A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom



“In the free world, children dream about what they want to be when they grow up and how they can use their talents. When I was four and five years old, my only adult ambition was to buy as much bread as I liked and eat all of it.” 


Yeonmi Park, a North Korean girl, who managed to get out of the Hermit Kingdom. did not flee for freedom, She did not even know what freedom was, the only thing she could think about was food. Her father did everything he could to support the family and smuggled metal on the black market. Eventuallly he was sent to prison and the family ended up far down the hieracchy, something that would not change.

Born in 1993 in the city of Hyesan on the border to China, Yeonmi's life alternated between a decent existense, when the family had enough food, and pure misery. She remembers how she felt the smell of the noodles and was fascinated by the lights from the other side of the river, while her hometown often lay in darkness.

Yeonmi Park experienced both good times and bad times in North Korea before defecting. She escaped to China only to be trafficked with her mother. Her sister Eunmi went missing when she crossed earlier earlier.

The story is one of a family struggling to survive and come back together, but it is also a story of illumination. Very little are known about North Korea, due to its isolation. In Order to Live vividly describes everyday life, from food to traditions to fear of who might be listening to careless words.

Human trafficking is an issue that people like to ignore, sweep under the rug because it is. Yeonmi writes about how the crackdown in China during the Beijing Olympics affected her to live as someone without documentation, in fear of being sent back to North *Korea. Human trafficking has become a business in areas bordering North Korea, and cynical men have made a business out of helping refugees across borders. Some remain in their attempt to reach freedom raped and foced into prostitution, while others are forced to marry away. The price for freedom is high. 

But freedom can also be difficult to live when you have achieved it, "I had never imagined that freedom could be so cruel and difficult. Now i realized that I had to think all the time - and it was exhausting."

Yeonmi Park today travel the world as a lecturer and human rights activist. She now lives in New York, USA - the country that North Korea indoctrinated her to know as the country where US bastards live.


“In second grade we were taught simple math, but not the way it is taught in other countries. In North Korea, even arithmetic is a propaganda tool. A typical problem would go like this: “If you kill one American bastard and your comrade kills two, how many dead American bastards do you have?” 


It is dangerous for the North Korean regime, when people like Yeonmi Park has the courage to tell their stories - despite fears of reprisals against the families they left behind in North Korea. We who live in freedom, owe it to them to read their stories and appreciate the freedom we have.





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