Story of Geum Hee, A Bud of Hope in Aoji Coal Mine

[imText1]There have been over 10,000 North Korean defectors arriving to South Korea since the beginning of 2007. Although they came to South Korea in hope of a better life, they realize that the reality is quite different. They claim that, “The only thing that has gotten better since we’ve been here is that we are no longer starving.”

Familiar to the bloody violation of human rights in North Korea, we often mistaken that North Korean defectors arriving to South Korea would only have horrendous memories from their home. We also believe that now that they are in the South, they will be happy enough that they are no longer starving and that they are away from that bloody reality of North Korea.

However, in the hearts of these North Korean defectors lie the deep, unquenched nostalgia for their home. A book written by Choi Geum Hee, who defected from North korea when she was 15 years old and studies Chinese Literature in Hankuk University of Foreign Studies was recently published. Her book is titled, “Geum Hee’s Journey”

Geum Hee was born in a coal mining village, Aoji which means “A village of burning stones” in the language of Jurchens (Tungus people). Although, Aoji is known as a place of exile, for Geum Hee, it is a home where she had spent days running around and playing care freely with her friends.

Before there was a severe food shortage, Aoji was a good small village. The book reveals that North Korean children are not always in the state of starvation, poverty and indoctrination, but rather that they have their own ways of living seeking for their own naive happiness.

We can read about the sweet bitter love stories of her parents. Geum Hee’s father has confessed his love to Geum Hee’s mother through the romantic love letters, which led to an eventual marriage between them. The marriage that transcends all social class barrier, as shown from the marriage of Geum Hee’s parents.

The story about television in North Korea sends nostalgic remembrance of the situation that South Korea was in during 1970s. When Geum Hee’s family got a television, every kid in the neighborhood gathered around her house at exactly 5:30 pm to watch the child movies, singing along to the theme song.

Geum Hee’s favorite show, “Animal Kingdom” was a show- a sole method- that allowed them to know more about animals even without going to the zoo.

However, the reality of North Korea was not as colorful and beautiful as Geum Hee’s childhood depiction. In her young years, Geum Hee had to witness a brutal, cruel execution. It was a instruction of Kim Jong Il that all students must witness the public execution. After seeing the scene of the execution covered with blood and scattered brain, the young Geum Hee had nightmares for a long time.

Afterwards, the “March of Tribulation (Mass starvation period in the 1990s)” came which led to stark starvation and poverty for Geum Hee and her family. Her family lived each day through eating porridge. Geum Hee would go hungry every day waiting for her mother. There were times when she resented her mother for not being able to come home late at night without any food for them.

Their situation worsened and her older siblings would go up to the mountain to hunt for food. When her neighbors begin to die one by one, her family decides to flee to China.

After going through a hell arriving to China, Geum Hee’s family obtains a small boat and jumps into the ocean. When their small boat was on the verge of sinking, Geum Hee prayed for survival. “Please, God, save us. I don’t want to die. I am still young. I want to live. I don’t have to go to South Korea. Please save us.” After a long time, a Chinese ship nearby came to rescue her family.

Her family was able to enter South Korea by journeying through Myanmar. However, the South Korea that they had long anticipated was not the South Korea that they had imagined.

“It was so scary for me to mention that I was from the North. I was so scared so I couldn’t say anything – and I lied that I was from Kangwong province. By denying my root, my entire identity was discolored with lies and my identity was lost.”

Geum Hee reveals that the differential treatment by the South Koreans to North Koreans was extremely painful and difficult for her.

However, Geum Hee learned about love in South Korea. She said that the friends in her school and her teachers had changed her. The people who taught her passionately, allowed her to talk about herself and her story without disguise had brought Geum Hee to be where she is now.

“Just when all the prejudice on South Korea was forming, I was able to meet all my gracious friends and teachers. Through their support and love I was able to find myself and love myself. Because of the people who accepted me, believed in me and loved me for who I am- I am able to gain peace.”

Geum Hee shouts, “I am a North Korean” confidently. Although she went through a difficult time back home, her love for her country still remains the same. Before crossing the Tumen River, she bowed towards her homeland, making a promise that she will come back again. Keeping that promise deep within, Geum Hee aspires to see her promise and wish come true soon.

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