Yearning for North Korea, the nation they fled

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For tens of thousands of North Koreans scattered across South Korea and living underground in China, North Korea is complicated, a memory they wrestle with. It’s home. It’s the place they left behind. And even if there is plenty they hate about it, there is also much that they miss, sometimes achingly.

They miss relatives and friends and the small-town neighborliness that can come, admittedly, in not having many recreation choices. They miss dancing to accordion music in public parks on their days off, and the greasy street food they’d yearn for when they were most hungry.

A convenience store manager in Seoul, whose muscular arms still betray his years as a miner, misses the siblings he left behind, and the nieces and nephews he may never meet. Relatives in South Korea paid smugglers to get his family out, he said, but his siblings wouldn’t go. “They were too afraid,” he said. “Now they regret it.”

Polls of North Korean refugees now in South Korea indicate many still have some fondness for the leaders in Pyongyang. “All three (of the Kim family dictators) really did think of the North Korean people,” said another exile, a former North Korean policeman who acknowledged that he is torn about his feelings.

North Korea, he noted, has spent billions of dollars on its military even as so many of its people have gone hungry. But, he added, his homeland is also a small, poor country that has successfully stood up to the world, surviving international isolation and years of economic sanctions. So when Pyongyang sets off a nuclear test or test-fires a missile, he sees a leader proving he cannot be bullied.

His sometimes-generous view of North Korea is mixed up with his difficulty adjusting to life in South, a common problem among the defectors who live in South Korea. He hasn’t been able to hold a job for more than few months, and constantly worries that he’s being discriminated against. He’s overwhelmed by the South, sometimes talks about wanting to return home. Lost amid Seoul’s dual whirlwinds of consumerism and competitiveness, he yearns for the days when things seemed simpler.


This entry was posted in by Grant Montgomery.

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