Interview with North Korean Cave-Dwellers. 2.


2005.07.13
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Sub-zero temperatures

Husband: We went to the mountain on March 19. The ground was frozen so we could not dig very deep. We built some stone flues on some parts of the ground. But it was hard to find the right stones, so we used any stones we could find. We used to specialize in building residential houses in North Korea.

RFA: So you put a furnace in the corner and let the smoke go out from there?

Wife: Yes, it sounds easy, when we say it now. But I had only 100 yuan or 12,000 South Korean won when we arrived there. At first, we slept on the grass in that cold weather for three days.

Husband: It was snowy too.

RFA: I am sure it was colder since you were in the mountains.

Wife: Yes. It was so cold. We North Koreans did not have any future. I thought it was all destiny. Let’s just feel comfortable now. I looked up the sky and started to cry. But I prayed whenever I felt that way. I thought: "God will remember us. He must be listening to my prayers."

RFA: You said you had 100 yuan in the beginning. What did you do with 100 yuan?

Pototoes kept starvation at bay

Wife: We bought some rice, some flooring material, and salt. We also collected some leftover seeds from farm houses, and planted them at the front of the house….

Husband: After we built the house, we cut the grass from the front yard to put grass on the fence and roof. So we had a garden in front of the house. So we did little farming in the yard. We planted some potato seeds.

RFA: Did you have any blankets?

Husband: We always carried our blankets. Even when we stayed at some other people’s places, they were not willing to give us blankets, because they thought we were dirty…

RFA: Since you were living in the hole, I am sure it was very humid.

Wife: That is so true.

Gift of kimchee

Husband and wife: Due to the humidity in the cave, we built the stone flues on the floor for heating. When we didn’t heat the floor, the moisture came up from the ground and trees. So we had to put many layers of paper on the floor. And we had to have some food stored for winter time. So we dried some vegetables and mushroom.

z??e of the dried food to the town. Then, people gave us some kimchi out of pity. kimchi was the food that I always wanted to eat. Sometimes, we dug up and ate the potatoes we planted, even though they were not ripe, because we had no other food.

RFA: You ate only vegetables…you could not eat any meat?

Wife: No. We did not even see any meat.

RFA: Couldn't you hunt?

Husband: Hunting was illegal too. We could buy some food from working. We went to a town to do work. We did farming work and got paid. With the money we earned, we bought shoes, clothing, bean paste, soy sauce, salt, and beans for basic spices.

RFA: It was not like you lived in the mountains for the whole time. You worked in a town, but moved to the mountains to stay safe from the Chinese police?

Basic subsistence a struggle

Husband: We lived in the mountains except for those days when we worked in the town. But the work did not take more than a week. So we went back and forth to the town. One week of labor was enough to buy 100 kilograms of rice. That lasted four months. We only ate rice.

RFA: You were a young couple. And I am sure you were considerate about your husband’s health when you cooked; how did you prepare the meals?

Wife: We just ate bean paste soup with diced potatoes in it. We were just happy that we were not caught. We were happy that we could be together until the end of our lives.

RFA: It took one hour to get to the town, but it was such an isolated mountain. How did you live without any medical facilities?

Wife: In fact, my husband had serious hemorrhoids and joint pain. The life there was beyond imagination. People from capitalist countries must not have survived in a place like that. North Koreans think only of one thing: survival. Human beings, whether they are business owners, national assemblymen, even the president, would cry if they were under the threat of death. We just endured the pain.

RFA: How did you take care of hygiene in the middle of the mountain?

Haven in South Korea

Husband: I took warm baths a lot. We had a furnace. So we boiled water and took baths all the time. We took baths even in the wintertime.

RFA: So it was not like you were healthy on the mountain. You were sick but you did not feel like you were sick. You overcame with will power.

Wife: Yes. We found out in South Korea that he was seriously ill. We had to get him surgery.

Husband: I was sick but I did not want to say so because it would just hurt her feelings. And we had more urgent things to take care of. My sickness was really on a back burner.

RFA: Now you are living in an apartment in South Korea. What first comes to your mind when you think about those days in the mountains?

Wife: Nothing is difficult. I could live anywhere as long as there are no human rights violations.

Original reporting by Jinseo Lee. RFA Korean service director: Jae-hoon Ahn. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.