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"I Was a Broker" (19)
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2016-01-26 11:43:44
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"I Was a Broker" (19)

 

RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000

 

 

Today, I headed toward Tumen river. It had been seven years since I crossed the river n a cold wet dawn. I saw the North Korean mountain rise in the horizon on my bus. We quickly arrived by the river. As I stared out at North Korea, I was overcome with emotions I couldn’t even begin to identify. The mountains were laid bare, covered with farm plots. I had grown up there, but now I couldn’t go back. How difficult must it be for people still there that they had to farm at the tops of those mountains? They had to farm all year, without resting for a day. Did their life improve at all over the years? Only meters of the river stood between two separate worlds. Even now, people still crossed the river, finding it impossible to continue living in that land. I had come back here to meet my brothers and sisters that had crossed the river to make a living. When I came to the meeting place, they were waiting for me, right on time. We said our hellos quickly and headed toward his house where I heard stories about North Korea and the refugees. He said that he had grown tired of his relatives pestering him for help in North Korea and was glad that none of his relatives were now in Chosun. He told me that soldiers across the river would come over every night and demand cigarettes, alcohol, and rice. I felt embarrassed listening to his complaints since it reminded me of my days living in North Korea. We decided to climb the mountain behind us. We followed the mountain valley and found a small hut nestled in the slopes. The first thing I noticed was the small chimney, which appeared as if they had found it somewhere and plopped it on top of the hut. My guide must have known the refugees well since he quietly opened the door and entered. I followed him. The house was smaller than eight meters squared yet the sleeping place was well laid out and the stove in the kitchen was burning red with the heat of the furnace. This house also had a wooden frame with mud lining the inside and seemed like a livable place. There was a makeshift cupboard next to the kitchen with a few dishes and candles piled on top and there was a peasant leg in a bowl near the stove as if they had secretly hunted a peasant and ran away after hearing us approach. The blanket was dirty as if it had never been washed and there were a few Chinese books and a few educational texts written by Korean churches, whose names I recognized. I talked with my guide as I inspected the interior of the hut and wondered how the refugee here made his or her living. We waited but still the owner didn’t arrive. I went outside and stared out toward North Korea.  This hut was very close to North Korea, yet I couldn’t see any lit houses across the river. The electricity supply situation was still abysmal and supply must have been cut off. It was an age of darkness. Their souls were shrouded in darkness, darkness without hope. One day, a ray of hope and a spark of freedom will light up the darkness of that land. We climbed down the mountain and went to my guide’s house. He talked to me for a long time and I asked him only when there were parts of his story that I doubted or didn’t understand. Recently, the North Korean citizens around the Tumen river had been asking for fertilizers and asked me to help provide fertilizers if it wasn’t too much economic burden for me. Unlike the past, even mountains were turned into farm plots and as payment; they had to provide 22 to 25 won for each acre. Mountains far away from villages were used to plant crops, and farming using manure was too difficult for them. They chose to farm with Chinese fertilizers, thus creating high demand for them. He said he wanted to oversee the operation of providing fertilizers to North Korea. I asked him about the North Korean woman who had a baby around here. A refugee couple had made it over the Tumen river and had lived together for several years in a rock cave near the river. She ended up having a baby and I had heard they had a very difficult life.  If they lived around here, I wanted to meet them. He said that refugees that had entered China had met up with each other in the mountains and they lived together in a cave around four kilometers from the village. They would come down to the towns and do manual labor. The woman had two babies but she couldn’t raise the children and handed the babies over to Chinese people for 200 or 300 won each. She recently had another baby that she gave away for about 300 won. Later she and her husband were forcefully repatriated to North Korea and there was no news of the husband. The woman was living alone in China. The owner said that they might visit this house again, before turning in to sleep. Tumen River was only a few hundred meters away and I couldn’t sleep that night. After we finished breakfast, we went outside to catch a bus to Helong. I saw that right outside of the front there were footprints clearly belonging to North Korean soldiers. Judging by the footprints, two North Korean soldiers had walked around the perimeter of the house while we were sleeping and had lingered by the window before walking back toward the Tumen river. I had heard that North Korean soldiers frequented this house but seeing the actual evidence of such villains near me while I was sleeping gave me the shivers. According to the owner of the house, Tumen river boarder patrol came to the house to get cigarettes or alcohol but returned seeing that there was a guest in the house.

 

During my trip to China, I had unexpected helped two children get to South Korea. However, I did not successfully choose many trustworthy people I could work with. They all say nice things but when I ask them to take in a few refugees, their faces would blanch. I was more than willing to pay and the money was more than the average wage that these people would make if they were to work in Yanbian. Yet, they always wanted more. From now on, the rule must be made that refugee aid must be provided directly to the defectors and aid through a third person should ensure that the maximum assistance reached the refugees. The more people got involved in the middle, the less likely the aid would reach the targets. I wasn’t like I was making a lot of me, nor was I being funded by a church or an organization. I had limited resources and I had to plan meticulously to provide aid effectively First I had people in Yangi, Longjing, Helong, Wangqing  willing to help me but there was no one who would work as a central figure. 

 

I finished my trip on schedule and returned to South Korea to thank Sung-Min, Lee Min-Kyu and Kim Yung-Yurl. We talked about my next steps. They agree d that teenaged and children refugees needed t one helped without charge. How will I manage to get the money for such an operation? Winter was a bitter season for me. Without a fixed job, I had worked as a laborer with hourly wages yet it was impossible to find work until the weather loosened up. I still had a problem with my passport. The problem with the passport needed to be solved in order for me to start planning. I finally got my passport. I think they just hoped I would stop pestering them and lie low if they gave me an issued passport. During this trip I wanted to provide a house for the refugee couple living in Mabansan, and do my best to help those living in Helong. I arrived in China safely and climbed a mountain that I used to work in as a slave. My surroundings were dark but I was well acquainted with this mountain range so I was perfectly at ease.