Han, a stoic boy with the flowering scar, crossed from North Korea into China in 1998, at the age of 15, but on four occasions was arrested by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea, where he was severely beaten.
Eventually he joined a loosely stitched group of 13 other refugees, and with the help of a religious group was able to find his way to another safe house, where he lived with 90 other people for five months.
Finally he was given a fake passport, and he flew to Thailand and then to Seoul. In his case, the entire journey -- 5,000 miles, with four illegal border crossings -- took 19 months.
When I delicately inquired about his scar, he said, unconvincingly, that it was a result of ''food poisoning.''
Now I asked again what dreams he had for himself. He considered for a moment, looking more wary than excited by what tomorrow might bring. ''Dreams,'' he said. ''I don't understand that word anymore. I'm just trying to survive.''
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]