[Intro] Urgent Need to Restart the Reunion of Divided Families
Border Control: “Don’t use guns” in Consideration of China
North Koreans Want China-style Economic Development
“We need food more than we need nuclear weapons”
Three Factors Hurting Productivity at Hoeryong Cigarette Factory: Shortage of Power and Water, People Management
“I hope for free exchanges of divided families”
At the end of last year, we received a call asking for a subscription to North Korea Today from an elderly man in South Chung-Cheong Province. He said that he had just learned about North Korea Today and wished to receive all the editions, including past ones. He eagerly wanted to know the details about the situation in North Korea because he had an older brother in Pyongyang. He had met his brother at the reunion of divided families in 2003.
In 2008, he sent $2500 to his niece, who lives in Pyongyang, upon receiving a request for help from her, through a friend of hers in South Korea. However, the friend took the money in the middle of the process. Later, $1500 was sent via a defector, but the money disappeared en route - money kept disappearing every time middlemen route, even on the third and forth tries. The elderly man eventually went to Dandong in person last year and talked with his niece, and sent her $1800 by finding someone [whom he could trust].
According to the niece, living in Pyongyang is so harsh that she manged to survive until now only by selling a gold ring that was given to her by her uncle at the reunion of divided families. The elder also told us that people should keep searching for their divided family members without being discouraged because there is always a way, although he himself had failed many times.
Despite spending lots of money on searching for divided family members, those affected still feel heartbroken and confused, due to the dysfunctional relationship between South and North Korea. We should remember that these people left their hometowns in order to survive, not because they disliked their hometowns and never wanted to go back.
We, all together, should resolve the pain rendered by these times, so the divided family can see their loved ones whom they are searching for. They must be able to meet each other while at least one more family member is still alive.
If only to resolve the issue of reunion of divided families, abductees, and food support for North Korea, the government of North and South Korea must cooperate unconditionally with each other.
Border Control Order: “Don’t use guns” in Consideration of China
The Central Party has issued an order to the security department and military not to use guns along the national border areas. Last year, it had ordered to shoot anyone secretly crossing the border who does not stop by the third warning. It cited that there were many spies sent by the South Korean intelligence crossing Tumen and Yalu to steal classified information from the North. However, it has recently changed its policy in consideration of China, stating, “We should reinforce our national border, but do not use guns in a way that could negatively influence the friendship between North Korea and China. Do not shoot but try to arrest river-crossers in cooperation with the Chinese border control. It also has ordered not to treat poorly any Chinese people suspicious of illegal activities during the preliminary investigation. This is to avoid any harsh torture or violence that could spur diplomatic friction. North Korean residents, while welcoming the news of the ban on guns, expressed their wish that the authorities would consider their own people even a quarter as much as they consider the Chinese.
North Koreans Want China-style Economic Development
A Central Party official said the recent nation-wide surveys on the sentiment of the people showed that their perception of the new leadership was not bad. The conclusion from the reports from all over the country conducted since last October revealed that people of North Korea wanted a huge change in their economy but not in their political system.
“The result of the secret investigations by the security offices in all parts of the nation shows that the people of North Korea really want Comrade Kim Jong-un to pursue economic development following the Chinese example. It is not only the opinion of ordinary people but also of Parity and regional officials. If you consider our closer-than-ever relationship with China, it is not a surprise. People want Chinese style economic growth”, he continued.
Reading the reports, it seems that people talk among themselves in anticipation of something new happening. However, most people think against any military conflict including inter-Korean military actions. In his opinion, although people have a habit of saying “I wish a war breaks out,” it is just an expression of their distress from harsh life, not that they really want a war.
According to the official, “There has been no human resources replacement or movement in local government offices since the General (Kim Jong-il) passed away. No sign of movement in the military, either. The General had formed a new leadership comprised of his close relatives and key aides since 2010, and the succession process has been completed in September last year. The Kim Jong-un era began in October. His consideration and support for bureaucrats is higher than that of the previous era. There is no reason for bureaucrats’ loyalty to decline.”
Nonetheless, his support for ordinary people is still insufficient. The birthday of Kim Jong-un was not declared as a holiday. There was no food ration or special holiday gifts either during the three-day holidays for the lunar New Year’s Day. Most people except for government officials and employees of some rich companies had to celebrate the holidays with nothing. Party officials only made some excuses, saying, “We need to save on food. The food situation is bad because of the last year’s floods in the breadbasket areas in the South. There will be lots of rations on the holiday of February 16.”
Pyongyang City is having a hard time as well after boasting that it would provide full electricity supply from January. The power supply for the Central District, downtown, special companies and offices got somewhat better, but the supply for the general public is unstable. Some say it got even worse. A Central Party official says that supplying sufficient clothing, food, and housing is the only way for the new leadership to earn trust of its people.
“We need food more than we need nuclear weapons”
One officer from the Central Party stated that a phrase which frequently appears in the local population status report is, “We need food more than we need nuclear weapons.” On the other hand, young adults and middle-aged people say the following all the time: “If the communist paradise mentioned by the Great Leader Kim Il-sung, who sits in a palatial house and eats white rice and beef soup, is not realized yet again, I will carry the nuclear weapon myself, vault over the military demarcation line, swim the Pacific Ocean, and set off the bomb in America.” If someone points out how this statement contradicts the previous one saying that they “need more food than nuclear weapons,” they say, “we will be dead anyway if we just do nothing, so it is just an expression to call for any action; it does not mean that we are really willing to wage the war. The expression reflects the desperate states into which we are cornered.”
This is to say that even though the minds of the people are changing, many of them still believe that they are impoverished because of the oppression and sanctions against North Korea by the United States. In the past, however, people were only allowed to say things such as the General, reunification, or the Juche revolution in a meeting; these days, they usually talk about how to eat and make a living such as how to live well, how China, located across the river, made money and developed such prosperity, or when they can follow the footsteps of China. They can be arrested for uttering anti-revolutionary words, but people rarely report or regulate such statements to the authorities. Rather, a bond of consensus is formed on the assertion that they should accept the method and advanced technology of China.
In the 1980s, those who had good social status and financial power were the Korean-Japanese residents; but these days, it is the overseas Chinese residents in North Korea. The overseas Chinese residents are the ones who regulate the market price and import goods in bulk, and the number of North Korean people who live off the overseas Chinese residents has increased rapidly. The government officers, not to mention the merchants in the market, believe that the market was turned over to the Chinese capitalism headed by overseas Chinese residents. The government officers think the following: “As the relationship with China is improved, the economy will be developed more like the Chinese way. The regime will be more stabilized, and the economy will be developed more.”
“I do not know specifically what it is to develop the economy like the Chinese, but there is no hope in the current situation, and the only desire of the people is to become well-off like China,” says an officer from the Central Party.
Three Factors Hurting Productivity at a Cigarette Factory in Hoeryong: Shortage of Power and Water, People Management
The Daesung cigarette factory in Hoeryong, North Hamgyung Province, which is supported with the investment by the Chungdo Company in China, is the premier cigarette factory that Kim Jong-il, Chairman of National Defense, surely visited when he had his field supervision in Hoeryong City. The cigarette factory was converted from a Goksan factory, which was built by the former Soviet Union. The raw material, equipments, and technical know-how are now provided by China.
One Chinese technician has been placed at the factory as a long-term resident employee, and North Korean workers are sent to the head factory of Chungdo Company to be instructed in skills when needed. Including one general manager, five maintenance workers, eight technicians, and a security officer, the total employees number approximately 90. The average monthly salary of the general workers is 3,000 won, but it would be around 5,500 – 6,000 won per person if they have special bonuses. The Chinese company pays the salary of $50.00 per each North Korean worker to Daesung Trade Company. The company provides lunch that consists of two pieces of corn bread, a bowl of vegetable porridge, and pickled napa cabbage.
The company uses their own generator when there is no power because the power supply is not steady. In case of emergency, they use saved water in a 1 ton size container, which was brought by the Chinese company. They preserve water when it is being supplied because the supply is not reliable.
Besides the shortage of water and power, overly frequent mobilization of workers to work on non-compensated community labor is another reason for the dropping productivity rate. The Chinese technicians confide that they can temporarily handle the shortage of water and power; however, it’s the improper human resource management of North Korean workers that makes the productivity rate drop.
“I hope for the free exchanges of divided families”
Kim Hak-ryong (alias) living in Musan, North Hamkyung Province, witnessed a tearful reunion of a divided family. It was a reunion of a father who left for the South in November 1950 during the war and his family in the North after being apart for 63 years. It was Kim’s first time arranging a meeting of a divided family, and he says he would never do it again. It was such a knee-trembling experience for him. He unpacks the story with a wish to give hope to other divided families:
“Hwang Tae-seob (alias) is eighty years old and is originally from Myeong-chun, North Hamkyung Province. He had a wife and two sons. He left for the South alone when his older son was three years old and his younger son only a few-months-old infant. He never imagined he would be apart from his children for a lifetime. After the formal diplomatic relations between Beijing and Seoul was established, Hwang frequently visited China and spent much money, more than 10 million won, to send people to Myungcheon in an effort to find his children. At the time of Inter-Korean Summit in 2000, Hwang filed an application to participate in the family reunion, but was not successful. He tried to find his family several more times afterwards, and this task somehow found its way to me. Though I decided to take it because of the money, I was nervous. I had traded goods at several places but never searched for people. Anyhow, I did not do it alone. Several people took parts in the mission. I took the responsibility for finding the individuals and bringing them to Beijing. I told Hwang that it would not be easy because the border control had been strengthened recently. I went to look for his two children only with their names and the address from 1950. From Musan to Cheongjin and then from Cheongjin to Myeongchun, it cost me 30 thousand won. Through a few rounds of searching, I finally located the brothers. At the news that their father from the South was looking for them, the brothers showed mixed feelings of joy, fears, confusion and sadness. Because both of them following a stranger would be seen with suspicion, we decided only the elder one would cross the Tumen River next day with me.
At the border, I bribed two soldiers with 2,000 yuan. Through a hole that had been made with the help of another person, we crossed the barbed-wire fence. Because the troops and armed police patrol the border even during the night, we had to leave the border area as quickly as possible. We walked for four to five hours across mountains, having to avoid main roads. We followed the barking of the dogs and we reached a Han Chinese household raising cows.
We paid 200 yuan to lodge for one night, and we started to walk again the next day morning after having two hurried bowls of rice together with well-steamed pork meat. By lunch time, we had paid 200 yuan for a meal at one of Han ethnic families that cultivate ginseng. We slept in a mud hut during that day while drying out our wet shoes. We could not walk anymore in the afternoon since we were so tired. We departed in a hurry the next morning and called a taxi once we arrived at a small city before lunch time. A taxi from Ryongjeong (Longjing) arrived in less than an hour. We checked in at an inn in Yeonkil (Yenji) for 100 yuan. We spent 300 yuan in taking a bath, eating our fill, and sleeping as much as we wanted. We informed the people in Seoul of our whereabouts and made a reservation on the bus for Beijing. The next day at 12 pm, we got on a bus for Beijing. The price was 350 yuan each.
Although train is more convenient for a long distance trip, we used bus since we were concerned about a sudden police inspection. We arrived in Beijing the next morning. When we arrived at the appointed place, Mr. Hwang was already there. I was about to observe the reunion of a father and son who had lived separately for more than 60 years. An 88 year old gray-haired father and a 65 year old gray-haired son met at last. It was not possible that they could recognize each other since the father left home when the son was only three years old. While the family-members of Mr. Hwang watched, the father and son checked out each other’s identity for more than an hour. After their thorough search about their old home address, mother’s name, age, and birth day, uncle and aunt’s name, grandfather’s and grandmother’s name, and other relatives’ address, and after having some time of tracing back their memories, they started to cry out, hugging each other. Other people also started to cry as they witnessed the father and son reunion.
After three days, Mr. Hwang handed over $3,000 to me expressing his appreciation. It was the biggest amount of money I had ever had in my hands. I felt bewildered. Mr. Hwang gave two golden rings, two golden watches, and two golden necklaces to his son, as well as $5,000 cash. The father and son had to say goodbye in tears. It was a heartbreaking reality that they had to say goodbye again only after three day’s reunion. Mr. Hwang said that he has four children from his marriage in South Korea. He told me that the people who accompanied him were his sons. The sons from the South told their older half brother that they wished for his health and hoped to see each other again when the countries get united. The son from the North also had to return to his home town since he has his own wife and children.
The father came back to Seoul with pictures of the second son and the eldest son’s family. The eldest son returned home in Myungcheon as well after 50 days of unbelievably risky journey. Out of five thousand dollars that his father gave to him, the eldest son exchanged a thousand dollar into Renminbi. He paid 2,000 yuan to soldiers of the border and 2,000 yuan additionally to the guide who helped him cross the Tumen River. When he got back and tried to share his father’s presents with his younger brother, he didn’t share everything evenly together with his brother. Actually, a gold ring, a gold necklace and several children’s clothes are given to his younger brother. The eldest decided to keep two gold watches and all cash, including 1,500 yuan, left over after spending for his return journey. However, after arguing with his wife for a long time, he gave only a thousand dollar to his brother. His brother and sister-in-law took money and other stuffs with great gratitude without knowing that they deserved more. The younger brother’s family was happy enough because they didn’t have to keep having corn noodle only. The eldest and his family can survive without worries for about 10 years with what he keeps now, 3,000 dollars, 1,500 yuan, two gold watches, and “made-in-China” good quality clothes that he bought in Yeonkil (Yenji). He is not so sure what will happen when his younger brother gets to know about the unfair share in the future. However, he just ignored all of his guilt because it’s a natural part of human instinct to be greedy if you are in need.
During all this time, I went through so many indescribable feelings. Leaving other feelings aside, I think that it is lucky for separate family members to be able to ascertain the matter of their family’s life or death by seeing each other, even for only a brief time. How many families are suffering in the Korean Peninsula now? How desperately do they want to see their parents, siblings and relatives? If we agree that they will die sooner than later, I don’t think that anyone can deny the urgent need for divided families’ reunion. Ironically, even though I make a living thanks to those divided families, I think that the reunion day shouldn’t be delayed any longer.