After his release from a North Korean labor camp for defecting, Ryu started working at a coal mine. He said his peers went crazy when he shared the freedoms he had experienced in China, like watching South Korean dramas and K Pop, and eating white rice, seafood and fruit.
“Every time I told these stories to my friends, it also reminded me, ‘What am I doing here,’ “Ryu said. He concluded the risk of escaping for a second time, a crime punishable by death, outweighed working in a coal mine until he died or lost a limb.
So he stole five flashlights from the coal mine, sold them for food and waited three months for an opportunity to travel to the border. When he spotted a train car bound for the North Korean border, Ryu seized his chance. He took advantage of his young age and small stature, telling the train guard his mom had already boarded the train with their tickets.
He spent the next two days hiding from the guards on the train. Ryu said the train had almost reached its destination when he was grabbed by his neck and told he would be handed over to the police at the next stop. Ryu jumped off the moving train, rolled into a ditch and sprinted into nearby woods.
He walked for hours and illegally boarded another train before finally making it to the border town. He then swam through a river and walked for three days, without water or food, into China. Just when he had enough blisters he couldn’t continue, Ryu met a motorcyclist who helped him travel to his father.
With the help of an unknown travel broker, Ryu migrated to Southeast Asia and arranged for his passage to the U.S. Since arriving in America five years ago, Ryu has graduated high school and worked as a sushi chef, Uber and Lyft driver and driving instructor.
Despite the brainwashing, interrogation and labor he endured, Ryu said he does not resent North Korea. “It’s my hometown,” Ryu said. “It’s not the people I hate. It’s the government.”
[Indiana Daily Student]