For the Global Thinker

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Learning to Live Outside the World`s Biggest Prison

A night scene of China's gleaming Dandong city (right) and North Korea's Sinuiju city (left). When the sun sets, North Korea plunges into darkness due to an eletricity shortage.


"North Korea was in the grip of a famine which eventually killed 1 to 3 million people. People abandoned the state system and survived by any means possible.
"When my mother was still alive, she went up into the mountains and found a piece of land where we could grow food without being seen," Rhee said. "My mother and sister did the farming and I would walk three hours to the market and help sell what we had: corn, beans, grain, rabbits and chicken."
When Rhee was 15, her mother died, after a small cut on her foot became infected. "Really, she was killed by the lack of hospital services," she said.
Rhee and her sister, Sang-mi, then 18, were left to fend for themselves, with no family left and no social support. In 2007, the two sisters and two of Sang-mi's friends decided to escape themselves, wading across the Yalu river that divides the north-eastern corner of North Korea from Manchuria.
They did not have much of a plan. They went first to relatives of one of Sang-mi's friends, but they had no room and directed them to a Chinese man in Yanji city who they said would put them up.
The hospitality came at a price. The man's wooden house was divided into two. The man lived with his family on one side, and on the other North Korean girls sat at computers in front of webcams, performing for sex chatlines.
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