In North Korea at the time, girls weren’t supposed to ride bicycles. There was a social stigma—people thought it unsightly and sexually suggestive—and periodically the Workers’ Party would issue formal edicts, making it technically illegal. Mi-ran ignored the rules. From the time she was eleven years old she would set out on the family’s only bicycle, a used Japanese model, on the road to Ch’ongjin. She needed to get away from her little village, to go anywhere at all. It was an arduous ride for a child, about three hours, uphill mostly, on an unpaved road. Men cursed her for her audacity—“You’ll tear your cunt!”—and teenage boys would try to knock her off the bicycle. Mi-ran screamed back, matching obscenity with obscenity, and she kept pedaling.
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