In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom

❴EPUB❵ ✷ In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom Author Yeonmi Park – Ahali.co Visit for a larger version of this mapPrologueOn the cold black night of March my mother and I scrambled down the steep rocky bank of the frozen Yalu River that divides North Korea and China There werVisit for a larger version of this mapPrologueOn the cold black night of March my mother and I scrambled down the steep rocky bank of the frozen Yalu River that divides North Korea and China There were patrols above us and below and guard posts one hundred yards on either side of us manned by soldiers ready to shoot anyone attempting to cross the border We had no idea what would come next but we were desperate to get to China where there might be a chance to surviveI was thirteen years old and weighed only sixty pounds Just a week earlier Id been in a hospital in my hometown of Hyesan along the Chinese border suffering from a severe intestinal infection that the doctors had mistakenly diagnosed as appendicitis I was still in terrible pain from the incision and was so weak I could barely walkThe young North Korean smuggler who was guiding us across the border insisted we had to go that night He had paid some guards to look the other way but he couldnt bribe all the soldiers in the area so we had to be extremely cautious I followed him in the darkness but I was so unsteady that I had to scoot down the bank on my bottom sending small avalanches of rocks crashing ahead of me He turned and whispered angrily for me to stop making so much noise But it was too late We could see the silhouette of a North Korean soldier climbing up from the riverbed If this was one of the bribed border guards he didnt seem to recognize usGo back the soldier shouted Get out of here Our guide scrambled down to meet him and we could hear them talking in hushed voices Our guide returned aloneLets go he said Hurry It was early spring and the weather was getting warmer melting patches of the frozen river The place where we crossed was steep and narrow protected from the sun during the day so it was still solid enough to hold our weightwe hoped Our guide made a cell phone call to someone on the other side the Chinese side and then whispered Run The guide started running but my feet would not move and I clung to my mother I was so scared that I was completely paralyzed The guide ran back for us grabbed my hands and dragged me across the ice When we reached solid ground we started running and didnt stop until we were out of sight of the border guardsThe riverbank was dark but the lights of Chaingbai China glowed just ahead of us I turned to take a uick glance back at the place where I was born The electric power grid was down as usual and all I could see was a black lifeless horizon I felt my heart pounding out of my chest as we arrived at a small shack on the edge of some flat vacant fieldsI wasnt dreaming of freedom when I escaped from North Korea I didnt even know what it meant to be free All I knew was that if my family stayed behind we would probably diefrom starvation from disease from the inhuman conditions of a prison labor camp The hunger had become unbearable I was willing to risk my life for the promise of a bowl of riceBut there wasto our journey than our own survival My mother and I were searching for my older sister Eunmi who had left for China a few days earlier and had not been heard from since We hoped that she would be there waiting for us when we crossed the river Instead the only person to greet us was a bald middle aged Chinese man an ethnic North Korean like many of the people living in this border area The man said something to my mother and then led her around the side of the building From where I waited I could hear my mother pleading Aniyo AniyoNo No I knew then that something was terribly wrong We had come to a bad place maybe even worse than the one we had leftI am most grateful for two things that I was born in North Korea and that I escaped from North Korea Both of these events shaped me and I would not trade them for an ordinary and peaceful life But there isto the story of how I became who I am todayLike tens of thousands of other North Koreans I escaped my homeland and settled in South Korea where we are still considered citizens as if a sealed border and nearly seventy years of conflict and tension never divided us North and South Koreans have the same ethnic backgrounds and we speak the same languageexcept in the North there are no words for things like shopping malls liberty or even love at least as the rest of the world knows it The only true love we can express is worship for the Kims a dynasty of dictators who have ruled North Korea for three generations The regime blocks all outside information all videos and movies and jams radio signals There is no World Wide Web and no Wikipedia The only books are filled with propaganda telling us that we live in the greatest country in the world even though at least half of North Koreans live in extreme poverty and many are chronically malnourished My former country doesnt even call itself North Koreait claims to be Chosun the true Korea a perfect socialist paradise where million people live only to serve the Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Many of us who have escaped call ourselves defectors because by refusing to accept our fate and die for the Leader we have deserted our duty The regime calls us traitors If I tried to return I would be executedThe information blockade works both ways not only does the government attempt to keep all foreign media from reaching its people it also prevents outsiders from learning the truth about North Korea The regime is known as the Hermit Kingdom because it tries to make itself unknowable Only those of us who have escaped can describe what really goes on behind the sealed borders But until recently our stories were seldom heardI arrived in South Korea in the spring ofa fifteen year old with no money and the euivalent of two years of primary school Five years later I was a sopho at a top university in Seoul a police administration major with a growing awareness of the burning need for justice in the land where I was bornI have told the story of my escape from North Korea many times in many forums I have described how human traffickers tricked my mother and me into following them to China where my mother protected me and sacrificed herself to be raped by the broker who had targeted me Once in China we continued to look for my sister without success My father crossed the border to join us in our search but he died of untreated cancer a few months later Inmy mother and I were rescued by Christian missionaries who led us to the Mongolian border with China From there we walked through the frigid Gobi Desert one endless winter night following the stars to freedomAll this is true but it is not the whole storyBefore now only my mother knew what really happened in the two years that passed between the night we crossed the Yalu River into China and the day we arrived in South Korea to begin a new life I told almost nothing of my story to the other defectors and human rights advocates I met in South Korea I believed that somehow if I refused to acknowledge the unspeakable past it would disappear I convinced myself that a lot of it never happened I taught myself to forget the restBut as I began to write this book I realized that without the whole truth my life would have no power no real meaning With the help of my mother the memories of our lives in North Korea and China came back to me like scenes from a forgotten nightmare Some of the images reappeared with a terrible clarity others were hazy or scrambled like a deck of cards spilled on the floor The process of writing has been the process of remembering and of trying to make sense out of those memoriesAlong with writing reading has helped me order my world As soon as I arrived in South Korea and could get my hands on translations of the worlds great books I began devouring them Later I was able to read them in English And as I began to write my own book I came across a famous line by Joan Didion We tell ourselves stories in order to live Even though the writer and I come from such different cultures I feel the truth of those words echoing inside me I understand that sometimes the only way we can survive our own memories is to shape them into a story that makes sense out of events that seem inexplicableAlong my journey I have seen the horrors that humans can inflict on one another but Ive also witnessed acts of tenderness and kindness and sacrifice in the worst imaginable circumstances I know that it is possible to lose part of your humanity in order to survive But I also know that the spark of human dignity is never completely extinguished and that given the oxygen of freedom and the power of love it can grow againThis is my story of the choices I made in order to liveRT ONENorth KoreaOneEven the Birds and Mice Can Hear You WhisperThe Yalu River winds like the tail of a dragon between China and North Korea on its way to the Yellow Sea At Hyesan it opens into a valley in the Paektu Mountains where the city ofsprawls between rolling hills and a high plateau covered with fields patches of trees and graves The river usually shallow and tame is frozen solid during winter which lasts the better part of the year This is the coldest part of North Korea with temperatures sometimes plunging to minus degrees Fahrenheit Only the toughest surviveTo me Hyesan was homeJust across the river is the Chinese city of Chaingbai which has a large population of ethnic Koreans Families on both sides of the border have been trading with one another for generations As a child I would often stand in the darkness and stare across the river at the lights of Chaingbai wondering what was going on beyond my citys limits It was exciting to watch the colorful fireworks explode in the velvet black sky during festivals and Chinese New Year We never had such things on our side of the border Sometimes when I walked down to the river to fill my buckets with water and the damp wind was blowing just right I could actually smell delicious food oily noodles and dumplings cooking in the kitchens on the other side The same wind carried the voices of the Chinese children who were playing on the opposite bankHey you Are you hungry over there the boys shouted in KoreanNo Shut up you fat Chinese I shouted backThis wasnt true In fact I was very hungry but there was no use in talking about itI came into this world too soonMy mother was only seven months pregnant when she went into labor and when I was born on October I weighed less than three pounds The doctor at the hospital in Hyesan told my mother that I was so small there wasnt anything they could do for me She might live or she might die he said We dont know It was up to me to liveNo matter how many blankets my mother wrapped around me she couldnt keep me warm So she heated up a stone and put it in the blanket with me and thats how I survived A few days later my parents brought me home and waitedMy sister Eunmi had been born two years earlier and this time my father Park Jin Sik was hoping for a son In patriarchal North Korea it was the male line that really mattered However he uickly recovered from his disappointment Most of the time its the mother who makes the strongest bond with a baby but my father was the one who could soothe me when I was crying It was in my fathers arms that I felt protected and cherished Both my mother and my father encouraged me from the start to be proud of who I amWhen I was very young we lived in a one story house perched on a hill above the railroad tracks that curved like a rusty spine through the cityOur house was small and drafty and because we shared a wall with a neighbor we could always hear what was going on next door We could also hear mice sueaking and skittering around in the ceiling at night But it was paradise to me because we were there together as a familyMy first memories are of the dark and the cold During the winter months the most popular place in our house was a small fireplace that burned wood or coal or whatever we could find We cooked on top of the fire and there were channels running under the cement floor to carry the smoke to a wooden chimney on the other side of the house This traditional heating system was supposed to keep the room warm but it was no match for the icy nights At the end of the day my mother would spread a thick blanket out next to the fire and we would all climb under the coversfirst my mother then me then my sister and my father on the end in the coldest spot Once the sun went down you couldnt see anything at all In our part of North Korea it was normal to go for weeks and even months without any electricity and candles were very expensive So we played games in the dark Sometimes under the covers we would tease each otherWhose foot is this my mother would say poking with her toeIts mine its mine Eunmi would cryOn winter evenings and mornings and even in summertime everywhere we looked we could see smoke coming from the chimneys of Hyesan Our neighborhood was very cozy and small and we knew everyone who lived there If smoke was not coming out of someones house wed go knock on the door to check if everything was okayThe unpaved lanes between houses were too narrow for cars although this wasnt much of a problem because there were so few cars People in our neighborhood got around on foot or for the few who could afford one on bicycle or motorbike The paths would turn slippery with mud after a rain and that was the best time for the neighborhood kids to play our favorite chasing game But I was smaller and slower than the other children my age and always had a hard time fitting in and keeping upWhen I started school Eunmi sometimes had to fight the older kids to defend me She wasnt very big either but she was smart and uick She was my protector and playmate When it snowed she carried me up the hills around our neighborhood put me in her lap and wrapped her arms around me I held on tight as we slid back down on our bottoms screaming and laughing I was just happy to be part of her worldIn the summer all the kids went down to play in the Yalu River but I never learned how to swim I just sat on the bank while the others paddled out into the current Sometimes my sister or my best friend Yong Ja would see me by myself and bring me some pretty rocks theyd found in the deep river And sometimes they held me in their arms and carried me a little way into the water before bringing me back to shoreYong Ja and I were the same age and we lived in the s.

Ame part of town I liked her because we were both good at using our imaginations to create our own toys You could find a few manufactured dolls and other toys in the market but they were usually too expensive Instead we made little bowls and animals out of mud and sometimes even miniature tanks homemade military toys were very big in North Korea But we girls were obsessed with paper dolls and spent hours cutting them out of thick paper making dresses and scarves for them out of scrapsSometimes my mother made pinwheels for us and we would fasten them on to the metal footbridge above the railroad we called the Cloud Bridge Years later when life was much harder andcomplicated I would pass by that bridge and think of how happy it made us to watch those pinwheels spin in the open breezeWhen I was young I didnt hear the background noise of mechanical sounds like I do now in South Korea and the United States There werent garbage trucks churning horns honking or phones ringing everywhere All I could hear were the sounds people were making women washing dishes mothers calling their children the clink of spoons and chopsticks on rice bowls as families sat down to eat Sometimes I could hear my friends being scolded by their parents There was no music blaring in the background no eyes glued to smartphones back then But there was human intimacy and connection something that is hard to find in the modern world I inhabit todayAt our house in Hyesan our water pipes were almost always dry so my mother usually carried our clothes down to the river and washed them there When she brought them back she put them on the warm floor to dryBecause electricity was so rare in our neighborhood whenever the lights came on people were so happy they would sing and clap and shout Even in the middle of the night we would wake up to celebrate When you have so little just the smallest thing can make you happyand that is one of the very few features of life in North Korea that I actually miss Of course the lights would never stay on for long When they flickered off we just said Oh well and went back to sleepEven when the electricity came on the power was very low so many families had a voltage booster to help run the appliances These machines were always catching on fire and one March night it happened at our house while my parents were out I was just a baby and all I remember is waking up and crying while someone carried me through the smoke and flames I dont know if it was my sister or our neighbor who saved me My mother came running when someone told her about the blaze but my sister and I were both already safe in the neighbors house Our home was destroyed by the fire but right away my father rebuilt it with his own handsAfter that we planted a garden in our small fenced yard My mother and sister werent interested in gardening but my father and I loved it We put in suash and cabbage and cucumbers and sunflowers My father also planted beautiful fuchsia flowers we called ear drops along the fence I adored draping the long delicate blossoms from my ears and pretending they were earrings My mother asked my father why he was wasting valuable space planting flowers but he ignored herIn North Korea people lived close to nature and they developed skills to predict the next days weather We didnt have the Internet and usually couldnt watch the governments broadcast on television because of the electricity shortage So we had to figure it out ourselvesDuring the long summer nights our neighbors would all sit around outside their houses in the evening air There were no chairs we just sat on the ground looking at the sky If we saw millions of stars up there someone would remark Tomorrow will be a sunny day And wed all murmur agreement If there were only thousands of stars someone else might say Looks like tomorrow will be cloudy That was our local forecastThe best day of every month was Noodle Day when my mother bought fresh moist noodles that were made in a machine in town We wanted them to last a long time so we spread them out on the warm kitchen floor to dry It was like a holiday for my sister and me because we would get to sneak a few noodles and eat them while they were still soft and sweet In the earliest years of my life before the worst of the famine that struck North Korea in the mid s had gripped our city our friends would come around and we would share the noodles with them In North Korea you are supposed to share everything But later when times were much harder for our family and for the country my mother told us to chase the children away We couldnt afford to share anythingDuring the good times a family meal would consist of rice kimchi some kind of beans and seaweed soup But those things were too expensive to eat during the lean times Sometimes we would skip meals and often all we had to eat was a thin porridge of wheat or barley beans or black frozen potatoes ground and made into cakes filled with cabbageThe country I grew up in was not like the one my parents had known as children in the s and s When they were young the state took care of everyones basic needs clothes medical care food After the Cold War ended the Communist countries that had been propping up the North Korean regime all but abandoned it and our state controlled economy collapsed North Koreans were suddenly on their ownI was too young to realize how desperate things were becoming in the grown up world as my family tried to adapt to the massive changes in North Korea during the s After my sister and I were asleep my parents would sometimes lie awake sick with worry wondering what they could do to keep us all from starving to deathAnything I did overhear I learned uickly not to repeat I was taught never to express my opinion never to uestion anything I was taught to simply follow what the government told me to do or say or think I actually believed that our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il could read my mind and I would be punished for my bad thoughts And if he didnt hear me spies were everywhere listening at the windows and watching in the school yard We all belonged to inminban or neighborhood peoples units and we were ordered to inform on anyone who said the wrong thing We lived in fear and almost everyonemy mother includedhad a personal experience that demonstrated the dangers of talkingI was only nine months old when Kim Il Sung died on JulyNorth Koreans worshipped the eighty two year old Great Leader At the time of his death Kim Il Sung had ruled North Korea with an iron grip for almost five decades and true believersmy mother includedthought that Kim Il Sung was actually immortal His passing was a time of passionate mourning and also uncertainty in the country The Great Leaders son Kim Jong Il had already been chosen to succeed his father but the huge void Kim Il Sung left behind had everyone on edgeMy mother strapped me on her back to join the thousands of mourners who daily flocked to the plaza like Kim Il Sung monument in Hyesan to weep and wail for the fallen Leader during the official mourning period The mourners left offerings of flowers and cups of rice liuor to show their adoration and griefDuring that time one of my fathers relatives was visiting from northeast China where many ethnic North Koreans lived Because he was a foreigner he was not as reverent about the Great Leader and when my mother came back from one of her trips to the monument Uncle Yong Soo repeated a story he had just heard The Pyongyang government had announced that Kim Il Sung had died of a heart attack but Yong Soo reported that a Chinese friend told him he had heard from a North Korean police officer that it wasnt true The real cause of death he said was hwa byunga common diagnosis in both North and South Korea that roughly translates into disease caused by mental or emotional stress Yong Soo had heard that there were disagreements between Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il over the elder Kims plans to hold talks with South KoreaStop my mother said Dont say another word She was so upset that Yong Soo would dare to spread rumors about the regime that she had to be rude to her guest and shut him upThe next day she and her best friend were visiting the monument to placeflowers when they noticed someone had vandalized the offeringsOh there are such bad people in this world her friend saidYou are so right my mother said You wouldnt believe the evil rumor that our enemies have been spreading And then she told her friend about the lies she had heardThe following day she was walking across the Cloud Bridge when she noticed an official looking car parked in the lane below our house and a large group of men gathered around it She immediately knew something awful was about to happenThe visitors were plainclothes agents of the dreaded bo wi bu or National Security Agency that ran the political prison camps and investigated threats to the regime Everybody knew these men could take you away and you would never be heard from again Worse these werent locals they had been sent from headuartersThe senior agent met my mother at our door and led her to our neighbors house which he had borrowed for the afternoon They both sat and he looked at her with eyes like black glassDo you know why Im here he askedYes I do she saidSo where did you hear that he saidShe told him shed heard the rumor from her husbands Chinese uncle who had heard it from a friendWhat do you think of it he saidIts a terrible evil rumor she said most sincerely Its a lie told by our enemies who are trying to destroy the greatest nation in the world What do you think you have done wrong he said flatlySir I should have gone to the party organization to report it I was wrong to just tell it to an individualNo you are wrong he said You should never have let those words out of your mouthNow she was sure she was going to die She kept telling him she was sorry begging to spare her life for the sake of her two babies As we say in Korea she begged until she thought her hands would wear offFinally he said in a sharp voice that chilled her bones You must never mention this again Not to your friends or your husband or your children Do you understand what will happen if you do She did CompletelyNext he interrogated Uncle Yong Soo who was nervously waiting with the family at our house My mother thinks that she was spared any punishment because Yong Soo confirmed to the agent how angry she had been when he told her the rumorWhen it was over the agents rode away in their car My uncle went back to China When my father asked my mother what the secret police wanted from her she said it was nothing she could talk about and never mentioned it again My father went to his grave without knowing how close they had come to disasterMany years later after she told me her story I finally understood why when my mother sent me off to school she never said Have a good day or even Watch out for strangers What she always said was Take care of your mouthIn most countries a mother encourages her children to ask about everything but not in North Korea As soon as I was old enough to understand my mother warned me that I should be careful about what I was saying Remember Yeonmi ya she said gently even when you think youre alone the birds and mice can hear you whisper She didnt mean to scare me but I felt a deep darkness and horror inside meTwoA Dangerous HistoryI think my father would have become a millionaire if he had grown up in South Korea or the United States But he was born in North Korea where family connections and party loyalty are all that matter and hard work guarantees you nothing buthard work and a constant struggle to survivePark Jin Sik was born in the industrial port city of Hamhung on March into a military family with good political connections This should have given him a great advantage in life because in North Korea all of your opportunities are determined by your caste or songbun When Kim Il Sung came to power after World War II he upended the traditional feudal system that divided the people into landlords and peasants nobility and commoners priests and scholars He ordered background checks on every citizen to find out everything about them and their families going back generations In the songbun system everyone is ranked among three main groups based on their supposed loyalty to the regimeThe highest is the core class made up of honored revolutionariespeasants veterans or relatives of those who fought or died for the Northand those who have demonstrated great loyalty to the Kim family and are part of the apparatus that keeps them in power Second is the basic or wavering class made up of those who once lived in the South or had family there former merchants intellectuals or any ordinary person who might not be trusted to have complete loyalty to the new order Finally lowest of all is the hostile class including former landowners and their descendants capitalists former South Korean soldiers Christians or other religious followers the families of political prisoners and any other perceived enemies of the stateIt is extremely difficult to move to a higher songbun but it is very easy to be cast down into the lowest levels through no fault of your own And as my father and his family found out once you lose your songbun status you lose everything else you have achieved along with itMy fathers father Park Chang Gyu grew up in the countryside near Hyesan when Korea was a Japanese colonyForthan four thousand years there has been one Korean people but many different Koreas Legend tells us that our history began in BC with a kingdom called Chosun which means Morning Land Despite its soothing name my homeland has rarely been peaceful The Korean peninsula lay at the crossroads of great empires and over the centuries Korean kingdoms had to fight off invaders from Manchuria to Mongolia and beyond Then in the early twentieth century the expanding Japanese empire slowly absorbed Korea using threats and treaties finally annexing the whole country in That was two years before the birth of North Koreas first Leader Kim Il Sung and eleven years before my grandfather Park was bornThe Japanese were despotic colonial rulers who tried to destroy Korean culture and turn us into second class citizens in our own land They outlawed the Korean language and took over our farms and industries This behavior sparked a nati.

order book live: download north download korean book girl's ebok journey epub freedom free In Order free to Live: ebok to Live: A North kindle Order to Live: download Order to Live: A North ebok In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom PDF/EPUBAme part of town I liked her because we were both good at using our imaginations to create our own toys You could find a few manufactured dolls and other toys in the market but they were usually too expensive Instead we made little bowls and animals out of mud and sometimes even miniature tanks homemade military toys were very big in North Korea But we girls were obsessed with paper dolls and spent hours cutting them out of thick paper making dresses and scarves for them out of scrapsSometimes my mother made pinwheels for us and we would fasten them on to the metal footbridge above the railroad we called the Cloud Bridge Years later when life was much harder andcomplicated I would pass by that bridge and think of how happy it made us to watch those pinwheels spin in the open breezeWhen I was young I didnt hear the background noise of mechanical sounds like I do now in South Korea and the United States There werent garbage trucks churning horns honking or phones ringing everywhere All I could hear were the sounds people were making women washing dishes mothers calling their children the clink of spoons and chopsticks on rice bowls as families sat down to eat Sometimes I could hear my friends being scolded by their parents There was no music blaring in the background no eyes glued to smartphones back then But there was human intimacy and connection something that is hard to find in the modern world I inhabit todayAt our house in Hyesan our water pipes were almost always dry so my mother usually carried our clothes down to the river and washed them there When she brought them back she put them on the warm floor to dryBecause electricity was so rare in our neighborhood whenever the lights came on people were so happy they would sing and clap and shout Even in the middle of the night we would wake up to celebrate When you have so little just the smallest thing can make you happyand that is one of the very few features of life in North Korea that I actually miss Of course the lights would never stay on for long When they flickered off we just said Oh well and went back to sleepEven when the electricity came on the power was very low so many families had a voltage booster to help run the appliances These machines were always catching on fire and one March night it happened at our house while my parents were out I was just a baby and all I remember is waking up and crying while someone carried me through the smoke and flames I dont know if it was my sister or our neighbor who saved me My mother came running when someone told her about the blaze but my sister and I were both already safe in the neighbors house Our home was destroyed by the fire but right away my father rebuilt it with his own handsAfter that we planted a garden in our small fenced yard My mother and sister werent interested in gardening but my father and I loved it We put in suash and cabbage and cucumbers and sunflowers My father also planted beautiful fuchsia flowers we called ear drops along the fence I adored draping the long delicate blossoms from my ears and pretending they were earrings My mother asked my father why he was wasting valuable space planting flowers but he ignored herIn North Korea people lived close to nature and they developed skills to predict the next days weather We didnt have the Internet and usually couldnt watch the governments broadcast on television because of the electricity shortage So we had to figure it out ourselvesDuring the long summer nights our neighbors would all sit around outside their houses in the evening air There were no chairs we just sat on the ground looking at the sky If we saw millions of stars up there someone would remark Tomorrow will be a sunny day And wed all murmur agreement If there were only thousands of stars someone else might say Looks like tomorrow will be cloudy That was our local forecastThe best day of every month was Noodle Day when my mother bought fresh moist noodles that were made in a machine in town We wanted them to last a long time so we spread them out on the warm kitchen floor to dry It was like a holiday for my sister and me because we would get to sneak a few noodles and eat them while they were still soft and sweet In the earliest years of my life before the worst of the famine that struck North Korea in the mid s had gripped our city our friends would come around and we would share the noodles with them In North Korea you are supposed to share everything But later when times were much harder for our family and for the country my mother told us to chase the children away We couldnt afford to share anythingDuring the good times a family meal would consist of rice kimchi some kind of beans and seaweed soup But those things were too expensive to eat during the lean times Sometimes we would skip meals and often all we had to eat was a thin porridge of wheat or barley beans or black frozen potatoes ground and made into cakes filled with cabbageThe country I grew up in was not like the one my parents had known as children in the s and s When they were young the state took care of everyones basic needs clothes medical care food After the Cold War ended the Communist countries that had been propping up the North Korean regime all but abandoned it and our state controlled economy collapsed North Koreans were suddenly on their ownI was too young to realize how desperate things were becoming in the grown up world as my family tried to adapt to the massive changes in North Korea during the s After my sister and I were asleep my parents would sometimes lie awake sick with worry wondering what they could do to keep us all from starving to deathAnything I did overhear I learned uickly not to repeat I was taught never to express my opinion never to uestion anything I was taught to simply follow what the government told me to do or say or think I actually believed that our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il could read my mind and I would be punished for my bad thoughts And if he didnt hear me spies were everywhere listening at the windows and watching in the school yard We all belonged to inminban or neighborhood peoples units and we were ordered to inform on anyone who said the wrong thing We lived in fear and almost everyonemy mother includedhad a personal experience that demonstrated the dangers of talkingI was only nine months old when Kim Il Sung died on JulyNorth Koreans worshipped the eighty two year old Great Leader At the time of his death Kim Il Sung had ruled North Korea with an iron grip for almost five decades and true believersmy mother includedthought that Kim Il Sung was actually immortal His passing was a time of passionate mourning and also uncertainty in the country The Great Leaders son Kim Jong Il had already been chosen to succeed his father but the huge void Kim Il Sung left behind had everyone on edgeMy mother strapped me on her back to join the thousands of mourners who daily flocked to the plaza like Kim Il Sung monument in Hyesan to weep and wail for the fallen Leader during the official mourning period The mourners left offerings of flowers and cups of rice liuor to show their adoration and griefDuring that time one of my fathers relatives was visiting from northeast China where many ethnic North Koreans lived Because he was a foreigner he was not as reverent about the Great Leader and when my mother came back from one of her trips to the monument Uncle Yong Soo repeated a story he had just heard The Pyongyang government had announced that Kim Il Sung had died of a heart attack but Yong Soo reported that a Chinese friend told him he had heard from a North Korean police officer that it wasnt true The real cause of death he said was hwa byunga common diagnosis in both North and South Korea that roughly translates into disease caused by mental or emotional stress Yong Soo had heard that there were disagreements between Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il over the elder Kims plans to hold talks with South KoreaStop my mother said Dont say another word She was so upset that Yong Soo would dare to spread rumors about the regime that she had to be rude to her guest and shut him upThe next day she and her best friend were visiting the monument to placeflowers when they noticed someone had vandalized the offeringsOh there are such bad people in this world her friend saidYou are so right my mother said You wouldnt believe the evil rumor that our enemies have been spreading And then she told her friend about the lies she had heardThe following day she was walking across the Cloud Bridge when she noticed an official looking car parked in the lane below our house and a large group of men gathered around it She immediately knew something awful was about to happenThe visitors were plainclothes agents of the dreaded bo wi bu or National Security Agency that ran the political prison camps and investigated threats to the regime Everybody knew these men could take you away and you would never be heard from again Worse these werent locals they had been sent from headuartersThe senior agent met my mother at our door and led her to our neighbors house which he had borrowed for the afternoon They both sat and he looked at her with eyes like black glassDo you know why Im here he askedYes I do she saidSo where did you hear that he saidShe told him shed heard the rumor from her husbands Chinese uncle who had heard it from a friendWhat do you think of it he saidIts a terrible evil rumor she said most sincerely Its a lie told by our enemies who are trying to destroy the greatest nation in the world What do you think you have done wrong he said flatlySir I should have gone to the party organization to report it I was wrong to just tell it to an individualNo you are wrong he said You should never have let those words out of your mouthNow she was sure she was going to die She kept telling him she was sorry begging to spare her life for the sake of her two babies As we say in Korea she begged until she thought her hands would wear offFinally he said in a sharp voice that chilled her bones You must never mention this again Not to your friends or your husband or your children Do you understand what will happen if you do She did CompletelyNext he interrogated Uncle Yong Soo who was nervously waiting with the family at our house My mother thinks that she was spared any punishment because Yong Soo confirmed to the agent how angry she had been when he told her the rumorWhen it was over the agents rode away in their car My uncle went back to China When my father asked my mother what the secret police wanted from her she said it was nothing she could talk about and never mentioned it again My father went to his grave without knowing how close they had come to disasterMany years later after she told me her story I finally understood why when my mother sent me off to school she never said Have a good day or even Watch out for strangers What she always said was Take care of your mouthIn most countries a mother encourages her children to ask about everything but not in North Korea As soon as I was old enough to understand my mother warned me that I should be careful about what I was saying Remember Yeonmi ya she said gently even when you think youre alone the birds and mice can hear you whisper She didnt mean to scare me but I felt a deep darkness and horror inside meTwoA Dangerous HistoryI think my father would have become a millionaire if he had grown up in South Korea or the United States But he was born in North Korea where family connections and party loyalty are all that matter and hard work guarantees you nothing buthard work and a constant struggle to survivePark Jin Sik was born in the industrial port city of Hamhung on March into a military family with good political connections This should have given him a great advantage in life because in North Korea all of your opportunities are determined by your caste or songbun When Kim Il Sung came to power after World War II he upended the traditional feudal system that divided the people into landlords and peasants nobility and commoners priests and scholars He ordered background checks on every citizen to find out everything about them and their families going back generations In the songbun system everyone is ranked among three main groups based on their supposed loyalty to the regimeThe highest is the core class made up of honored revolutionariespeasants veterans or relatives of those who fought or died for the Northand those who have demonstrated great loyalty to the Kim family and are part of the apparatus that keeps them in power Second is the basic or wavering class made up of those who once lived in the South or had family there former merchants intellectuals or any ordinary person who might not be trusted to have complete loyalty to the new order Finally lowest of all is the hostile class including former landowners and their descendants capitalists former South Korean soldiers Christians or other religious followers the families of political prisoners and any other perceived enemies of the stateIt is extremely difficult to move to a higher songbun but it is very easy to be cast down into the lowest levels through no fault of your own And as my father and his family found out once you lose your songbun status you lose everything else you have achieved along with itMy fathers father Park Chang Gyu grew up in the countryside near Hyesan when Korea was a Japanese colonyForthan four thousand years there has been one Korean people but many different Koreas Legend tells us that our history began in BC with a kingdom called Chosun which means Morning Land Despite its soothing name my homeland has rarely been peaceful The Korean peninsula lay at the crossroads of great empires and over the centuries Korean kingdoms had to fight off invaders from Manchuria to Mongolia and beyond Then in the early twentieth century the expanding Japanese empire slowly absorbed Korea using threats and treaties finally annexing the whole country in That was two years before the birth of North Koreas first Leader Kim Il Sung and eleven years before my grandfather Park was bornThe Japanese were despotic colonial rulers who tried to destroy Korean culture and turn us into second class citizens in our own land They outlawed the Korean language and took over our farms and industries This behavior sparked a nati.

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom Is a well known author some of his books are a fascination for readers like in the In Order to Live A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom book this is one of the most wanted Yeonmi Park author readers around the world

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