King is a North Korean defector living in New Malden. A 34-year-old restaurateur who runs a Korean barbecue, he only wants to be identified by his nickname “King” amid fears of his family being punished.
His story is also one of heart-wrenching do-or-die decisions and a family ripped in two.
King fled his homeland with his mother and sister when he was aged 18. But his father, a high school teacher who felt loyalty to his job and fear of the regime, stayed behind. As punishment for his family’s actions, his father was fired and sent to a labor camp.
Totalitarian North Korea restricts every aspect of public life, throwing people into Nazi-style camps for crimes as petty as “gossiping” about the state. Ordinary citizens are not allowed to access the internet or the international press, instead having to rely on the propaganda of North Korea’s state-run media.
Nowadays, King only gets to speak to his dad once every two or three years, on the rare occasion his father can get an illicit cellphone capable of making international calls. He hasn’t spoken to any of his friends since he left.
“Yes, I miss them, of course, but I have friends here now,” King said. He quietly added: “It’s difficult to talk about my life here and my life in North Korea.”
In a way, his family’s hand was forced. Before they fled, his aunt had already escaped to China and they risked being punished by proxy if they stayed put.
“We were at a crossroads whether to be sent to prison or fleeing from the country,” he said.
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