000 won as refugee aid to Mr. H, and finally, 1,000,000 won to this person who helped me find a job and brought me food when things got hard. I think he helped a few refugees around that were facing hardship. I told him that I intended to help refugees in China and asked me to introduce children without parents or those who had difficulties support themselves. He told me that he knew two kids that needed support of a South Korean church or a missionary organization. He explained to me the hardships they were facing. It was as I expected. 


   We decided to visit the young girl living closest to me. The house belonged to a farmer who was too sick and could no longer work at a cement factory. He was a honest man and worried for many refugees. When I entered, his wife ran toward me to welcome me in gladly. I owe a lot to them and I thanked them for taking care of me in the past. I told them that I was here to see the girl from Chosun. She pointed me to a girl upstairs and said, “She came from Chosun and I don’t know where her parents are. It has been five to six months yet there is still no news as if they have been caught. “ It seemed obvious that she was uncomfortable with the girl’s presence. As I looked up the stairs, a small girl stood in the darkness. Her face was dark and lackluster, and seemed awkward and afraid at having a stranger enter the house she was staying in.  I asked for a hug and held her in my arms. As I looked at her up close, she seemed very intelligent. Yet, she seemed forlorn and frail since she had lost her parents and ended up at a stranger’s house. We sat around talking about the girl. How old was she? Where was she living in Chosun? Where did her parents go? The girl was 13 years old and her parents were working in the area until one day they left the girl at their doorstep and left to an unknown location. I pitied the girl and felt my heart break at the thought that Chul-Min had faced the same fate. That was why I was determined to send her to school and I told them that I was willing to provide for her living expenses and her tuition. Her name was Ok-Byul and she studied in a small institution near by until she finally made it to South Korea.


   We went to Wangqing Daxing in the evening. There is a child named Chul-ho. His parents were missing and a missionary from a church was taking care of him. However, he was going through a difficult time. When we neared Daxing, we saw a boy loitering around bridge. His appearance and behavior indicated that he from Chosun. As the car neared bridge, the man traveling with me asked me to stop the car. He yelled out, “Chul-Ho! Come this way!” It appeared that they were already well acquainted. Chul-Ho also came to China with his parents. He was the eldest of three with two younger brothers: Chul-Lyung and Chul-Oong. Chul-Ho said that he didn’t know where his parents and his two siblings were and was very reluctant to talk to us. He lived with a Han-Chinese grandfather and a Korean-Chinese grandmother. However, that family was facing some financial difficulties and he seemed uncomfortable in that house. I left Wangqing and headed toward Helong. On my way, I thought about their situations. There were more children refugees than I had initially thought and it seemed their quality of life had fallen far below what it used to be when I had left China. I arrived at Helong late at night and decided to rest at an acquaintance’s house. I began to inquire into the situations of the defectors in the area. The owner of the house that I was staying in told me everything passionately. Some made it to South Korea, some were arrested, and some were taken to Chosun and made it back here alive to make a living. He said to me “Do you know how many people are living in an underground hole?” His story was filled with bitterness and sympathy for the hardships of the refugees. Whales is a place I know well. It was where I got my first job in China after leaving North Korea. For 42 days, I had tended to cattle with Chul-Min and new the area very well. To the northwest of Helong Buheunghyang (now Ryongseonghyang) Ryongseochon (Seeger town), there are two small hills, after which is Whales, and toward the outskirts is the settlement area of the Han-Chinese. The slope of the mountain is so steep that it is difficult for the workers to make their way back and forth. The refugees dig caves in Whales and they live and sleep in their caves, only coming down to the village to provide manual labor in exchange for vegetables and rice. However, even this payment wasn’t fair since the rice and the vegetable they received didn’t even add up to one-fifth or one-tenth of the minimum wage. Back in May 1998, when I lived in a small hut in the area, defectors used to live in the house they worked for, sleeping, eating, and working with the house owners. I had visited the area in 1999 and 2000 several times, but even then, there weren’t any people living in a self-dug cave. Three years later, the area had undergone radical transformation with refugees hiding out in holes in the ground, unable to work for even a cold lump of rice. After hearing about the sad situation in the area, I decided not to meet the refugees this time around. There would be refugees that knew my face and the purpose of my visit this time was to ascertain the situation, not provide help. I wanted to visit them when I came to help.