Sunday, July 08, 2007

North Korean on the South: "Everything’s about money"

Many North Koreans say that they are treated like second-class citizens in the South.

“Everything’s about money here,” he said. “You go to work in the morning — you can’t even take phone calls on your cell at work — then you go home and go to sleep. In North Korea, there is a fence around people to control them. But it’s very collective, so people help one another out. In that system, people do find ways to have meaningful relations with one another.”

As with many North Koreans, Mr. Lee’s nostalgia about the North increased in direct proportion with his sense of alienation in the South.

It was getting late, and maybe because he had to wake up early for work in the morning, Mr. Lee’s mood darkened. He had already worked three jobs in as many months, including aboard a small sun-baked fishing boat. He lingered outside a butcher’s shop near his apartment, delaying, it seemed, his return to an empty apartment.

After they left Hanawon, he and his girlfriend spent nine days together, then split up. They had shared their journey to South Korea. But, once here, they saw that the reality of their relationship, as with many things, was different from their expectations.

And there was also South Korea, the country he had longed to reach. Differences stemming from half a century of a divided peninsula, his telltale accent from the North, a word misused, all these things betrayed him as an outsider. He had found, like the 10,000 North Koreans now living in the South and holding South Korean citizenship, that he was not in from the cold, not yet.

“It was so hard to get here,” he said. “Before, I thought that once I got to South Korea, everything would be all right. But now I know that I’ve just opened the front gate and come in. The journey’s just begun.”

[The New York Times]

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