Ask a North Korean: Defectors Talk About Their Lives Inside the World’s Most Secretive Nation by Daniel Tudor based its contents on the blog of the same name. Tudor divided his book into twelve parts according to topic: economic life; media and information; the outside world; health and welfare; defection; religion and spirituality; love, sex and relationships; fun and leisure, among others. After each question Tudor answered it himself and then a team of seven defectors gave their own personal answers. Sometimes the answers were the same–I get that Tudor may have wanted to make a point.
One such case where the defectors gave a unanimous answer was in response to “What should the world do to help North Koreans?”. The defectors all believed that the international community should focus its attention on the DPRK’s abysmal human rights record over its nuclear weapons program. People’s lives are at stake in prison and labour camps right now. Kim Jong Un’s chest-thumping missile launches are akin to a mouse roaring.
When asked “Is there anything good about living in North Korea?”, most of the defectors said that they missed the friendly bonds they had with their neighbours. In the DPRK, poverty meant that everyone shared and helped each other out. Life in capitalist societies–while life-saving in their own right for providing ample food and, above all, freedom–was too hectic and individualistic for the defectors. All of them experienced culture shock and discrimination when they arrived in the South. They did not have this experience when they moved to other countries.
The questions ranged from the predictable to those that surprised me: “What happens to gay people in North Korea?”; “Do North Koreans use condoms?”; “Does North Korea have pornography?”. The USB revolution is changing the country by exposing the population to extravagant capitalism as seen in smuggled American and South Korean movies and TV shows. USB’s also bring in banned literature as well as, well, pornography. The defectors were all in agreement that nothing gets done in the country without bribing someone to action. Bureaucracy crawls while bribes barrel along.