Monday, March 14, 2011

Our Neighbors to the North

Before I came to Korea, pretty much all I knew about North Korea was
a) it is a scary, scary place
b) it's pretty much the world's last "Commie" nation
c) Kim Jong Ill can sure look terrifying, even in those goofy jumpsuits he's so fond of

Since I've been in Korea, however, I've obviously learned quite a bit more about Korean history, and more specifically, North Korean history. It really is a fascinating place, and these three books have really peaked my interest in particular:
1) Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick was based off of the testimonials of North Korean refugees who defected to South Korea. Some of the most striking descriptions of everyday life within the Hermit Kingdom I've ever read. I also was particularly struck by how many of the interviewees expressed a desire to go BACK to North Korea, after not adapting horribly well to life within the ROK.
2) The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan and Pierre Rigoulot, focuses on the latter's experiences living for almost 10 years within a North Korean gulag, or prison camp. I found it extremely interesting that Kang was actually born in Japan--his family decided to immigrate to North Korea after being convinced by his communistic grandmother to return to the motherland. Kang's family came to North Korea with lots of Japanese things/money, and he suspects he and his family are thrown in the gulag more out of jealousy/spite than anything else
3) Escaping North Korea by Mike Kim. This guy was on The Daily Show a long while ago, prompting me to download his book on my Kindle. A Korean-American, Kim helps smuggle North Korean refugees out of the country. I found his style really refreshingly simple, and he had a lot of interesting things to say about North Korean people who are religiously persecuted within the country.

These days, it seems like I have been thinking/talking/seeing a lot about North Korea, including this fascinating video taken by an American man on a tour in Pyongyang:

Pyongyang Style - North Korean Haircut from Steve Gong on Vimeo.

I've recently started volunteering with this group, which raises money to smuggle refugees out of North Korea, and also works to raises awareness of the human rights crisis going on in North Korea right now:

There are so many unbelievably messed up things that happen in North Korea. This describes just the tip of the iceberg.

I find one of the most frustrating things about the North Korean situation is that there is seemingly so little to be done, except raise money, put more pressure on international orgs like the ICC and the UN, and encourage awareness and education about such a mysterious place as North Korea. Last weekend, I handed out flyers with statistics on North Korea in Insadong, a busy, touristy area of Seoul, while this hip-hop artist preformed this slightly goofy, but clearly very heartfelt song:

Do you have any suggestions/ideas of things people can do to raise awareness/DO SOMETHING about the North Korean situation? Internet, what do you think?

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