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"I Was a Broker" (20)
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2016-01-26 11:45:01
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"I Was a Broker" (20)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



Around the agreed time, someone called my name and came running toward me. It was Gil-Nam. He recognized me from far away and we exchanged greetings. I had experience working with him for a month in Seeger village and afterwards whenever I came to Helong I would encourage the refugees I the village to runaway to a larger city. Gil-Nam was now living in a self-dug cave and came to wait for me all the way to Whales. I told him that I came to see how they were all living and asked me if I could see his house. He replied that he didn’t have a house in Whales. Rather, he had dug an underground cave at the mountain in front of the village and was living there with his mother and grandfather. He told me that almost all of our mutual acquaintances had been forcefully repatriated to North Korea and that the few that left for South Korea hadn’t been heard from since. He had heard news of my successful journey to South Korea and had heard that I had helped Chun-Guk’s family and some people in Meolryeong. Taking cover in the darkness, we quietly left the town through a small path behind the village. We made it to Gil-Nam’s house. Yet, no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find his house. I asked him where he was and he said, “this is it.” I looked down at my feet where I could barely make out what looked like an old-fashioned grave. In front of the hut door,  in a voice that indicated he had just been smoking, the grandfather said, “Thank you for coming all this way.” I returned her greeting and indicated that my distress at seeing her hardship. She knew all about me, but I had never seen her before. I had lived in this place for over a month, yet I had stayed at Chun-Guk’s house at his insistence that I live and work together with him. There were over 50 refugees in the village yet I knew nothing about them. I used to help the refugees hide when I glimpsed the police approaching the village, but I had never interacted with them personally. Even after I left this village to work somewhere else, I had passed through here several times. The refugees here used to be envious of my better fortunes. I used to tell them to leave this place if the chance came since they couldn’t make a living here. However, they seemed to think that if they left, they would starve to death. As a result, it seemed they would rather hold onto their tenacious lives in their self-dug caves. I inspected their dwelling with a flashlight. The walls and the ceiling were covered with waterproof cloth that they must have found somewhere. There were no household items to be found. There were only a few bowls and a small bowl near the makeshift fireplace. I came back out and asked them how they could live such a wretched life. They replied they used to dig caves in Whales, but the police showed up several times, arresting many refugees. They had barely escaped and never returned to that area since.


I had learned another new fact here. What appeared to be a small peaceful farm town had figured out that refugees provided free labor. They had used defectors for labor and didn’t even give them a small portion of rice. When I lived here, beatings were unheard of; now, refugees often faced beatings. Compassions for the refugees had disappeared.  Gil-Nam said that he wanted the doors to South Korea to open up soon. Jin-Hak’s hut was also near here. I knew Jin-Hak’s mother very well, and I had met his father many times, but I couldn’t recall their son’s face. In the darkness, I followed Gil-Nam’s guide through the steep slopes. He took me to a trench and the back up the mountain, finally to a small hut. Jin-Hak’s father was sitting outside, smoking. Gil-Nam announced that I had come to visit and Jin-Hak’s mother ran out of their hut to envelop me in a hug, with tears streaming down her face. Jin-Hak’s father was also overjoyed at my appearance. As I greeted them, a tall teenager exited the hut to greet me; this was Jin-Hak. I had gleaned from them that their eldest son tried to get to Korea and had been repatriated, only to make it back out here recently. Jin-Hak’s mother had worked for a few days for the town’s Chwibo Chief (The person in charge of maintaining law and order), and when she asked for payment for her labor, he had dropped her in a mud puddle and kicked her teeth in until they were all broken. It was obvious that violence was prevalent in the town. As she told her tale, tears flowed endlessly. They said that they had made another underground cave further up the mountain for emergency purposes in addition to the underground cave here.


They had every right to be envious of me. My future had opened up for me in South Korea, while they were still stuck there hiding in underground caves the watch full eyes of the police without anyone to trust. Since they had suffered so much, they were happy and shocked to see someone who had escaped from their wretched fates. I had to start getting organized. No one could believe that each house had twenty to thirty refugees working for them. I could never forgive them for taking over 150 refugee’s sweat and blood. I promised myself that I would make sure that the house of the greedy would become their tomb. I am a refugee, and I will defend my fellow refugee’s and make sure that no cruelty will befall them. I believe in good and I could never forgive those who had beaten and bled my fellow refugees without any form of payment. I told Gil-Nam and Jin-Hak’s father that I would provide 200 won for each refugee and asked to save some of it for emergency purposes. I promised them that I would provide houses for them and warned them not to let anyone else know of my visit. I promised that I would visit a couple times per month. I had to move them somewhere safe first.


There was a blind refugee in Wangqing’s Ryongsandoe that needed help. I thought that some infection had affected him and went to see him in hopes of curing his ailment. After much difficulty, I found the house only to find several North Koreans already there, working on something. I greeted them briefly and went inside the house where a teenage boy looked away from me and welcomed me in. He was a handsome boy, yet I was confused as to why he was not looking at me. I started wondering who the owner of the house was, what the other teenagers were doing, and why this young man blankly stared out into space. Other than the boy who had greeted me, none of the others showed any interest in me. I didn’t see anyone that seemed sick and I asked again where the owner of the house was. I learned that they had left and wouldn’t be back until late. I told them I came to attend to someone suffering from an eye infection. To my surprise, the young man who had greeted me told me that he was unable to see. As I talked to him, I realized that he had an astounding memory and had a very vivid imagination. If not for his eyes, he could have made something of himself. Yet, his blindness had affected his daily life and decided to enter China to find a decent meal until he had been caught by the police and repatriated. Now, he had led these group of teens to China again, and his companions were getting ready to return to North Korea. couldn’t believe it but it was the truth. These teenagers were preparing their meager belongings for the journey back. They had clothes that they must have asked for from he village that added up to few backpacks. After the hand luggage was packed, they announced that they will now eat the money. I had heard tales of hiding the money in their private parts but this was the first time I had heard of money being swallowed. They said that they soaked the Chinese currency in water and wiped off the residue, then they folded the money in four so the length was about 1.5 cm. They would then roll it up carefully and wrap it with a thin plastic, swallowing it with water. After two to three days, it would come out with their feces, which they would then separate, and use. If they left, this young man had nowhere to go. His facial expression was blank but I could tell that he was afraid from his voice. I had just only begun, but I didn’t know how to deal with such a big situation. If I abandoned him, then he would surely get caught and get sent back, again. I decided that I had to take Kwang-Nam with me, no matter way. I asked an acquaintance in Wangqing to find a small house. He insisted that he could work and asked me to find work for him. I asked him what kind of a work a blind man could do. He replied that he used to take care of cattle in 100 break country. Since it was raining, there were very few taxis and buses on the street. I hailed a cab on the street and headed to my acquaintance’s house in Wangqing. He told us that Kwang-Nam could just live upstairs instead of in a separate house. He used to rent out the room, but it was empty at the moment. It seemed like he would take care of Kwang-Nam and the rent was thankfully inexpensive.