Park Sang Hak, the son of a North Korean spy, grew up a believer. From nursery school on, he learned that the country's founder, Kim Sung Il was greater than his parents. On birthdays of Kim and his son Kim Jong Il, the teachers handed out clothes and snacks, said to be gifts from their leaders.
"For North Koreans, Kim Sung Il is greater than God," said Park, 37, chairman of the Democracy Network against North Korea Gulag. He was bundled up in two jackets inside the chilly, Spartan offices.
In school, they learned that the United States was a "wolf, the worst enemy in the world." As teenagers, they began receiving military training. For target practice, they fired at a picture of a Caucasian, emblazoned with "USA."
His family had a spacious apartment with a Western style toilet -- maybe 1 in 1,000 North Koreans had such a place, he said. His father, a high-ranking official, drove a Mercedes-Benz, and Park had a Honda motorbike, another rarity.
Park studied information technology in college -- but not the Internet. "The Internet is for democratic countries," he said. Like other students, Park also worked on rice farms in the spring, where people seemed to be starving and doing hard labor. It didn't seem right, but Park feared speaking out and risking his elite status.
After graduating, thanks to family connections, Park landed a job in the government's coveted propaganda office in Pyongyang, where he worked on school textbooks and patriotic songs. Every Sunday, small groups in the community would gather for self-judgment. "I was one of the leaders, so I believed," Park said.
But after a purge of leaders at North Korea's intelligence agency in the late 1990s, Park's father feared he would be killed if he returned from Hong Kong, where he was posing as a businessman.
From there, he sent a message to his family through a broker, ordering them to flee to China. The family agonized for a month about what they should do. Park left behind his fiancee, whom he promised to send for if the family was succeeded in making it across the river into China. "At that moment, it's heartbreak or nothing. If I die, nothing can happen with her. First life, then love."
He never saw her again. continued
[Excerpt of a San Francisco Chronicle article]