MS 이현서 HYEONSEO LEE!
I was fortunate enough to have attended Ms Lee’s talk in London last October. Without knowing anything about her story before the event, when I met her at the book signing event after the talk, all I could say was ‘it was very inspirational’. I FELT SO BAD. At that time I haven’t even finished Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy, and I knew LITTLE about the details of the hardship that NK defectors faced. (Dear Ms Lee: if you would ever see this post, I am REALLY sorry D: )
Since I finished this rather-thick-but-unputdownable memoir within 3 weeks, I thought I need to write how I feel about this story of defecting this horrible totalitarian nation. You might think, ‘oh, so this is just another NK defector story’. I’m telling you, it’s not. I might not have read enough stories on this topic, but I think different people would have different stories to tell, even for the same event. Let alone all the things that could happen to different people defecting North Korea, their experiences before and after leaving the country definitely vary. Also, I think even one more of these stories is too many. The way the DPRK regime is treating its people is just ridiculous and inhumane, and hearing one more of these stories makes my heart sink.
The fact that Ms Lee escaped from North Korea at the age of 17 is a super brave decision (17! What was I doing when I was 17?!). The hardships that she had to face while she was living in China are unimaginable as well. You might think that life would be like a living in a paradise once you leave NK? No! Not only there are NK spies in China who are constantly monitoring any possible defectors and sending them back to NK to labour camps, the Chinese government does not provide asylum but send them back to NK. (I just don’t get this logic…why would you even do that?) Not only Ms Lee had to hide her identity by changing her name for so many times (7!), she also had to hide her North Korean identity by learning Mandarin. It is such a bizarre that one’s identity – which is crucial because it makes it who you are – is undermined in order to just live in freedom (and everyone should be deserved to live in freedom).
Another thing that shocked me the most is that the inability to trust anyone. Because as a defector, revealing anything about herself and her identity to other people could get her arrested and sent back to North Korea where she could be tortured. She did not even tell her boyfriend about her identity until after a couple of years since they started dating.
All in all, I would like to say a big THANK YOU to Ms Hyeonseo Lee. Thank you for your decision to begin this great voyage to freedom at the first place. Thank you for not giving up during your journey, so that now the world knows more about North Korea through your story. I simply cannot imagine leaving behind everything in my beloved country, and hiding my true identity in order to survive so many years, before reaching the final destination. Thank you for letting me to reflect that I should not take my life and freedom for granted. Because it is something that was fought for by our ancestors, and we should be grateful for that, and not be ignorant about others who unfortunately don’t have this privilege (yet).
I am really bad at summarising, so I encourage you all out there to:
1. Watch the TED talk above
2. Read The Girl with Seven Names
It has changed my life and I hope it will change yours, too.
“I hope you remember that if you encounter an obstacle on the road, don’t think of it as an obstacle at all… think of it as a challenge to find a new path on the road less travelled.”
As always, thanks for stopping by! Follow my journey on:
…and have a lovely day!