Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Everyone on the inside knows something is wrong

Song, 40, stands less than 5 feet, even in her black, high-heeled boots. She has wide-set eyes, highlighted with green shadow. She arrived in Seoul last year in June 2005 -- hoping to get a job as a waitress.

Song had to settle for dishwashing because she could not understand what her customers were ordering. After more than 50 years of a divided peninsula, the common language has diverged. South Korea uses many more foreign words, and slang.

To supplement her income, Song also works part-time at a travel agency in Seoul, which among other things pitches special tours led by defectors. The office, in the swanky Lotte Hotel in downtown Seoul, was plastered with photos of the demilitarized zone, watch towers and soldiers.
In North Korea, Song was a television news presenter, a job she landed thanks to her father, an official in government broadcasting. She would read stories about the admirable qualities of North Korea and its leaders, and how the country had to grow its military to fight against the United States and Japan, which was seeking to isolate the north.

"Everyone on the inside knows something is wrong," she said. "They know the government is wrong, but they can't say anything."

[Excerpt of an article by Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle]

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