On a March night, he and his brother swam across the river, while his mother and sister floated on an inner tube into China. Park bribed the North Korean guards with approximately $250 in cash.
His father arranged for a car to pick them up and the family flew together to South Korea with fake passports. As soon as they arrived, they turned themselves in to the authorities.
South Korea's tall buildings, paved clean roads, and all the cars amazed him. But it was difficult to adjust.
At the government education center, Park and other refugees learned about manners and how to greet people. "I felt humiliated. Why am I learning this?" Park said. "I was high status in North Korea. When I arrived, I had very low status."
He struggled in university classes in Seoul, because North Korea's schools had focused on ideology rather than on academics. And he missed the people from his hometown. "The people are good. People in developing countries are innocent. When the economy develops, they become cold," he said, describing how people seemed more formal and distant in the south.
Eventually, Park married another defector and they had a son. His sister works in the sales department, and his brother has a delivery job for a company that makes bags and wallets. His mother is a housewife, and his father works as defector activist in Japan.
"I knew the economy was much better, but I also realized I have freedom of the mind, and democracy was developed," he said. "It was the same people after the Korean War, but they have gone totally different ways. This one became rich and liberal. The other one, people are brainwashed and suffer from starvation."
[Excerpt of an article by Vanessa Hua, San Francisco Chronicle]