Friday, May 26, 2006

First Impressions: USA vs. North Korea

The [North Korean] refugees, four women and two men ranging in age from 20 to 36, got off the plane [at LAX] wearing vivid new clothes, jeans and brightly colored sweat gear they said would have been forbidden in North Korea.

Church officials ushered the new arrivals into a van and headed back to Bethel Korean Church for a banquet in the refugees' honor. [Then] the refugees [were] introduced to the rest of Bethel's 5,300-person congregation at the two regular Sunday services.

The refugees are trying to take it all in.

In Manhattan and in New Jersey, where they first stayed on arriving in the U.S. two weeks ago, Joseph Shin said he was struck by "people in all kinds of fashion and different colors. It hit us that we are in a different country."

The size of the houses where they stayed in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a neighborhood much like Los Angeles' Hancock Park — astonished them too, a huge contrast to the single rooms of most North Korean families. The homes are "like a palace or a castle," said his sister, Chan Mi.

Refugee Johan Shin described it differently. "Wasteful," he said.

"Now that we've come here, it's hard to believe that such a world as North Korea can exist," another said.

[Excerpt of an article by Valerie Reitman, L.A. Times]

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