Friday, July 31, 2009

North Korean Teenage Defectors Bewildered By South Korea

To flee North Korea and arrive in the rich, wired, consuming culture of South Korea is to feel clueless, fearful and guilty.

Teenagers are particularly bewildered. As part of the newest wave in a decade-old flow of defectors from the North, they arrive stunted from malnutrition and struggling to read. At the movies for the first time, they panic when the lights go down, afraid someone might kidnap them. They find it incredible that money is stored in plastic credit cards. Pizza, hot dogs and hamburgers -- staples of South Korean teen cuisine -- give them indigestion. One gargled with liquid fabric softener, mistaking it for mouthwash.

In time, they wise up and their stomachs calm down. Their guilt, though, tends to fester.

"When I eat something that is really delicious, I can't help but feel guilty about my family back in North Korea," said Lee J.Y., who asked that her full name not be used because she was afraid that North Korean authorities would punish her family for her freedom. Now 20, Lee escaped five years ago from North Hamgyong province, where her little brother died of hunger and where she survived on cake made of pine-tree bark.

[Washington Post]

No comments: