When Kum left North Korea in October 2001, he was 18. He was able to sneak onto a train north, randomly bribe a border guard and make the dangerous crossing to China.
Once there, he met a South Korean pastor and joined a group of refugees on an underground railroad, living the next month in a twilight state of paranoia at every new encounter.
Making their way through a complicated system that included do-gooders and shady black-marketeers, they used a combination of paid escorts, pastors and safe houses. They rode trains south through China and passed illegally into two Southeast Asian countries, which humanitarian aid groups asked not to be identified.
On the second crossing, Kum remembers that they started at 9 one night and then at 5 the next morning found themselves on a huge plain at sunrise.
The group spent two and a half months in a safe house until they were flown to yet another country and then to South Korea, where they were met by men in dark suits.
''That was the first time I felt afraid, when I saw those men,'' Kum said. ''I thought they were going to send us back.'' He soon found out that they were South Korean intelligence officers.
''Now, I feel like I was scared the whole trip, but at the time I didn't know.''
[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]