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Life in North Korea
Mi Kon hurried down the street alone, huffing and puffing by the time she got home. Soldiers were not supposed to interact with commoners, unless they were breaking laws, of course, but after seeing so many arrests, Mi Kon never really felt safe on the streets without a friend. The radio was on – her brother seemed addicted to it – on one of the government-owned signals. The announcer was talking about how happy and excited everyone was about the new ruler, Kim Jong Un.
“He has the face of a baby,” blurted her younger sister, Yoora. Mama scolded her, looking around like a mouse. Mi Kon noticed this, and wondered what Mama feared.
“Shush!” hissed her brother, ear pressed up against the radio. “They are talking of the South!” The room fell into a hush, listening for information of the friends and family who had fled the country into the South long ago.
“Turn it up,” Mi Kon’s mother said. Song-Jong did as asked.
“There is no information on how the South has reacted, but we know that they will try again to break our strong country. In other news…” Mi Kon’s mother sighed, and her older brother continued his glum thinking. Mi Kon did not remember her Aunts and Uncles and Cousins who had left. She had just been born when they fled to the other country. They had never received word from them, and the chances that they had made it across were scarce. It killed Mama every day to know nothing of the family she cared for so deeply. Mi Kon’s older brother remembered their family, and for the longest time he believed that they would send word, but it had been so long that even he had lost hope.
But Song-Jong was full of hope for the government. “It was their fault for leaving our Dear Leader,” he said to Mi Kon’s wide-eyed younger sister. “Our Dear Leader was a great leader, and Kim Jong Un will be just as good! Just you wait and see!”
Her mother gave Song-Jong an irritated look. Mi Kon knew how her mother felt about the rulers, but her mother would never say anything. Nor would Mi Kon. No one in the family wanted to end up like the family down the street.
“Mi Kon, set the table. Yoora, help your sister,” her mother instructed, tending to the rice.
“Rice again?” Yoora whined, turning up her nose. “All we eat is rice.”
“Yes, of course. Be happy you have food. There are many families willing to eat your rice,” Mi Kon’s older brother said; those were his first words all evening. Mi Kon looked up to her older brother. He was very smart, and teachers were always praising him, saying he had a strong future as a scientist for our wonderful government. For some odd reason, that always upset Eunji.
“Sunja at school said that the leaders get meat, eggs, fresh fruit, and dessert at every meal,” Yoora said knowingly. “He said that they have a chocolate fountain, and –” But suddenly Yoora’s words were cut off by Song-Jong.
“Yes, but they need really good food for their really good brains. Anyway, they give up so much for us that they deserve good food. Many people would give their food for the Great Leader –” This time it was Song-Jong whose words were cut off.
“Hush up, Song-Jong,” said Mi Kon’s mother. “Eat your rice.” Song-Jong’s mouth shut, while he and Yoora sent each other glares across the table.
“Well, Eunji has a really good brain! Doesn’t he deserve –” Yoora put up in defense.
“Yeah, but he doesn’t use his for the government.” Song-Jong turned quickly to Eunji. “But he will when he grows up, won’t you, Eunji?” Eunji just nodded his head, head down in his plate.
“You just want the benefits of knowing someone in the government, don’t you?” Mi Kon called it as she saw it.
Song-Jong opened his mouth with a fierce look as their mother cut him off. “Stop your arguing, all of you. Finish your food, then do your homework. Father will be home soon.” Defeated, Song-Jong slumped back into his chair.
Their father trudged through the door. With a heavy sigh, he sat himself down at the table. Mouths full, the rest of the meal was taken in silence with a few awkward conversations.
Later that night, Mi Kon sat cuddled in her bedroom, which she shared with her younger sister. Yoora lay sprawled out on the bed, out like a light. Their brothers’ room was quiet, no arguing voices. The voices were coming from her parents’ room.
“We should’ve left with them,” Father said quietly.
“Shush! What if someone hears you?” hissed Mother.
“No one can hear you. They haven’t got spies in our homes,” Father assured Mother. “The closest they have is Song-Jong. We’re fine.” Mi Kon heard the grumblings of her mother and the creak of bed springs.
“We don’t even know if they made it. Lots have tried; lots have failed,” Mother said after some time.
“No, Kwan was too smart for that. He would’ve had a better plan than the others,” Father argued.
“You think the others that tried weren’t smart? Why’d you think they were leaving? Maybe the new leader will be better.”
“No, he’s brainwashed. If he ends his father’s reign, he’ll have nothing. We should’ve left in the beginning. It’s too late now.”
Mi Kon heard her mother sigh. “Yes, we can only hope it will get better.” Then the voices ended, followed by snores. Mi Kon wondered then whether there was a good reason to her mother’s fear and Eunji’s quietness.
The characters of this story are not real, but their lives very much are. Many children grow up in places like North Korea, realizing that their world is not a good one and surrounded by adults with no hope.