Together with two women from a village in northeastern China, North Korean defector Suh determined to make it to South Korea. In doing so, she made the heart-wrenching decision to leave her 5-year-old daughter with her Chinese husband.
The women traveled by bus and car down through China to the border with Laos, which they crossed illegally in the black of night, Suh carrying her 18-month-old daughter, Ji-yeon, on her back.
While waiting to cross the Mekong River, the women talked about the difficult decisions they had had to make. Suh’s 5-year-old is listed on her Chinese father’s family register, which gives her legal status in China and enables her to go to school. But by the time Ji-yeon was born, the back channel for registration — involving bribes to willing officials — had closed. The baby doesn’t legally exist.
So when Suh decided to flee and realized she could only manage to take one child with her, she knew it had to be Ji-yeon.
“[My 5-year-old] thinks I’ve abandoned her,” Suh said, breaking down into another torrent of tears as she recalled telling her older daughter she would be back soon.
The women made it to Vientiane, the Laotian capital, where a Washington Post reporter spent two days with them as they paused on their journey to what they hoped would be a better life. The women talked for hours about their lives in North Korea and in China but, unlike some defectors who exaggerate their stories to make them more sensational, they appeared to play down their experiences, apparently out of shame.
The relief of being out of China had washed over the women, and the challenges ahead loomed. The women had begun to dwell on the handicaps that North Koreans face. “I have no passport, no papers, nothing,” Suh said. “Why are our lives so different, just because of where we are born?”
[The Washington Post]