Sunday, December 16, 2012


This particular piece is from a feature story which i saw on CNN's Anderson Cooper show a couple of days ago.A feature show that overnight changed my perspective about something as simple as having a normal meal and the concept of love between family members.

so after a routine day at work I decided to hit the gym.(okk!!! go on, mock me. how did this fat lump of  s**t decide to get into shape... anyways i finally decided its time). I climbed onto the treadmill and plugged my earphones onto the TV jack on the machine. the Tv is my only source of relief at the gym, else every minute on the treadmill feels like an hour. switching onto CNN, i noticed that the anderson cooper show was next with some special feature on north korea. the show started off and within minutes I was drawn  into the life of this man from North korea. 

People define freedom in different ways have you ever heard someone define freedom as the ability to eat broiled chicken and barbecue pork? sit back and read as I try to walk you through the life of this man whose only wish in life was to be 'not hungry'.

deep in the heart of North Korea there is a correctional facility which is a highly secure prison camp bordered by forests and an electrocuting barbed wire. it follows the concept of three generation correction i.e if you grandfather had defected or done something wrong against the rule then three generations of your family will serve in that facility. be born there, work as slaves there and eventually die there. the man on whom this story was based was born to two of the inmates of the camp. his mother and father had been married by the prison guards as a reward for good behavior. they didn't live together and were allowed to meet only if they did some good work of hard labor for more than 10 hours a day. for the ease of the story, lets call this man Bob. So bob was born in a camp where he didn't know what mother and father meant, all he knew was that they were inmates and had to work and fight for survival.  for 23 years of his life he din't know what life was outside the camp. he was unaware of the world and even if it was round or flat. he had to attend a school in the camp where all they taught was prison rules and how to cut wood and work in the prison factory. he saw one of the kids at his school being beaten to death just because she couldn't work properly on one of the machines.

Bob was fed corn meal and cabbage just once a day for 23 years of his life. so he was always hungry. he didn't know what it meant to be full. he hadn't seen people being happy, not seen people laughing, not seen people in colorful clothes because here in the camp everyone just wore one type of clothes. If someone tried to escape the camp, they were caught by the guards, stripped naked and hung in public view. Bob mentions in the interview that watching people being hung in public view was the most entertaining because that was like a relief from the routine hard work. Bob had become so heartless that death, people being raped, being burnt alive didn't affect him at all.

one day Bob was caught by the prison guards. he was carried to a dark room and tortured with fire. he shows some of his scars, but some of his scars are too graphic to be shown on tv. the reason for being tortured was because Bob's mother and brother had tried to escape from the camp and were hiding somewhere in the camp waiting for an opportunity to escape. Bob was being questioned about their whereabouts and was he part of the plan.he was tortured for a couple of days and then Bob finally gave in and told the guards where his mother and brother were hiding. his mother and brother were caught by the guards and were both hung in front of him. Bob admits that he didn't feel any sadness on seing his next of kin being hung or for that matter any sort of guilt that he turned them in.

Bob's life continued in the camp where he struggled just to get to eat the same meal everyday. when Bob was 19, a new inmate was brought into the camp. lets call this new inmate as Joe.  So Joe had lived in the outside world before being imprisoned. Bob and Joe were made to work in the same wood cutting factory in the prison. Joe spoke about life outside and how he used to wear colorful clothes and had friends. he also spoke of how he had eaten different kinds of food like noodles, bbq pork, broiled chicken. Bob was fascinated by Joe's story. he had always thought that life outside the camp was more cruel and that life was defined by the struggle for survival and following rules laid down by the guards.

years passed and Bob learnt more about life outside the camp. when Bob was 23, he and Joe were in the forests within the camp very close to the barbed wires that border the camp collecting wood.  Joe suddenly decided that they should try to escape. without waiting for Bob's approval he ran towards the barbed wire and stuck his head between the second and the third string. he was instantly electrocuted and died on the spot. Bob was perplexed for a minute but realized that this was his opportunity to escape, to have that broiled chicken he was yearning for and to feel something he is never felt before. the feeling of not being hungry. Bob ran towards the barbed fence. seing Joe dead. he crawled through the gap between the wires and slowly made his way out over Joe's Dead body. Bob was now free and he roamed the country side of North Korea for days. He was surprised by life outside the camp. the way they lived as a family. he somehow made his way into China. he sneaked his way into the consulate in Shanghai where he was granted asylum in South Korea.

Today Bob is a 30 year old man who works and lives in Seoul. he is a mild reflection of the man he was in the camp. He says that when he eats his broiled chicken and noodles, he feels a momentary excitement. that excitement quickly vanishes and he feels sad. he says he cannot sleep at night. when asked why, he explains that when he sees people living in a family now and seing them love each other, he feels a deep guilt of having turned in his own mother and brother.

As this show ended, I looked down to see that I had run for 40 minutes on the treadmill and had a lump in my throat. i came back that night and enjoyed my dinner a little bit more. I felt lucky to have never gone hungry and to be lucky enough to know the meaning of love and to know how to love someone and be loved.

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