After landing an enviable job outside North Korea as a waitress, Lee Soung Hee said she was given only one day off per month and had to work even when she learned her mother had died. She said secret police agents monitored waitresses and beat them for hiding tips.
“There were customers who were touching our bodies, but we must not refuse that because our mission was to curry favor with them as much as possible to make them spend all their money,” she said. “When customers poured drinks for us, we had to drink them all. But we could not get intoxicated or we would have been criticized for failing to be loyal to the party.”
She said colleagues who failed to earn target incomes had to go to motels to have sex with customers who would pay about 650 yuan ($100).
Lim, a novelist, was a carpenter for several months in Kuwait. He said he never received his promised $120-a-month salary, though he worked from dawn to midnight at a site surrounded by wire fences. He said he was frustrated when he learned Bangladesh and Indonesian workers nearby earned at least $450 per month. Lim said he was allowed to moonlight at other construction sites after promising North Korean officials a cut of the extra income.
Lee Yong-ho, a defector who was a truck driver at a Russian logging camp, said he often worked 12 to 14 hours per day but never thought about his working conditions. “Slaves? Well, I didn’t actually think about something like that. I only thought how much I could earn each month,” said Lee, now a manual laborer in South Korea.
Kim, who worked at a different Siberian logging camp with about 900 other North Koreans, said dozens of workers died during his stay, many after being hit by falling trees. He said dead workers were stored for months in some vacant houses, with their entire bodies except their heads wrapped by blankets. “It was so cold there that they hadn’t decomposed. Their faces looked just the same as before,” he said. “I once touched some of their faces and it was like touching ice.”