Suki Kim is a journalist currently living in New York. She was born and raised in South Korea and moved to the United States when she was 13. Growing up, she had a strong interest (she refers to it as an obsession) in North Korea. As a journalist, she was given several opportunities to travel to North Korea. Suki Kim decided that visiting North Korea wasn’t enough, since visitors are only able to see certain parts of the country. She wanted to show the world what North Korea was like, from the inside. Suki Kim went undercover as a Christian missionary school teacher and taught English at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology: a school for the sons of North Korea’s elite in Pyongyang, North Korea. Suki Kim spent two semesters: summer and fall, getting to know more than 100 college age boys in North Korea.
I never would have read Suki Kim’s memoir Without You, There is No Us if it wasn’t for the fact that I lived in South Korea for a year and a half. Before finding out that we were going to live there, I honestly knew nothing about South Korea or North Korea. No one really “knows” anything about North Korea: it is a big question mark in our world. Even after living in South Korea for so long, I still didn’t know all that much about the North, until I read Suki Kim’s memoir. I was shocked by a lot of the information she divulges.
One of the most bizarre things that stuck out to me in the novel is that North Koreans believe that kimchi was the official food of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. I would eat kimchi all day, every day, if I could, but most non-Koreans don’t feel the same way. Most North Koreans believe everyone in the world eats, and loves, kimchi. This is just one “fact” that North Koreans believe that makes me wonder what other obscure bits of information they were brain washed with. Another interesting fact that I learned is the North Koreans believe the are superior to those of us who pay rent, college tuition, electricity, tax, etc. In North Korea, they don’t pay any of those things, therefore they believe that are the lucky ones. When the opposite is true.
Suki Kim not only went to North Korea to find out more about the country, she also went there to try to show the students, the future of of North Korea, that there is more to the world than what the North Korean regime allows them to know and believe. After clearing it with the hierarchy of the school, Lord of the Rings was shown to the students, as well as, Harry Potter. Movies that North Koreans may or may not have heard of before, but soon learned that they were important to the rest of the world. (There are very few movies North Koreans are allowed to see, most of which are about their great leader.) Suki Kim also tried to subtly tell her students that their “intranet” was different than our internet. She taught her students about Steve Jobs and Apple. She also used her Kindle in front of her students, as often as possible, to get her students interested in not only America, but the rest of the world. She wanted her students, men who were studying to be the next generation of elite in North Korea, to realize that they were being lied to by the people they trusted most. She wanted them to ask questions, and form thoughts for themselves, things North Koreans are rarely allowed to do.
I am so glad I read Suki Kim’s memoir. Every single aspect of it is eye opening. I knew that North Korea was one of the worst places to live in the world, but other than that, I didn’t know much else. By reading Suki Kim’s memoir, a spark has been lit in me to find out more. It’s sad to know that so many people, even the wealthy, are living in such horrible conditions: without electricity, proper amounts of food and water, and even weather appropriate clothing. I hope that, one day, the North and South become united again and that peace is restored to the entire peninsula. I can’t imagine what it would be like for North Koreans to realize that they didn’t win the Korean War. (Or that Michael Jordan doesn’t play basketball anymore.)
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
One of those most memorable experiences I had while living in South Korea was when I went to the DMZ (the border that separates the North and the South.)Seeing North Korea, and North Korean soldiers, was an moment I will never forget. Not many people can say that they have stood in North Korea, but I can. There is a small part a blue building within the JSA, Joint Security Area, where meetings take place between the North and the South (and the rest of the United Nations.) I was able to take a picture standing on the North side: truly terrifying.
Below are a few photos from my visit to the DMZ/JSA.