I started reading The Orphan Master’s Son: a North Korean Novel by Adam Johnson. If you know anything about my reading habits, you’ll know that with the exception of forced readings in school and a select handful of books, I only read non-fiction. Part of it, is that fiction just seems too stylized, the other part… I just love truth. Whether it’s skewed or not… I want to read what others view as truth, to glean information from it, to form a more stable core of who I am. Sure, some people read for enjoyment, I read for growth and self actualization. I didn’t know that I could actually get that from fiction.
Maybe it’s because it seemed so real… the places in the book… I’ve been there. I’ve sung karaoke in the Yonggakdo Hotel, I’ve been to Chongjin, I’ve been to the airport. I’ve seen the Great and Dear Leader’s pictures hanging above doorways. I’ve seen the workers with their families in the parks on Sundays. The book took me back to where I was and removed a veil. The Korea that I was shown… I knew it wasn’t the real Korea. I was able to see through that when I was there. Yet, reading this book made everything seem all the more real.
Only a third of the way through, something happened (which I won’t talk about because you really should read this book) that made me stop reading in the middle of a chapter. I didn’t want to know what I thought for sure was going to wind up happening. I tried to act like the proverbial ostrich with my head in the sand. I stopped reading for 2 days. But it tugged on me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation. If I stopped there, then the terrible things… they’d be continuing forever. So, with hesitation and fear, I continued reading.
What I discovered when I kept reading was that I had a pretty good idea of what would happen, but there was far more to the story than I had ever thought. I am so glad I kept reading. Not just because of this amazing story, but because it rekindled my passion for human rights in the DPRK. There was this passion that I’ve had for years and years… and yet, the past 9 months or so, it’s laid dormant mostly due to my journey in other aspects of my life. But… now I see more of who I am with a greater clarity than ever. There are millions starving in the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), there are crimes against humanity, imprisonment and torture for wrong thinking, and those that flee to China as refugees are hunted down and repatriated where defection is a capital offense and their families and neighbors will then be thrown into political labor camps. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
I can say with confidence that for the first time in my life, I know what I want to be when I grow up. I know the first step is to learn Korean. I’ve said it before, but that was when it was a more abstract idea… it’s hard to motivate yourself towards an unknown goal. Now, I know what I want, and I know some basic prerequisites, so, I’ll get those under my belt and once there, I’ll finally be doing what I was born to do.
It’s amazing how I can now see this path that I’ve been on… how I keep getting stuck in dead-end jobs… because if I had a career, it would make this craziness all the harder to do. Why leave a real job with real pay and real benefits to go do… *this*? No one in their right mind would. Thankfully, I’m not usually described as being in my right mind.
So, how will I learn Korean? Well, the options as I see them are either something like Rosetta Stone or try to take a course. Rosetta Stone seems like the best option because I can work that around my 2 job schedule the easiest. Now, my birthday is coming up in October (maybe that’s not quite “coming up”) and I’m not one to ask for birthday gifts, in fact, I try to avoid birthday junk as much as possible… however… I figure between birthday and Christmas… I can probably get enough scrounged together to get the Rosetta Stone system. So, I’m asking for your help. If you want to get a birthday or early (way early) Christmas gift for me, I would love Amazon gift cards. I can put them all together and finally learn Korean. Once I have Korean down, then it will be time to learn Mandarin. Yeah. I’m going to be living a really crazy life.
If you can’t help with a gift, that’s totally fine, and quite honestly, I don’t really expect it. What I do ask however, is that you educate yourself some on what is happening in this dark and isolated country and that you then share that with others. Raise awareness. Raise your voice. The more that know the truth, the more that can help. The more that we can actually get something done. We can put pressure on the UN to enforce its regulations. We can help protect the refugees that are in China and get them to South Korea, the US, or the country of their choosing safely. Let’s do something.
I browsed through a collection of North Korean photos I have and then some images online trying to convey the message, and I am choosing not to attach anything. The reason, that I don’t want to exploit their starvation, or their torture for something that would visually draw you in and tug at your heart. Instead, I’ll just add this photo of me with a few young boys. They might be adults by the time I get back, but I will be back.