Nothing Compared to Their Suffering

Tie a yellow ribbon round the ole oak tree.
It’s been three long years, do ya still want me?
I can’t believe I see. A hundred yellow ribbons round the ole oak tree.
I’m comin’ home.

[imText1] ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ is a cheerful tune known and appreciated the world over. It was written by the American pop group ‘Dawn’ in 1973, and they based the song’s lyrics on a true story. Following its release, yellow handkerchiefs came to be synonymous with remembering and calling for the return of someone long gone.

The chief of the movement to rescue Shin Suk Ja and her children, Choi Hong Jae of North-South Youth Action, will launch a 680km trek to raise awareness of the plight of Shin Suk Ja in Tongyeong on the south coast of South Korea tomorrow. However, today he is talking to Daily NK.

The yellow handkerchief campaign will see Choi and his contingent tie 517 yellow handkerchiefs to three trees in every city they visit. 517 abductees, and three members of the family of the Daughter of Tongyeong.

“This trek is going to take us all over the country and we are going to hold various events in the different places we visit,” Choi explains. “Of those, the yellow handkerchief campaign, was planned specifically to inform the South Korean people of the fact that Shin and her daughters are being repressed by the Kim Jong Il regime; to keep in their minds that there are 517 South Korean people in North Korea living that same existence.”

The nationwide trek is happening alongside a number of other events, including the previously reported 100,000 signatures drive and the year-old forget-me-not badge campaign by the Korean War Abductees Family Union.

All have more or less the same objective in mind: the plight of kidnapping victims. It is for them that Choi and his comrades will spend the next 23 days walking, walking, and walking some more. It won’t be an easy task though – some companies that specialize in organizing such events have already been flabbergasted by the group’s plans.

The professionals asked Choi why on earth he would want to conduct the campaign at this time of year, when the daily temperature range is at its highest, posing an array of physical hazards. Rain on its own could be a huge problem, they told him, but Choi was having none of it. “December 10th is international human rights day,” he told them. “There’s no better time to work for the human rights of Shin and her daughters, other kidnapping victims and the people of North Korea.”

A particularly difficult part of the course – the five days between November 29 and December 3 scheduled to be spent walking from Daegu to Cheongju via Daejeon – is regarded as the most rugged part of the course for its sloping mountainous terrain. For that reason some are concerned for the health of those making the trek, given they will spend over 13 hours a day walking.


Even Choi confessed to being a little apprehensive at the thought of it. “I don’t usually get scared, but I am a little worried. Nobody taking the trek should think it’s going to be easy,” he says.

Choi knows that the physical burden must not be allowed to take its toll on the group’s mindset, as well. “No matter how hard it is we need to keep our spirits. Remember, it’s nothing compared to the suffering of Shin and her daughters. No matter how hard it gets, we will be at every city and every event with smiling faces to inform the people of the urgency of the movement to rescue Shin Suk Ja and all the other kidnapping victims.”

Choi believes that the trek could be the starting point for the establishment of a networked nationwide movement to call for the rescue of Shin and other kidnapping victims in North Korea, and that such a network could potentially succeed in securing the return of Shin and her two daughters, as well as resolving the issue of kidnapping victims as a whole.