“Jang Jin-sung was high-ranking officer in North Korean counter-intelligence, enjoying elite access to state secrets and praise form the president, Kim Jong-il. Yet, when a forbidden document went missing, he had to flee for his life.”
This was such a great read, not only because it was about a North Korean defector and his perilous journey to freedom, but also because it made me reflect about my own life and everything in general. There are so many lessons to be learnt from this book that I had to write it down somewhere to organise my thoughts because everything was just in a whirl when i finally finished the book. (I spent 4 hours reading it intensely on the same day I bought it, even skipping my dinner because I was too engrossed in the book. Yes, it is that good, at least for me.)
1. Absolute power corrupts absolutely
I know this is an extremely overused quotation, but the extent of the truth of this really hit me while reading the book. Because of the seniority of the author in the North Korean government, he was granted access to many highly classified documents in order to help him craft out propagandistic work for circulation both in the North (to further brainwash the people into believing in the greatness of their leaders) and South (to create empathy for the North and its regime). His level of seniority was only achieved after he wrote a poem that praised Kim Jong-il and won his favour. It is extremely appalling and disgusting to see how one can have so much power, such that with one word, families can be torn apart and lives can be destroyed, as if the value of lives of those people were much lesser. The more you have, the more afraid you are to lose it, the more desperate and ruthless your measures will be to protect the status quo. Fear is just one of the many tactics employed. While the Kims were revelling in their wealth, people were starving to death. Yet, they still blindly worshipped the Kims. Countless lies were fabricated to protect and preserve the “prestige” of the Kims and their image in the hearts and minds of the people.
2. The power of the human mind
Our minds are such powerful tools. Often, the mindset you have determines your success or failure. I think all defectors have extreme mental strength. The tenacity of the defectors is evident in their struggle towards a free life, where some escaped not once, not twice, but thrice just to achieve freedom. But then again, I think they rather die trying than to die in labour camps/tortured to death. Defecting is really not easy. You think you are free once you cross the borders into China, but no, Chinese soldiers are waiting to capture you and send you back. Locals living near the Chinese borders do not want unnecessary trouble by helping defectors. Then you meet all sorts of people who are trying to take advantage of your already wretched circumstances, especially more so if you are a woman where it is easy to cheat you into illegal sex work and all types of shitty circumstances. So really, it takes a fighter to be a defector. Even if you successfully make it to South Korea, it takes years to fully integrate into a new society. You will face discrimination from South Koreans, even though technically everyone is a Korean by definition. This just further proves point 1, because South Koreans have more economic power over the defectors, they have the power to discriminate and feel that their discrimination is justified.
It is also amazing how powerful psychology is as a political weapon and how it can be used to dominate the masses. Mao was also good at using psychological domination to ensure people remained loyal to him.
3. In face of danger, keep calm and use your brain
I think this is an extremely important skill to have. Sometimes we really just have to calm our tits so that we can make use of that perfectly good brain sitting on our shoulders. Panicking just makes matters worse because people can probably sense your panic and cause you to look even more suspicious. Optimism is really useful because hope is what keeps us going when everything seems impossible. As long as you have one last breath in you, there is still hope then things will take a turn for the better.
I could go on, but because it’s 3.30a.m. right now and I have to sleep. So these are just some of my thoughts as i was/after i finished reading this book. I just needed to pen them down somewhere and declutter my brain. If you have nothing to do then i really recommend this book cause it’s not just about the journey to freedom, but also about what actually goes on in the secretive country.