Related Content

"I Was a Broker" (28)
Name :
Date :
2016-01-26 11:59:46
Hit :

"I Was a Broker" (28)


RYU Sang-Joon

North Korean defector and activist 

Entered South Korea in 2000



In December 2006, I got a request from someone asking me to help a woman get to South Korea. I said that if she intended to carry out a honest life, then I would be happy to help her. I told that person to bring her to Yangi. She was short and seemed strong but didn’t seem too eager to talk. I took her to a shelter for defectors and gave her appropriate warnings. I asked her to read the Bible with other refugees and diligently learn from teachers there. She seemed to get along with defectors well in the shelter. She told me that she had previously been caught by the Chinese Public police and was forcefully repatriated until her escape back to China. I was a fellow refugee and I had crossed the Tumen River but now that I thought about it, I wondered how they managed such a dangerous feat. She said that she left North Korean prison in a frail state but had nowhere to go so decided to cross the Tumen River and get to China. Only a few days after her release, she crossed the Tumen River in the darkness without even knowing where the Border Guard Posts were. She was only driven by the desire to get to China in order to survive and made it to an island in the middle of the Tumen River. There were Chinese growing corn here and they used to dry their harvest in an attic and took it back to the mainland in a boat. Having successfully made it on the island, she headed to a farmhouse and asked for food. The Han-Chinese owner greeted her and gave her food. Then, the owner set incredibly large dogs on her and order the dogs to attack her.  The dogs ripped into her at their owner’s command. She was still frail from the time she spent in North Korean prison and she blacked out from the injuries the dogs inflicted upon her. This Chinese man is worse than any beast—he had committed unpardonable atrocities against this frail woman who had crossed perilous Tumen River to survive. He had stood by and enjoyed as his dogs tore apart this defenseless woman. The reason the owner of the house acted in that manner was that he had suffered from North Korean soldiers and took revenge on this defenseless woman. Since this island was situated near North Korea, North Korean soldiers would frequently come onto this island and steal corn and other things. He was angry and frustrated at the continued assault by the soldiers and was determined to take revenge on North Koreans. She had become an innocent victim caught in this man’s anger. As she talked about her experience, she showed us the scars from the dogs. She seemed to shudder in horror at her memory. As she told her horrible story, her scars seemed larger than it first appeared. The incident must have left a mark on her soul and seemed like it would haunt her to her death. I recorded parts of her tale, thinking that there might be a day to expose and seek justice for the suffering of the refugees.


 April 2007, I met a woman at a house of a Korean-Chinese that I knew well. She told me that she knew two defectors: brother and sister, and asked for my help in getting them to South Korea. I told her that I was on a schedule and it would be a while until I could come back to this place. I asked her if she could get the siblings to Yangi and then I could decide then, after meeting them. We decided on a meeting time. After a few days, she came with them to Yangi. I was able to meet them briefly at a small café, where I learned that the woman I was speaking to was one of the ‘siblings’ that she wanted me to help. They had been pretending to be Chinese in order to hide the fact that they came from North Korea and had been moving from place to place to avoid detection. When they lived in Hunchun, they were told that for 5000 won, they could get to South Korea. However, they had learned that I had come back to China and wanted my help. I asked them where they lived in North Korea, when they came to China, and who they crossed the Tumen River with. While the woman had an open personality and spoke without hesitation, the brother remained silent. His personality seemed the polar opposite of his sister and seemed to assume that she would do all the talking for him. I had learned that they had been a family of four when they first left North Korea and that their father disappeared while crossing the river, after trying to save one of them from getting caught in the current of the Tumen River. The father had been swept up in the vicious whirlpool created by the current of the river after protecting his own family. She said that they tried and tried to find him but to no avail. A lot of defectors call the Tumen River the escape river. Many people consider crossing the Tumen River in their move up north to find a way to survive. North Korea had been reinforcing security to crack down on those cross the river to China. The Labor Surveillance organization , Border guards, and Police Patrols densely monitored the border area, sometimes waiting for defectors in holes dug out from grounds. They stood guard night and day. However, despite all of their efforts, they couldn’t stop the march toward freedom. Resentment and unfulfilled promises swirl within Tumen River. I don't know just how many have been swept in the harsh currents, or just how many have been shot to their deaths. The escape route doesn't end after crossing the River. The road is long and hard for those attempting to find freedom.


In April 2004, I was near Helong when a woman I knew told me that a girl was living with a Chinese man in Helong, Ryongseonghyang(Buheunghyang, at the time), Ryongseochon. She had never been to school and her mother had been repatriated to North Korea. The Chinese man had no intention of sending her to school. I had experience living in Ryongseochon, but I knew next to nothing about refugees there. Since the inhabitants of that village knew my name and my face we decided to meet the girl late at night. We had dinner in downtown Helong and waited for the night to deepen. I learned that the Chinese man was her distant relative and that if the Chinese man agreed, we intended to send her to a small school in Chengdu and provide any tuition and living expenses she might need. When it was sufficiently late enough, we took a cab to Ryongseochon. Even from far away I knew whose house belonged to who and old memories were brought up to the surface. Thanks to the help of the woman accompanying me, we safely managed to get to a house near the entrance of the village. As we entered, I immediately recognized the owner. He was a middle-aged man and his wife was nowhere in sight. We lightly exchanged greetings and when I inspected the room, nothing had changed from what I remembered. I used to be a servant at this house and all I did was move their hot pepper seedlings all day. The owner’s pepper field was outside the village and many villagers gathered to plant peppers and have lunch in this house. The owner of this house was neither lazy nor a drunkard—they were elegant and polite and pitied us defectors. I easily remembered the owner and his wife. We spoke of our lives and soon enough my companion entered with a small girl in tow. She was wearing a lot of layers as if she was cold. As soon as she entered the room, she looked around unhesitatingly and sat in a corner. I think she had been to this house before. I asked her what her name was. She replied in an annoyed manner that she was Hyang-Mi and that she was 13. I asked her to come near, and she sat in my lap. When I asked her if she wanted to study she replied that she wasn’t allowed to, even if she could. She seemed downtrodden like most children defectors that I had seen. When there was no one in the house to supervise her, she apparently went out to play outside. She was pale-faced and she had no friends and no education. Her logic seemed to be at the level of kindergarteners.