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]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Nearly 50,000 cell phones in use in Pyongyang but …

About 48,000 North Koreans have subscribed to the mobile phone service that started in North Korea last December, VOA reports, quoting data released by the service provider.

However, officials of the North Korean Workers' Party or the government are reportedly banned from using mobile phones for security reasons.

And ordinary North Korean residents, whose monthly pay is about 4,000 North Korean won (around US$30), cannot afford the service due to the high price of handsets, which cost US$300-500, and the subscription fee.

"We understand that mobile phones are used chiefly by foreigners, wealthy people, and trade functionaries," a South Korean government official said.

Orascom, the Egyptian telecom firm that runs it, plans to expand the service area from Pyongyang to the whole of North Korea by the end of this year, VOA said. North Korean phone users buy prepaid phone cards and can send text messages.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Colin Powell: North Korean negotiators are second to none

CNN reports Former Secretary of State Colin Powell saying while North Korea may be "bizarre," their negotiators are second to none.

"They are some of the best, toughest negotiators I've ever dealt with," Powell said. "And you can read the whole history of our negotiations with North Korea, going back to the Korean armistice discussion, and you'll find they know what their negotiating positions are, and they will drive you crazy, and they will use your impatience against you."

The former secretary praised the United States' current top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Powell said Clinton was handling North Korean relations "properly" by insisting that dialogue with Pyongyang be limited to the six-party framework.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Feeling Guilty for Eating Rice

"A world in which we can eat rice and meat soup, which our Great Leader [Kim Il-sung] longed for so much, is becoming a reality due to the efforts of our Dear Leader [Kim Jong Il]."

Such were the words of a North Korean Workers Party propaganda officer during a party lecture earlier this year.

Back in the 1950’s, "rice and meat soup" was Kim Il-sung's slogan for a prosperous socialist society. Today North Korea's economy is in still in terrible shape.

Among North Korean defectors surveyed by the National Human Rights Commission, 58 percent said they had personally witnessed people starving to death in the North. Defectors say because of this factor it is at mealtimes that they think most about the family they left behind in the North.