Thoughts of Those Left Behind

After several days of tension at the crossroads between life and death, I heard that the Chinese government had decided to negotiate with the South Koreans. And the time, worries about my family put me all on edge. Even after taking some sleeping pills, the faces of my worried wife and children came to mind. Only when I took still more of the pills could I sleep. The fact that my family must have been as worried as I was drove me crazy.

I confessed my heartbroken feelings to Deok Hong, the friend and former head of the Yeogwang Trading Company with whom I had defected, so well that even he, a guy known for his manliness, shed a tear or two. But he comforted me, without mentioning his own family at all.

“Don’t worry about your family too much,” he said, “Once we arrive in Seoul we’ll find a way.”

I was so ashamed when I heard his words. However, whenever I was alone, I grew uneasy about my family yet again. Deok Hong and I had vowed to save our people even if we had to sacrifice the lives of our families, however, when we stepped foot on board, I could only worried about my family, and bothered Deok Hong, who said not a word about his own. I am older than him, but am I mature enough? Can I possibly say that I was maintaining my determination as a patriot? Shame comes with such thoughts.

I hid pictures of my family deep inside my trunk, so I would not see them anymore. No matter how hard I tried, though, the faces of my family came up often, and I could not put their faces into a deep corner of my mental trunk. I missed them even more when there was something to eat around. The embassy sometimes brought me candies, knowing that I liked them. When I ate those candies with Deok Hong, they were nothing but candies. But whenever I saw them alone, they always reminded me of my two-year-old grandson Ji Seong, who used to open his mouth so small and would ask me to feed him. Every time we had a meal, he came and made me feed him. This may be an embarrassing confession, but if I had had to go back to Pyongyang I would have taken those candies with me.

The embassy had contrasting opinions about us. There was an optimistic view, whereby the Chinese government would deal with our exile according to international practice. However, there was also a negative opinion; that the Chinese government would take as long as possible to recognize our exile. I asked how long it could take if they really decided to delay, and they said it could take six months to a year.

However, they also said that the South Korean embassy is South Korean territory, so the Chinese government could not just force us out either. I promised to myself, ‘Okay, I don’t care how much time I have to spend here at the embassy. If I succeed in my plan, then it will be fine. Otherwise, I will kill myself.’ Ever since I had purchased poison in Pyongyang, I had always felt more peaceful and reassured.

On February 13, an embassy employee informed us that the North Korean Foreign Ministry had released a statement saying that the South Chosun (Korea) authorities would get what they deserved if they kidnapped me. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also officially stated for the first time that all countries should deal with the issue from an objective perspective.

Thereafter, Special Assistant to the South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Ha Jung visited China and requested Chinese Foreign Ministry cooperation.

I thought the best way to get away from my worries was to work, so I started organizing the manuscripts I had brought from the North. While I was working, I was once again impressed by Deok Hong’s character. In order to comfort and assist me, he did everything he could with great care. Every night he listened to both South Korean and North Korean radio programs and informed me of various news items. He also made innumerable demands of the embassy for my health, to the extent that I started to feel sorry for them.

For tens of years, he and I had been just like brothers. Our families acknowledged us as brothers, too. However, at this time I realized that he was more than that to me.

All the employees at the embassy took great care of us, and the South Korean government even dispatched a doctor to look after our health. Schoolmates and students from Pyongyang Commercial School who were living in Seoul, relatives in South Korea and friends from all around the world, including Professor Glenn Paige from the University of Hawaii, sent me letters of encouragement. Alas, though, while I was becoming more and more stable thanks to their efforts, a shocking incident happened; a major newspaper in Seoul published a series of theses and some secret notes I had written to Deok Hong while I was preparing to go into exile.

I was so shocked that I could literally hear my heart sink. The theses published in the South Korean newspaper had been targeted at foreigners attending a Juche Ideology International Conference, so I was sure I would be heavily criticized.

Additionally, China and North Korea had signed a treaty ceasing espionage activities. The notes I had written to Deok Hong while preparing for exile contained quite a lot of North Korean secrets, so if Kim Jong Il claimed that this was an act of espionage the Chinese government wouldn’t be able to do anything but follow the treaty.

The letter, which I had sent to the person who was arranging our exile via Deok Hong on November 10, 1996, was one I had scrawled in my notebook. The letter was published in the newspaper without any filtering. Of course, from February 12, 1997, all newspapers had started publishing stories of our exile under heavy headlines. This was a letter I had written in my notebook while taking a walk with Deok Hong, in the strict reality of North Korea where no one could talk freely.

Not knowing how things were going, it was no wonder I was feeling insecure and anxious. But my faith allowed me to carry on.

Then on my birthday, February 17, I wrote my last will and testament to my wife, Park Seung Ok.

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