From Survival to Freedom:

-The Stormy Life of a North Korean Defector-

 

 

 

 

By Kosuke Takahashi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright

Kosuke Takahashi

2003

 


Kim Soon Hee,
a North Korean defector in the United States

   

 

The night was bitter cold. It was dark without moonlight. Across the 100-yard-wide river lay ahead China. The Tumen River was frozen.

Kim Soon Hee, 39, was carrying her two-year-old son on her back and a backpack on her chest. She ran as hard and as fast as she could across the river from North Korea. Three other North Koreans fled with her.

Gunshots shattered the silence. Two people screamed as they were shot to death by North Korean border guards. The third person went missing.

Kim Soon Hee was in China by sunrise. She was cold and shaking. Her son was screaming and crying. Kim's legs were bleeding from the cuts inflicted by the cracks of ice and rocks in the river. But she and her son had survived. Once in China, she headed further inland until she could not walk anymore. She kept walking and never turned back.

Kim Soon Hee stayed in China for six years. Then, in August 2000, she left her son behind and headed for the United States. She made it as far as the Mexican border. In April 2001, she was arrested trying to get to San Diego illegally.

Last November, however, the U.S. government granted Kim political asylum. She is only the third North Korean granted that status to date. She now lives a life in the shadows in Los Angeles, working as a waitress and hoping to get her son back.

Her struggle for survival and freedom has been long and hard. It is very unusual for North Koreans to reach the United States. North Korea has, since its birth at the conclusion of World War II, been ruled by its founder Kim Il Sung and his son, current leader Kim Jong Il, who have established a Stalinist regime and cult of personality that has left millions near starvation and their nation isolated. North Korea is a state few can visit and from which few can escape. To meet a North Korean is perhaps the rarest encounter ordinary Americans might ever have. And that, together with the story of the bizarre world she left behind, makes Kim Soon Hee's story as unique as it is harrowing. Yet people around her are still not quite sure who she really is. This is the story of a North Korean woman who remains something of a mystery, as well as the story of her turbulent life in the "Hermit Kingdom" and her perilous journey to the United States.

 

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"All the time, I am worrying about my remaining family in Musan City," Kim Soon Hee said, wincing with a faraway look in her narrow eyes. This March, Kim agreed to an extensive, three-day interview with me. We met in the house of Han Cheong Il, a South Korean resident in San Diego and voluntary guardian of Kim in the U.S.

"I can have no contact with them,h Kim, dressed in a black and white striped, long sleeved shirt, said. gI am afraid that they have already been punished and killed because of my escape from North Korea."

Kim was born on Feb. 27, 1964 and grew up in Musan City, Ham Kyung Book Do County, which is very close to the Chinese border in the northern part of North Korea. Her father, Jung Kyu Kim, was born on March 15, 1929 and served in the Korean People's Army (KPA) for many years and retired from its top position in 1991. He was stationed in Chulsan in Ham Kyung Book Do. Her mother, Sung Sook Lee, was born on April 6, 1931 and had been a housewife.

Kim has an older sister and two younger brothers. Her brothers joined the army when they were eighteen years old.

She was sort of a member of the intelligentsia in North Korea. Kim graduated from Yeo-Myong University, Chong-Jin City, with a physical education degree when she was 22. Among the subjects she learned were mathematics, chemistry, biology and Japanese. She was then assigned as an elementary teacher at the Musan In Min School in Musan by the Korean Workers Party. She taught physical education to classes of about 45-46 students.

At the age of 24, she married Dong Chul Chang, a middle school teacher, now 40. They were introduced by his brother, who worked with her at the same elementary school. Kim and her husband have a son, Young Min Chang, age twelve.

Kim lost contact with the rest of her family in Musan. While hiding out in China in 1994, she once wrote a letter to an uncle in Pyongyang to ask about the current situation of her family in Musan. But his reply was shocking to her.

It said, "Family is in danger. Do not write me a letter any more. Otherwise, I will also be in a lot of danger." She has since stopped sending her letters to North Korea.

"I want to erase everything about North Korea from my memory," Kim said. "I got bad luck in North Korea. Even if Kim Jong Il dies, I do not want to go back there. It's terrible country. I got sick and tired of it."

In North Korea, many bitter experiences led her to take the cross-border action.

She was caught six times illegally selling dried squid in the evenings to help support her family. Internal security agents of the Korean Workers Party kicked, hit, and pushed Kim and ordered her to stop banned capitalistic activity.

Still, she persisted. In 1993, the police unleashed their dogs on her. She suffered bites on both of her legs. The police, she says, also beat her.

The North Korean communist party sets wages and assigns all jobs. Not until July 2002 did the government begin taking steps toward economic reforms by approving small private food markets and lifting the price controls. Up to then engaging in capitalistic behavior—regardless of the reason—had been viewed as a result of foreign influence. Any sort of external influence had always been unacceptable in the Stalinist country, for it represented the regime and personality cult built on mistrust of all outsiders.

Kim's trouble did not end there. The marriage was also a bad one.

From about 1990 to 1994, Kim was the victim of domestic violence. She was struck and pushed by her husband about once a month for refusing to accept his extra-martial relationships. Traditional, family-centered values of Korean culture based on Confucianism control social attitudes toward women. Women are viewed somehow as inferior in North Korea. Domestic violence is viewed as the fault of the woman or as a man's right to exercise his authority over his family. She was forced to suffer the physical and emotional abuse of her husband for years, and could not voice her anger at what he was doing.

She was unable to seek the help of law enforcement or the local government. The police and government would do nothing to combat domestic violence. She was also afraid of the authorities because of the beatings she suffered for illegally selling dried squids. The domestic violence only stopped when she escaped North Korea in 1994.

Asked why she did not seek a divorce, Kim said, "Divorce is not accepted in North Korea. You cannot get divorced. But there is an exception. Women who cannot have a child can get divorced. Other than that, you cannot get divorced."

As remote as North Korea remains, Musan is a rare city with contact with the rest of the world, especially China and Japan.

Musan, a coal-mining city with an estimated population of 130,000, sits near the border with China. Because of this geographical proximity, Kim learned much about life in China. This came from people who traveled in and out from China with food and money. She kept hearing about higher living standards outside of North Korea and heard many friends complain privately of the impoverishment of her country.

In addition, there were about ten Japanese families in Musan, who had arrived there before the 1950-53 Korean War. Since that time the government had never let them leave the country. Kim said they lived in an apartment where only rich North Koreans can live, had a fine refrigerator and wore nice clothes. She got clothes from them while she was growing up. She even learned some old Japanese songs from them and sang them in front of me.

Musan is located in a mountainous region and is known as a coal-mining town. It has no arable lands for rice crops, and produces corn but seldom enough to produce much of a surplus. Musan's already poor food situation was exacerbated by North Korea's "great famine" of the 1990s, in which millions of people died of starvation.

Kim said she could only eat rice and tofu once a year. That date was April 15th, Kim Il Sung's birthday. She ate corn, potato and cucumber as her staple day after day. The government gave out food rations to people only once every several months. She saw long lines of people waiting to get food distributed every time.

"I saw uncountable people starve to death, especially children," Kim said. "Children were even picking up ants on the streets. They ate anything alive on the streets they could eat because they were so hungry."

Kim hated life in North Korea-the repression, her husband's betrayal and the poverty.

"At the age of 20 or so, I became mature enough to think about our society," Kim said. "And I became very upset about it."

Asked about Kim Jong Il, she shouted, "I hate him. Kill him!"

Despair made Kim courageous enough to leave her mother country.

 

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On Feb. 26, 1994, Kim Soon Hee left home with her son.

Kim had made extensive preparations for fleeing. She filled her backpack with powdered corn that could be easily drunk with water, matches and a valuable antique Korean ceramic pot that her father had given to her when she had told him that she was going to escape from North Korea. He was the only person in her family with whom she shared her plan.

gI could not tell my mother about my plan because we were so close,h Kim said. gI knew what her reaction would have been. She would have surely stopped me. She would have been very afraid that we were going to be killed at the border.h

Even though her father knew that her escape would destroy his life, she said, he did not oppose or attempt to subvert her plan: he understood the suffering she had experienced.

Kim had planned her escape for several years with three other people. One was her studentfs father, and the other ones were his brother and sister.

On the night of Feb.26, they headed westbound on foot to the village of Sam-Jang—a community near the Tumen River. They ate corn meal en rout to Sam-Jang.

They traveled only at night because daytime travel was too dangerous. There were KPA soldiers or boarder guards everywhere near the border. If they were caught, they knew they would be prosecuted and executed for their betrayal. They hid in bushes and slept during the daytime.

Four days after leaving Musan, they arrived in Sam-Jang in the early morning. They proceeded to an old womanfs house there. Her co-conspirators knew the old lady, who lived by herself. She fed them dinner.

The group decided to rest for a while and then head to the Tumen River, which was only a hundred yards away from Sam-Jang.

While Kim was taking a rest with her son, her compatriots came into the room. They told her that they could not cross the river with her because of her son. Kim begged them to take both her and her son. Finally they relented.

On March 1, 1994, they left the house at about 3:00 a.m. They walked about twenty minutes to the river. They decided to separate, thinking this would improve their chances of walking across.

The shooting started as they began to cross. Kimfs compatriots fell, but Kim was physically strong enough to cross the river, carrying her little son on her back: Kim used to play volleyball at the age of 9 to 16.

The water was only up to her stomach. Kim walked toward the village. By that time, her son had become sick. She was also shaking like a leaf in a storm.

She trudged on and found a house with a barn and hid in the barn. She held her son and he cried until the morning sun was bright.

When a Chinese-Korean woman came out from the house and saw them, she took pity and fed them. She gave Kim twenty won in Chinese currency and warned her not to travel on rural roads but to travel through the mountains.

Kim headed toward the mountain. It was getting dark. Her son started to cry again and she was scared. She picked up some pieces of wood and lit a fire with matches in her backpack.

Soon, two hunters came upon Kim. They looked at Kim and her son carefully and said, gYou must have escaped from North Korea?h Kim did not answer.

They too were Korean-Chinese. At first Kim was silent. Then, she said, she began to cry. She begged them for help. The hunters took her to their house. Their house was located in the midst of the mountains. She planned to stay there for one day and leave, but her son had a very high fever and was too ill to continue the journey.

The hunters let her stay for about ten days, until a stranger visited the house.

He was a local Chinese-Korean leader named Lee Ju-Suk.

Lee gave Kim and her son permission to stay at his home in the mountains for six months. She worked for his family, cooking, cleaning and washing their clothes. Leefs family had two daughters whose ages were almost the same as Kimfs son.

Finally, after two years later, she heard Lee and his wife arguing. Kim emerged from her room, only to be confronted by Leefs wife, who cursed her and hit her. Later, she said she found out that the wife upset because Lee was paying her for her work. The wife ordered her to get out.

Lee sent Kim to his farmer uncle's home. There she lived with Leefs uncle, wife, daughter and son. She spent three years working for them.

By now the time had come for her son to attend school. Because there were no nearby schools, the uncle suggested they move to the city called Yon-Byon.

The school demanded that Kim pay to have her son enrolled. She agreed.

But in Yon-Byon, meanwhile, Chinese border guards and public security officers were intensifying their searches for North Koreans who had fled from their country. China was deporting those refugees if caught.

Kim said she had many hideous experiences seeing North Koreans being prosecuted by Chinese authorities.

One day, she was walking down the street with her son, and she saw a man being dragged by Chinese authorities. They were hitting him with a long flashlight, and kicking and stepping on him with their boots. They beat him and hooked his nose with a steeled hook. Kim heard from the local Chinese that authorities were going to kill him or send him back to North Korea where he would be tortured and executed for his betrayal.

Kime was very scared and felt uneasy. Since then, she lived with the horror that the same fate awaited her and her son.

Lee Young Hwa, the representative of Rescue The North Korean People! (RENK), a Japan-based citizens' group supporting North Korean asylum seekers in China since early 1990s, said he had only heard from North Korean refugees about rumors of such Chinese authoritiesf cruel oppression. But Kim insisted she had seen that brutality, and she testified about this to the Executive Office for Immigration Review of the U.S. government. Her testimony cannot be independently corroborated today although.

One day, her Chinese Korean neighbor introduced her to a Korean woman who owned a uniform store. Kim started to work there, knitting and making alterations. She was paid about $150 per month. She worked there for three years. The woman was married to a man whose name was also Kim. She said she called him gBoss Kim.h

One day after the work, the woman asked to speak with Kim. First she thanked Kim for working hard and gave her some clothes and cash. Then, she asked how Kim continued to live illegally with her son in China. She warned Kim that if she were to be caught by the Chinese authorities, then she would be sent back to North Korea.

Then, the woman told Kim about America. She said in America she and her son could live in freedom. gFrom that point on, I could not stop thinking about going to America,h Kim said. gBut I didn't know how to get there.h

At that time, Kim never thought about going to South Korea because she believed that South Koreans were sneaky, as cunning as foxes, and always trying to defraud other people of money.

Several days passed, and Kim was introduced to a man selling fake passports. He asked her for 20,000 won in Chinese currency, or about $2,000, for a passport that would help gain her entry to the United States. She did not have that much money. She called her old friend Lee and asked him for help.

Lee was silent. Then he started to help Kim, but only at a price: If Kim agreed to let him and his wife raise her only son, he would give her the money.

Kim agreed.

It was a crucial and cruel moment as a mother.

Later, when I asked her how she could agree to such a demand, Kim said, gI planned to go to the U.S. and get back my son later. There was no choice. Live or die.h

When I asked her if she feels guilty about this, she replied in a barely audible whisper, gYes, I do. I never stopped thinking of my son left behind.h

But did Kim really think about her well-being first, before that of her son, when she was confronted with the choice of whether to leave him behind in China or not?

An American friend said she thought of herself.

gShe chose her destiny first,h said Han Sang Hee, the daughter of her Korean American benefactor, who served as a court interpreter for Kim. gAs a mother, it sounds cruel, but itfs human nature. She had no choice. If I were her, I also would have brought myself first. You have to understand that.h

Her father elaborated: gI personally think that the Chinese-Korean couple wanted her son as their own child because they could not have had a boy. They only had two girls. They regretted not having boys. Even if Kim returns to get her son back in the future, by that time, her son naturally would think his parents are that couple. I suspect this is what that couple thought.h

Lee Young Hwa, head of RENK, pointed out that most of the North Korean adult refugees like Kim had abandoned their little children when they escaped.

gThey act on animal instinct,h Lee said, who is also an associate professor of economics at Kansai University in Japan. gThey think they will be able to have another baby in the very future if they escape and survive. They think they can give birth to another baby again. Because of this, many refugeesf minds have gone to pieces, having destroyed their family bond.h

Kim left her son and the antique her father had given her with Lee Ju-Suk in return for $6,000 in U.S. currency. She bought a forged South Korean passport for $2,000. She planned to leave China with Boss Kim who had business to conduct in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

 

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In August 2000, Boss Kim and Kim Soon Hee left Yon-Byon. They headed east towards Buk-Kyong in south China by train. It took them a day. In Buk-Kyong, they took separate rooms at a local hotel. They stayed there for two months while Boss Kim attended to business.

On Oct. 28, 2000, they traveled to Shim-Soo adjoining Hong Kong by train for two days. After getting off the train, Boss Kim told her to cross the border into Hong Kong on her own. He told her that he would follow her after she crossed the border.

She was to call his cellular phone after crossing the border, and they would meet each other in Hong-Kong.

She headed alone towards the underground hallway of the train station, Boss Kim watching her from behind. The hallway connected Hong-Kong and Shim-Soo. She walked through the hallway for about fifteen minutes.

On the upper level was an inspection area. Kimfs heart was beating hard and she was sweating. The inspector looked at her and then her fake passport. He did not ask her any questions. Instead he stamped her passport.

There was a train station near the inspection area. Kim got a train, passed three stations and got off. She found a public telephone and called Boss Kim.

It was now about 2:00 p.m. Boss Kim answered the phone. He asked her where she was. She did not know. She grabbed a man passing by. Kim did not speak their dialect of Chinese, so she used body language. He seemed to speak English. Boss Kim spoke English very well, so they were able to communicate. He seemed like he was describing the location where she was. He then handed the phone back to her. Boss Kim told her to stay where she was. She was in front of a hotel.

Boss Kim arrived around 4:30 p.m. They went into the hotel but it was very expensive. They had to save money for a trip to the Philippines, so they decided to sleep on the bench in front of the hotel. The night was very cold. Kim said that was one of the most unforgettable moments during her journey because she had never experienced sleeping on the cold bench.

They got up at 6:00 a.m. next morning. They then took a bus to the Hong-Kong Airport.

At the airport, Boss Kim purchased two airfare tickets to the Philippines. They got on the plane and arrived in Manila about two hours later.

In Manila, they found beds in a motel and a youth hostel. They stayed there for about twenty days while Boss Kim conducted his business.

Kim Soon Hee flew from Manila to Mexico City on Nov. 20, 2000 with a ticket that Boss Kim bought for her.

Upon her arrival in Mexico City, she got in a taxi and asked the taxi driver to gGo, LA!h But the driver took her to a hotel. She did not speak English, so she had to communicate through body language.

gHow would I have known the difference between Mexico and America?h Kim said. gSince I arrived in Mexico City, I thought Mexico was part of America.h

She threw her fake passport and airfare tickets away once she arrived in the hotel because she felt too uneasy to keep them.

The next morning, she went downstairs to the lobby. She wanted to ask them for help. The receptionist tried to help her. He told her to wait there, made few phone calls, and told her to answer the phone.

The person who was on the phone was a Korean. He asked her if she wanted to go to the Korean consulate. She said she couldn't and wouldn't. He told her that he would help her and told her to wait in the hotel for a while. She was scared but she waited.

A few hours later, he had arrived. Kim said he was a very nice man. They introduced themselves but she did not tell him that she was North Korean. Instead, she told him she was Korean-Chinese.

First, she asked him to take her to a cheaper hotel. They left the hotel and found a cheaper hotel. The rate was $20 per day. She did not know what to do next. The man said he would help her, so she told him that she wanted to go to America.

After staying at that motel for almost a month, the man introduced her to a truck driver. He told her to take his truck and go to Tijuana with the truck driver. He said that Tijuana was close to the U.S. and when she arrived there, she could find the way to America. She paid the truck driver $600. That was all the money she had left in her pocket.

On Dec.16, 2000, she left Mexico City with the truck driver. She got in the back of the truck. It was a big truck and had no windows. It was dark inside. It took them almost eight days to get to Tijuana.

In Tijuana the truck driver took her to his friend's house. She spent one and a half day at his friendfs house. The driverfs friend introduced her to a sewing company, and the owner of the company seemed Taiwanese. She decided to work there for a while to gain much knowledge of how to sneak into the U.S.

The owner even found her a place to stay. She was paying 1200 pesos in Mexican currency per month for the room.

Her salary was $900 to $1,200 per month, depending on how many hours she worked. She worked eighty six hours per week. She worked day and night, even on weekends.

About three months passed. One day, a Hispanic friend came to her with a taxi driver. That friend told her to pack her belongings and go to the United States with him. Then she gathered her belongings and left the place with him. She paid the taxi driver $700. He already had a new fake passport for her. She did not see the passport. The taxi driver had it the whole time.

On April 6, 2001 at 9:00 p.m., she left Tijuana with the taxi driver. When they were stopped at the border, the inspector asked her for the passport. The taxi driver handed the inspector a passport. The inspector looked at her and then her passport.

That American officer was smart enough to notice her strange English accent. They were asked to pull aside. And she was then arrested at the border by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for attempting to enter the U.S. using a false document—on the verge of entering the Promised Land.

 

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Kim was detained and released into the custody of Han, a former vice chairman of the Korean Peoplefs Association in San Diego, after asking for political asylum as the first North Korean refugee on May 2001. She underwent a host of psychological tests and interviews both by the FBI and the INS and at immigration court hearings until she was officially given asylum status at a hearing in San Diego last November.

For Kim, the process of seeking refugee status in the U.S was difficult because it was hard to prove that she is in fact a real North Korean. Until she came to the U.S., the most important thing for her purpose had always been to disguise herself as a non-North Korean. She had abandoned all of the evidence which suggested she was North Korean.

gShe never said she is from North Korea,h Han said. gOfficers found it. She never knew what the situation would be. She was extremely afraid that once she confessed that she is a North Korean, she was going to be executed.h

Surprisingly, mid-May in 2001, soon after Kim applied for asylum and it became news in South Korea, the North Korean Mission to the United Nations in New York announced that Kim was actually not a North Korean citizen.

In May 2001, the Seoul-based organization called Commission to Help Korean Refugees (CHKR) sent a North Korean defector, Chang In Sook, to San Diego to make sure if Kim was from North Korea and, if so, to help verify Kimfs statement that she comes from North Korea.

From South Korea, Chang said in several email interviews and phone interviews, gThere were some disputes about Ms. Kim's identity around that time. The day before I met her, I also met two fake NK guys and revealed they were not real NK defectors, but Korean Chinese. I could conclude that because they didnft understand North Korean dialect and some terms used in North Korea. But Kim used the same dialect, terms and intonations as North Koreans use when I talked to her. And she also knew lots about North Korea.h

Despite that, some Korean Americans still doubt she is not from North Korea. Among them is Douglas Shin, a famous Korean-American pastor in Los Angeles whom the Los Angeles Times once featured, praising his human right activities toward North Korean refugees.

gI still think she is not from North Korea,h said Shin. gThe INS does not know her well.h But he said he has never met her and did not divulge his specific evidence to back up his opinions.

Kimfs guardian Han distanced himself from Shinfs views. gWe still never know about her well. She is still scared about everybody and does not open her mind 100 percent to us. She is not like us. She is from North Korea. She is kind of like eAlice in Wonderlandf here because North Koreans are very ignorant about the outside world.h

Indeed, Kim has found the adjustment difficult.

Kim did not know how to use a refrigerator and toilet. And Kim was once so surprised to see that the majority of American houses have a garage, saying gIn America, even cars have their own space.h

Kim was also surprised to know the fact that North Korea actually started the Korean War in 1950. She said in North Korea she had learned South Korea started the war.

During my stay in Hanfs house, Han held a party hosting about ten Koreans in San Diego. Kim never joined their conversations or ate at the dinner table. Instead, she had dinner alone in the kitchen and watched Korean TV dramas broadcasted by satellite.

When asked why she did not join them, she just shouted in English, gNo! No!h

For me, she always seemed to fear to reveal her lack of general knowledge, which would surely be disclosed once she joined them.

Indeed, even her constitution has also found the adjustment difficult. During the party, Kim ate a cut of pork spareribs and then her entire skin soon became red. Apparently, it was urticaria or hives. She said she has become allergic to meats because for years, she had always eaten vegetables in her mother country.

 

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According to Korean media such as the Yanhap news agency, there are two more North Korean defectors in the U.S. besides Kim who applied for asylum status in the U.S. later than Kim did. They gained it last September, earlier than Kim, marking the first time North Koreans have secured that status.

They are identified as Lee Kil-nam, 40, and Lee Chol-soo, 39. The two men reportedly fled North Korea separately at the age of 8 and 17, and had been hiding in the third countries like China and Russia. They happened to meet in Mexico via France after separately leaving Moscow on fake passports. They were also caught in last April illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

Lee Kil-nam has parents, a wife and a daughter in North Korea. Lee Chol-su married in 1986, and his father and wife are still in China.

According to Yu Lae Kyung, their guardian in Phoenix, Chol-soo now lives in Los Angeles and Lee Kil-nam in Phoenix. Yu did not divulge specific details about their current lives to me.

Kimfs son lives with Ju Suk Lee, an ethnic Korean and a Chinese citizen in Yon-Byon. She stays in touch with her son and Leefs family, by making an overseas call in once every two or three months: Kim does not have a home phone.

During the interview, Kim Soon Hee repeatedly said, gI wish to live freely with my son.h

gWhen will the day come at a time all the suffering North Koreans could live freely? I wish ordinary Americans would know much better about North Korea and help save North Koreans.h

Postscript:

 

It was really hard to find out a North Korean defector in the U.S. It took me three months to locate Ms. Kim. I've called many Congressmen's offices and dozens of Korean Churches here and elsewhere, as well as human rights organizations in both South Korea and the U.S. and bar associations across the U.S., including the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and the American Civil Liberties Union, to look for defectors.

Michael Shapiro, my supervisor at Columbia Universityfs Journalism School, once wrote me the following email on Nov.21.

gcome by to talk about your project. i have to tell you that at this point the window is closing on finding a north korean here. if you have not found one by this point i fear that your entire time will be spent in search of such a person. let's consider a new way to get at the same idea of the exile, alone, in a strange land.h

In looking for Ms. Kim, I noticed Korean people, such as pastors in churches here and elsewhere, are unwilling to talk to me about North Korean defectors. I suspect that this is because they do not want to get involved in any North-South problems. This topic is much more sensitive in the Korean community than I had expected.

By mid-January, I managed to find both Ms. Kim and her guardian Mr. Han in San Diego, who is protecting Ms. Kim. But Mr. Han said Ms. Kim needed time to get accustomed to her new life in the U.S. before granting me an interview.

It was on March 15 to17 that Mr. Han finally allowed me to speak to her and arranged my interview.

I have noticed lots of journalists are rushing to Mr. Han in order to interview Ms. Kim. Some Korean TV stations are even offering him several thousand U.S. dollars as a commission fee. But, so far, Mr. Han has not allowed any journalists to interview Ms. Kim, except me, because he is concerned with Ms. Kimfs sensitive mental condition. I gained his and Ms. Kimfs trust, which finally allowed me to do interview. I am very happy with this result.