Well this evening was an exciting one. I went to the Seoul club to listen to, and hopefully meet the author of one of my favorite books on North Korea. Kang Chol-hwan was giving a talk at the joint invitation of the Democrats and Republicans abroad.
Before tonight though, I re-read his book. It had been a few years since I last looked at it (actually I had to go and actually buy a copy) and I felt I had better brush up. The book itself is a facinating glimpse of life in a North Korean labour camp and of Kang's life and death struggles to survive in the tyranical DPRK regime.
"The sweatbox is one of the harshest punishments imaginable, and since it could be used as retribution for the most trifling of offenses - offenses that would seem downright ridiculous on the outside - it was perpetually dangled over our heads. I exagerate when I say "our heads": it wasn't used on kids. But when a relative was sent to the sweatbox the whole family was scared, not knowing whether the loved one would make it out alive. Stealing three ears of corn, responding to a guard's command with insufficient zeal, missing a role call, even if the absence clearly had no wrongful intent - any of these was reason enough for being sent to the sweatbox. Yet all were "faults" that anyone could commit - and often had to commit - to survive."
Kang made mention during the talks that "one of the biggest pillars supporting the regime were the labour camps" and that "South Korean students are facinated by an illusion... (where as this) sentiment is affecting the DPRK and extending it's tyranny."
I took a number of notes but I do not have the time to put them down here tonight. Basically, he held a lot of my views on aid to the North, that it should be monitored and measured against a backdrop of concessions from both sides. He seemed like a level headed guy and impressed me as a survivor. I wish him the best and hope that his nightmares are behind him.