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How We Could Escape from North Korea
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2016-01-20 14:25:21
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How We Could Escape from North Korea


KIM Ey-jun


When hearing about the escape plan from my husband, I was on the edge worrying about the uncertain future waiting for us. 

Nevertheless, I, as most housewives do, could not but acquiesce without complaints. I became anxious about such mishaps as our drowning deep into the ocean including four children, daughter in law, and my grand child. I felt somewhat lightened when I came to know that I might belong to those drowned, which was useless to feel sorry about. 

Seeing my husband telling me the details of his plan, I became conscious of how much he has been obsessed with escaping from North Korea. As he’s undergone discriminations for several times because of his social level, what we call, ‘seong-bun’. When he once was driven to the logging camp in Shiberia, I was on pins and needles for fear that he would never come back to me. Being pregnant, along with other three children to feed, I felt hopeless. Fortunately he came back home in safety, but even after that we suffered from maltreatment. My husband, though he spent 4 year in logging camp, could not be awarded a better job. What I think most unfair was the case of my children who, despite their high grade in school, were not allowed to enter universities. (They could enter with the help of some bribes later.) 

I myself also had to go through lots of difficulties due to the fact that my parents had deflected to South Korea during Korean War. However stern the policy of government was, I could not endure my children were also treated unjustly, with which my husband would definitely agree. 

I’ve heard that my mother in law and my husband’s brother live in America, and they came to Shin-ey-ju to see us. With the occasion as momentum, my husband began to work on his plan with our first son. Our first son, after the birth of his own child, thought he would rather dare to escape for all the risks than live to see his child being badly treated in the cruel society. I could read confidence and ambition in his face while he was stating his ideas. My husband might have thought that he could count on his son, after years of traveling lots of places accompanied with the first son for a trade. 

Our second son, though young, was circumspect and calm. As he didn’t drink, it was unlikely that he might divulge our plan to others. All the more he knew what was going on around through his friends and colleagues, and he had a desire for the world outside. He learned English not only because to obtain the teacher’s license but because he thought it might be useful in the future. Even after he became a teacher, he used to listen to the radio aired from South Korea. He secretly admired South Korea, which caused him to actively agree to my husband. 

I will not deny that I was nervous at first when I was told to escape. I agreed to my husband, provided that all the members of my family could go out together. The plan was set up on the basis of bringing even grand daughters with us, whose idea was so risky that may produce lots of difficulties. Our grandchild was no more than 18 months old, and I couldn’t move as fast as I could in the past. Regardless of these difficulties, my husband and sons thought that all of us should go together. 

Moved by their deep consideration, I made up my mind to listen to them. It was the first time to realize we are about to make our plan into practice when my husband told me to secure some food after he bought a ship from China. He used to buy some food while visiting China with An,Sun-kuk, one who would go with us. Among them were some ‘ra-myon’ made both in China and South Korea. He bought them so that we could disguise ourselves to be ethnic Korean residents in China in an emergency, which was possible because the ship we are to board was made in China. 

I bought some rice and condiments from market. We used our money on rice as much as I could, because I thought we could survive without other ingredients only if we have rice. Garlic, pepper and green onion were among those we prepared. The rice weighted at least 200kg, as there were 8 from our family and 6 from An’s. 

The next step waiting for us was disposing our belongings. Our ship was so small that we should minimize our package. 
We sold all the electronic devices we had such as refrigerator, recorder and electronic fan one after another to buy food instead. We still kept TV for fear that our neighbors would suspect us. 

I gave a second thought when I have to decide whether I should dispose some clothes, my mother in law gave to me, among which there were suits made in USA, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. I couldn’t leave them behind for the life of me, and I decided, after consulting with my daughter, to bring them without notice. That’s because it was obvious that he would scold me after he came to know about the clothes. I was afraid that it might get on his nerve because we were in the middle of precarious plan to run away sticking our necks out. 

It was pretty hard to burn all the photos my mother in law sent to us from America with the help of my daughter. We owe her a lot because we couldn’t survive without her, who supported us even after we settled in South Korea. I shouldn’t have burnt all her photos, which I’ve regretted until now. If I were so minded to bring them with me, I could. Stifled with time and being at a loss for thinking again, I was unable to take everything into account. 

Although it may seem strange for us to move out right before running away from North Korea forever, it was reasonable for us. 
We had so many who visited us for asking help to my daughter who worked as a maternity nurse that the empted house might draw other’s attention immediately after we departed. The pregnant woman and the mid wife are as close as friends in a rural area. Let alone those women, children who were sick would come to ask her to cure them. 

We were in a situation to be arrested before we could reach the shore to board a ship. Hours of wrecking our brain to avoid suspect after we got out of our house, we came to a conclusion that we should move out. 

People in North Korea cannot move out as they wish without approval of the government. We submitted an application form to Security Department. Nervous about the delay of the notice from it, we were finally allowed to move out. In North Korea people would hesitate to pack and transport everything after the government gave them a notice such as ‘You should move out now’ or ‘You are obliged to move here’. 

We ran away after we slept one night there. My daughter, not knowing what was going on, forwarded a request for 15-days leave, and her behavior seemed so natural that others would not doubt at all. 

As time passed, I’ve been occupied with anxiety and stress. Most women in their wrong side of forties or fifties usually find themselves being infected from heart attack, nephritis, and hepatitis. Feeling my heart beating fast, I would hope for my husband to give up his plan, and weep privately worrying about our uncertain fate. 

Our die was cast. Although it must have been easy for my husband and sons to escape without the rest, their dogged determination would not change and they consistently insisted to go together. I didn’t care what would happen to me, however, thinking of our grandchild, who has several decades ahead, I felt how pity it was for him to take that risk. For a short time I thought I would rather leave him in his mother’s home than bring him with us in the hope that we can happen to meet each other again. I changed my mind when I questioned to myself who would want to separate from his child. It was imaginable for a mother who gave birth to her child through suffering travail. 

May 10 was the day we made our plan a reality. Two sons were heading to Chul-san after they met Mr.An at Shin-ey-ju. The rest of us directed to Chul-san with other An’s family by car. 

The ship we got on was trembling so badly that we got seasick. Due to the continuous vomiting we lost our appetite, because it was the first time for most women to get on a ship. 

As we were told not to make noise, we’ve sprawled on the bottom of the ship, with our door locked, to avoid being detected by other until we could sail far from the shore. It was either hot or humid, and we barely breathe. My grandchild, crying loudly as we previously imagined, worsened the situation we were in. Sick and tired of listening his crying, I regretted not to leave him behind. The agony my daughter in law must have been doubled. 

Looking back at that time, I would appreciate our invincible will to run away from North Korea. If we were not so resolute, we could not endure the hard time. Whenever we felt desperate, we continuously repeated that ‘we should die together, and not to return again to North Korea.’ 

I want to attribute our success to God’s blessing on us.