Monday, November 03, 2008

North Korean Defector, Girl Boxer, Choi Hyun-mi

A girl whose family fled North Korea is breathing a hint of new life into boxing in South Korea by winning a world championship at age 17.

Choi Hyun-mi and her parents and an older brother fled North Korea for a better life only to run into prejudice. South Koreans view the approximately 10,000 refugees a bit like poor relations, less skilled and less urbane than the South’s highly educated citizens.

Ms. Choi’s father -- who had been a successful businessman in the North -- has been unable to find work in South Korea, and the family has been reduced to living mainly on government handouts to the refugees.

Government scouts in North Korea detected Ms. Choi’s potential when she was 13. In 2004, her father, Choi Chul-soo, decided that the family should flee the North’s rampant repression and poverty. He had gotten a taste of the freedoms other countries offered while on business trips abroad.

From China, the family was smuggled into Vietnam. After four months there hiding in hotel rooms, the family was granted asylum by the South Korean government and flown to Seoul.

“I sometimes miss my life in North Korea and wonder whether I made the right choice,” Mr. Choi said. One bright spot is his daughter’s budding career. In September 2007, she turned professional. Raising her gloved hand into the air, she says, “My parents gave up everything in North Korea to give their children a better life in the South. Boxing is my way to prove that my parents made the right decision.”

[New York Times]

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