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Monday, September 10, 2007

Book Club 

Due to an oversight, neither The Lovely One nor I had a book to read on the airplane trip back, so we bought some in Schipol.

I think she was a little weirded out that I chose This Is Paradise! by Hyok Kang.

The hook is that Mr. Kang is a rare escapee from North Korea, but even more rare, he escaped as a young teenager with his family. The book is his first-person description of what life was like in North Korea.

I finished all 200 pages in the plane with time to spare. It was compelling reading. The short version is this: the famine in Korea was far, far worse than I realized, if this account can be generalized. Hyok Kang escaped with his family to China in 1998; by that time two thirds of his schoolmates were not coming to class, either because they were too hungry to do so, too busy feeding themselves, or because they were dead of hunger.

The telling point may be that when the family escapes to rural China, it seems like an unbelievable paradise, because everyone has enough to eat. And also, that was where he first saw that exotic fruit, the banana. After four years living underground in China, they finally make a circuitous trip to South Korea.

The story is harrowing. I have some cause to doubt the completeness of the account: in one passage, Mr. Kang admits to having joined a "gang of bad boys" in China, and says rather obliquely that he became "involved in acts of violence that I now regret."

But as an unfiltered portrait of what life is like in North Korea, it's rare and done well.

Hey Dude,

How was the cross race on the weekend? Besides painful?
Better than living in North Korea!

No crashes, and I was slow but steady. The course was drier and looser than I have ever seen it, and Basse tld me that they had changed the run-up so that it was a shorter, easier one this year.

The loose, dry dirt dominated the feel of the event. Also, the water crossing was very long this year, but super-rideable. It's still junglecross, but it's really fun junglecross.
Japanfocus.org has a fascinating look at the Yanji Korean minority right north of the border with North Korea in Yanbian.

Japan Focus: China’s Korean Autonomous Prefecture and China-Korea Border Politics
Neat article, Gen. I think that's exactly the community that Hyok ended up in.
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