I was born in North Korea and lived there for 52 years. It has now been 10 years since I left, long enough, one might assume, to miss and pine for my native land. But I feel nothing to this effect at all. If there’s anything that I do feel, it is hate, anger, and despair. I once had a family there, although we were poor, and 52 years’ worth of bittersweet memories. What happened, then? Perhaps it is because now I feel that I have no identity, no soul. Maybe my identity will return when my broken country is whole again, but now that seems very far away.
One day in October last year, I spoke with my daughter in North Korea over the phone for the first time in years. Using my contacts, I was able to summon her to the Chinese border from her married home in Cholsan County in North Pyongan Province. My daughter had never responded to any of my attempts to reach her before, but for some reason that day she had decided to come. The border is a maximum security zone under constant radio surveillance, and to speak for too long would be to endanger my daughter’s life. So I said hello and was trying to control my tears, knowing we had only two minutes, when I had to catch my breath at my daughter’s next words.
“Why won’t you leave me alone? I have no father. Don’t contact me again.”