The news team met a female North Korean defector in a small town near Yanji, China in October 2007. After three forced deportations back to N. Korea, she finally escaped to China and is currently living with a Chinese man. She provided us with a steady stream of dramatic stories, some delivered awkwardly as they were enacted in reality.
My name is Cho Kyung-sook. I was born in Onsong, North Hamgyong Province 40 years ago. I live in Yanji at present. When I was in North Korea there was no rice for breakfast. We barely even managed to make porridge and, after scraping together what we could, there was to be nothing for lunch again. Sometimes we ate just one meal in two or three days. And with no meal to sustain and nourish them, my children simply lay on the floor helplessly, because they did not even have the energy to sit themselves up. Unable to sustain our lives, my husband ventured to China first in 1998. I followed him in 1999 with our two daughters.
◆ Sex and Housekeeping Slave
The guide who brought me over the Duman (or Tumen) River had promised to take me to my husband. However, he sold me to a Chinese family in a rural town in Changchun for US$940, along with my two daughters. When I was sent there, the family told me that since I had been bought, I was a disposable item rather than an actual daughter-in-law. Their son was deaf and dumb, so he could not find a bride. That's why I was purchased. I had absolutely no choice and was forced to obey everything they told me to do. I was not even allowed to step outside the house in case I ran away. Denied my freedom, I was dragged around like a farm animal and was beaten every time I tried to run away.
While I was taking a beating, my screams went unheard, as the Chinese man was deaf. He would continue to strike me until three or four sticks were broken. Then my legs got so swollen that I couldn't even remove my trousers.
Time went by like that. One day I came up with the idea that, if I bore them a child, I might earn a chance to escape. So I duly conceived and gave birth. And, after a year and nine months, I finally fled with my two kids from North Korea in tow. I was sold to the deaf man on Nov. 29, 1999, delivered his baby in 2000 and escaped from him in June 2001.
◆ Three Deportations and the Death of a Husband
I had tracked down my husband and we managed to live together once again but we were eventually arrested and deported. Soon I was released with our two kids. But my husband was sentenced to compulsory labor for a year. I returned to China, but was arrested again two months later and deported. And I, for the third time, went over the border to China only to be arrested and deported back. When I was caught that time, I lost my first daughter. The other child of mine was locked away separately and I was in compulsory labor for three months while my husband served a year-long prison sentence. It has been only a few days since I found my daughter after four full years apart. My husband was never released from prison -- he passed away after contracting a disease. Such things happen in North Korea. Up to 90 percent of convicts there die in prison. A prison sentence is like the death penalty there.
◆ A Partial Family Reunion After Four Years
My little daughter studies with an acquaintance in Shanghai and my elder daughter was found just 10 days ago. We cried a lot. She survived four years all alone in this harsh land, because we had all been arrested. What might have happened if she had been sold to somebody like I had been? However, to my greatest relief, I miraculously found her thanks to a merciful Chinese person. When I first talked with her on the phone, the voice of my 18-year-old had changed so much that I didn't even recognize it. Then she called me "mom" and reassured that she was my daughter. I asked her mom's birthday, and she answered correctly -- that was the moment I truly realized she must be my daughter. She endured so many hardships all over the place, from Changchun to Beijing and Heilongjiang. However, she finally met a generous old lady who took her in as if she were family.
On the day we were captured, she had hidden herself deep in a forest. She then walked for two days and nights without any sleep in bare feet in freezing March. Her feet were bleeding and frozen black. She finally arrived at a restaurant in Wangqing in that state. She was so frozen and disheveled that people in the restaurant mistook her for a ghost and screamed at her.
Later she was invited to sit, but she was unable to, as her entire body was so frozen -- she couldn't even open her mouth. Two kindly people held her shoulders and gently bent her knees to help her sit. She lied to them that she had been deserted by her Chinese parents.
The master's family suggested that she join them in South Korea a few months later. My daughter rejected this idea, knowing she would be forever parted from us if she went. She told them she would not go anywhere until she could get into contact with us. So there she was, as I found her. My brave daughter had not cried in longing for mom even on special occasions, although she missed me so much. It seems that the series of hardships she endured have just made her stronger than children from fortunate families.
◆ The Lives of Beggars
In the meantime, I had come over to China with my younger daughter and met my current Chinese husband. We planted sunflowers together. I have another two daughters with my husband. I guess I am finally getting a bit lucky -- this man is rather stubborn but he's not harsh or mean. It is rare for North Korean women to marry rich men here. I even worked over Chuseok, Korean Thanksgiving, on our sunflower farm.
But still it feels much easier and happier than life in North Korea. Here I get to see the world freely. How I wish I could send some money to help my brothers in the North! Almost all women from North Korea marry into needy families. I am too poor to help my brothers. We cannot make ends meet if I don’t work, even when I am breastfeeding.
Poor North Korean people are no better than beggars after all, as we cannot feed and clothe ourselves. We are looked down upon by the Chinese. Everybody on earth, whether Chinese, Korean or Japanese, all human beings are supposed to be all the same. So I don't know why only North Korean people have to go through all this famine and poverty.
◆ Unsettled Life and Ticket to South Korea
From my experiences of being deported three times, all North Korean people living in China now wish to go to South Korea 100 percent. I was told that people live in freedom there. I have never been there myself. However, people say that in South Korea we could make all the money we wish, and get IDs since North and South Koreans are brothers and sisters. Life in China is unstable because of the constant fear of arrest.
I've seen people captured on their way to South Korea. They looked like skin-covered skeletons with a bony necks, backs and faces. If it were just me I would be ready to die anytime. But I have two children, so I firmly decided to live so I can raise them. Having made this decision, I have been extremely careful so I don't jeopardize my status and ID.
This morning, however, I had a fight with my in-laws. I have only known hard times my entire life. From now on, I want to live freely, in happiness, just like so many others do. I told them that I want to go to Korea with the news team. I'm 40-years-old and I don't even know what good luck and happiness are. I'd dearly like to live a decent, fulfilling life even just once before I die. That's what I said. They thought I really meant it. I get really jealous when I see women who live happily.
◆ Parting Wishes
My wish is that my mother country will unite soon, or that measures are taken to let North Korean people live as comfortably as I, the poorest in China, do. How poor and hungry they are! I wish they could manage a life at least as half as happy and comfortable as I do, even though I know I'm among the neediest and poorest in China.
By Park Jong-in, Lee Hark-joon