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Today’s Korea Photo

22 Jan
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Daegu, 01/09, originally uploaded by spneale.

Obama’s Long Day’s Work Just Isn’t Appreciated

22 Jan

Finally, after months – was it years? – of waiting for the transition finally to ease into the actual presidency, President Obama – it does sound good, heh? – DID something! Not, I will, I would, I should, or all the speculation from pundits I never cared to ask. And, it was good – I resisted the biblical phrasing.

In the evening of his inauguration, President Obama ordered a 120-day freeze on proceedings against five accused 9/11 plotters. The next day, President Obama sought another delay in a DC district court habeus corpus hearing for three Gitmo detainees. But then, a shear winner for symbolism and transparency, President Obama revoked former President George W. Bush’s executive order to cloak secret documents and also rescinded another order flouting FOIA requests. Not bad for a first day on the job!

Or, was he really president? Damn that Chief Justice Roberts!

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The Great Korean Escape

22 Jan

National Geographic (with accompanying photo gallery) has a gripping tale of North Korean refugees escaping through PRC to Laos and the Golden Triangle, and then finally to Thailand and haven in ROK.

The moment came. Pastor Chun received the go-ahead from his operatives for the escape to begin—a 2,000-mile train trip from Beijing to Yunnan Province, followed by an arduous trek on foot over mountains into Laos, cutting through jungle to the Mekong River. Crossing it puts the refugees in Thailand, where North Koreans can apply for asylum. Red and White would leave first, and Black a few days later with another group.

Accompanied by a Chinese guide, Red and White were driven overnight to Beijing and dropped off near a railway station in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The plan called for them to board a train to Kunming, Yunnan’s capital, their rendezvous point with three other North Koreans. I would catch the same train. Chun’s relayed instructions to the defectors were succinct: Stay quiet, pretend to sleep or hide in a restroom if police come to check IDs, and pray to God. If arrested, don’t reveal the names of those who helped you.

Once on the train Red and White climbed to the top bunks in a sleeper car and huddled under blankets. Occasionally they sneaked looks out the windows, watching vistas of frozen fields and cities veiled in coal smoke give way to green fields and thick fruit orchards. At one stop, White dashed outside to buy a bag of mandarin oranges. Several times during the 40-hour journey, police and railroad agents came down the corridors to check tickets and identifications, but Red and White lay inert in their beds, and the officials ignored them.

Reaching Kunming, they joined the crowd milling about in the station’s cavernous waiting room. Soon they spotted the other defectors. The leader was a 30-year-old former taxi driver, who carried a cell phone and fake documents and spoke passable Chinese. An 18-year-old woman wearing a stylish beret had, like Red and White, been a sex industry worker. The third defector was a 57-year-old mother, determined to join a daughter who had already made it to South Korea.

Amid the crush of people on the sidewalk, they waited for a guide Chun had hired to lead them to Thailand. Martial anthems blared from loudspeakers, and soldiers regularly marched past. The minutes crawled. The exhausted group huddled near a pillar, wide-eyed at the commotion around them. Sensing that if the five North Koreans stood outside much longer, an official would come up to question them, I invited them to wait in my hotel room.

For the next few hours the North Koreans sat on a long sofa, avidly watching movies on the TV. “He’s so handsome,” one cooed about Tom Cruise, whom she’d never heard of. They savored Cokes from the minibar and shared the fruit. “I can’t even imagine what will happen next,” White said, switching the channel. “I just want to get to South Korea; it seems so civilized and wealthy.” She would fit in, at least on the surface. She had changed into tight jeans (illegal in North Korea), high black boots, and a frilly blouse, topped off with a heart-shaped pendant around her neck. Red switched into flashier clothes too, but she appeared lost, wrapping her arms around herself as if to squeeze out fearful thoughts. She startled when asked about her plans. “Maybe learn English, take computer classes,” she said hastily. No one was thinking that far ahead.

GI Korea has also highlighted an unsettling aspect of the refugee issuesex trafficking. Yet, as North Korea Today opines, “The news of increasing numbers of women going to jail due to crimes related to livelihood is a clear example of the seriousness of the difficulties people are facing.” The editorial doesn’t identify the crimes women specifically commit, but it’s reasonable to assume, that it’s just a short swim from criminal activity in DPRK to crime across the Tumen.

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