North Korea remains arguably the most mysterious place on Earth. Its people and modern day customs are shrouded behind a digital and physical wall of propaganda. Many people in the United States feel that North Korea is our "enemy" but almost none of us have had the opportunity to interact with an actual person who lives in, or has lived under, the country's totalitarian regime.
Even more elusive is what life is like in one of North Korea's notorious prison camps. It's been reported that millions live in horrific conditions, facing the real possibility of torture and death on a daily basis. That's what makes this question and answer session with an escaped North Korean prisoner all the more incredible to read.
White House photo by Eric Draper - Whitehouse.gov, President George W. Bush welcomes Chol-hwan Kang to the Oval Office
With his translator, Chol-hwan just participated in one of Reddit's famous "Ask Me Anything (AMA)" sessions. Here are some of the highlights, in which he discusses life in North Korea, what it was like living in a concentration camp, and even his thoughts on Donald Trump.
Q: How did you escape North Korea and did you flee alone?
A: He escaped by the river into China. With the help of some Chinese, he hid in a Chinese vessel into international waters and got saved by a Korean ship. He escaped with his friend.
Q: What are your feelings of Trump getting friendly with Kim Jong un?
A: At first, it seemed like a good thing. It feels like Kim Jong Un is more comfortable with Trump as compared to Xi Jin Ping. However, Trump is now against Kim Jong Un as he failed to denuclearize as promised. Trump probably thinks that his discussions with Kim Jong Un was useful for re-election.
Q: Do you think that the average NK citizen believes that the regime has their best interest at heart?
A: Definitely not. NK citizens know that the regime does not have their best interest but most of them could not do anything to change their circumstances.
Q: What made you question the propaganda while so many others never did?
A: External information made him question the propaganda. The truth is, as external information and content becomes more common in North Korea (via the black market or through sharing), more and more people are questioning the credibility of the regime. However, many people are uncertain of what can be done to improve in the situation.
Q: Is it true that marijuana is legal in North Korea? Is it commonly smoked by people there?
A: Nope, it is illegal. But it is really commonly smoked and available. Also, punishment is lenient.
Q: Do you suffer from any PTSD? Do the events that happened in the prison effect your everyday life?
A: To be honest, he isn't sure. He felt like he has gotten used to it, but definitely, it was an extremely traumatic experience. With this traumatic experiences, Mr.Kang feels that it has affected all prisoners and North Koreans even though they may not feel anything. Sometimes, simple things in everyday life reminds him of the life in prison, eg. Feeling chilly on a rainy day makes him feel gloomy.
Q: What were some of the more extreme things you saw while in camp? Did you make any friends in prison that you intend to keep up with as time goes by? What is the craziest thing that happened to you personally while serving your time?
A: The most extreme thing in the camp was how desperate people were to live. And also, seeing executions, where people were hang to death in public. The most normal form of execution is by shooting. I have made friends in North Korea. However, it is very dangerous to contact them even in North Korea. Needless to say, it is even more difficult when I'm in South Korea.
Chol-hwan has also started his own YouTube channel where he discusses his former life in North Korea and other issues. You can watch that below:
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