[imText1]One morning in July of 1989, I set out alone on a walk near Pyongyang’s Daedong River. I had turned away the guide. I desperately wanted to talk to anyone who approached me.
Incidentally, there was a student sitting on one of the corner stairs, memorizing something aloud to himself. I carefully approached him.
“Hello, comrade. I’m a Korean-American and I came out to take a morning stroll. What are you studying so diligently?”
The yellowish paper was filled with tiny letters. I couldn’t read any of it. When I asked, he said that it was to fit as much content as possible on a small piece of paper. The content was “the Revolutionary History of Suryeong (Absolute Leader, Kim Il Sung).” He added that while for other subjects, you only needed 90 points or above, for the Revolutionary History you needed 100 points with no exceptions in order to become a Party member or else be placed in a good job after graduation, risking one’s life to serve the country by participating in the revolutionary project.
We sat side by side, like friends. He said that his name was Kim Young Sik, he was 28 years old, and his hometown was Pyongsung. He was a senior studying nuclear physics at Kim Il Sung University. I asked him if he wanted to become a nuclear physicist in the future. His unhesitating answer gave me chills – no, in a way, it could have been an obvious answer. “We need to develop our strengths in order to fight the Americans!”
I asked him, as a student himself, what he thought of the South Korean students’ demonstrations and what needed to be done in order to achieve reunification. His answer, unsurprisingly, was, “We need to kick those Americans out of South Korea!”
However, if we were to bring this student to Seoul, would there be even a 1% chance of him growing up to be a nation-loving young man who fits in with South Korean standards? I honestly have my doubts. I do not know if a young man who grew up with the Dear Leader and his Party’s guns and bombs can adjust to a free South Korean society.
“Going out without a guide can result in arrest”
After my meal, I received a message from the guide to wait in my room. While I am watching the video that I taped in the Daedong River area, Kim Du Chil, the deputy secretary of the Committee for the N. Korean Residents in Foreign Countries, marches into the room. Behind him follows the guide, Kim Hyun Chul, with a pale face.
I had a sudden feeling of fear. I thought to myself that the walk I took to Daedong River must have been a big deal. There was silence for a minute. The deputy secretary began speaking in a low voice. “Mr. Kim, please listen to what I have to say without taking it the wrong way.” A long speech followed.
“You went for a walk yesterday morning to Daedong River, but why did you go alone, and not bring the guide? Our country is currently holding a big, international event (`89 Pyongyang Festival). The party as well as the citizens of Pyongyang is doing their best to make sure that the guests of our country are safe. It would be terrible if anything were to happen to you while you are visiting our country, wouldn’t it? There was an order from Kim Jong Il himself to take special care to protect the welfare of Americans.”
The admonitions continued. “I am not telling you that you cannot go wherever you want. But if you were to go out alone, first, the People’s Army would become suspicious and you might be arrested and taken to the Social Safety Agency, second, the National Security Agency can take you away as well. Third, the military can take you too.”
“Comrade Hyun Chul!”
“You must pay special attention to protect Mr. Kim! Is that clear?”
Building up the elite serving faithfully and loyally the Dear Leader
I went to Kim Il Sung University located in Yongnam-dong, Daesung district in Pyongyang. The guide at the college began explaining about the history and development of the school.
“In the first stage, students from each district are recommended, and then, the Central Party chooses from these students. The competition is about 5 to 1 and the students are accepted based on a very difficult exam. The written exam covers six subjects and the final stage consists of the interview and physical exam. Dormitories are reserved for those who live in the rural districts and Pyongyang students commute.”
Then he continued, “Kim Il Sung University opened its doors on October 1, 1946, and currently there are 15 academic departments and 8 research institutes, the institutes for the Master, around 1,200 instructors, and 2,800 people employed in other areas. Additionally, there are 16,000 students, with 4 year and 5 year programs.”
When the guide was finished, I asked a question.
“When we graduate college, we give degrees. How is it done here?”
“Yes, in our college, there are no degrees, but we give them professional certificates. And if the student gets recognized by giving an excellent thesis presentation before graduating, we give them something called “a candidate of the Quasi-Doctor”. Then it goes from “Quasi-Doctor” to “Doctor”.
He said that every year, the number of students going abroad increase, and that currently there are about 150 students abroad. The Quasi-Doctor program is three and a half years while the Doctor program is two years. Degrees received from foreign universities are said to be recognized in the country.
The guide said, “Graduates of Kim Il Sung University have contributed to the “construction of a new nation” and the development of the nation’s prosperity. They will work for the people and the nation by being situated in important positions in the Party, national institutions, economic and cultural institutions as well as various other areas.” Overall, it seems that the college is used for the sole purpose of building up an elite group that will faithfully and loyally serve the Dear Leader.