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Authors: Charles Robert Jenkins,Jim Frederick

Tags: #History, #Asia, #Korea

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BOOK: The Reluctant Communist
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It took me only a second to realize the seriousness of what he was saying, that he was going to hack it off. I told them, “Uh-uh. No way. I am not getting rid of it.” He said, “Oh yes you are.” He gave a nod, and the cadets grabbed me. They pushed me down onto a stool and held my arm on one of those preacher’s benches that are common when you are giving blood or a doctor is working on your hand. They held me down, and the doctor moved in. He cut above and below “US Army” with a scalpel. That part didn’t hurt so bad, actually. But when he lifted up the flesh and started cutting all the connecting tissue away with a scissors, that was one of the most excruciating things I had ever felt. I screamed and nearly passed out, gritted my teeth, closed my eyes, and breathed as deliberately as I could. I clenched my jaw hard in a kind of instinctive reaction, I think, to transfer some pain somewhere else.

The doctor told me calmly and without any regret or sorrow at all as he was working that he couldn’t give me anything for the pain since they save all the anesthetic and painkillers for the heroes on the battlefield. The cadets holding me down were laughing the whole time, and for weeks afterward they would snicker in class or when they saw me in the hallways. Dresnok, for once, did not seem to be enjoying my suffering as much as usual. He told me later that he knew they were cutting the tattoo off and had come for the show, but he was surprised and even angry when they did it without anesthetic. The doctor sewed the wound up with a needle and thread, and my arm throbbed for days afterward. I didn’t even go back to the clinic to get the stitches out. There was no way I was going to let that butcher touch me again. I just let my skin push them out as it healed.

The teaching routine lasted until 1976. On August 18 of that year, some North Korean border guards hacked two American army officers to death in the DMZ with axes as the southern forces were trying to prune a tree that was blocking their line of sight. When that happened, the entire country mobilized for war. All of the students began getting assigned to units that were shipping out of Pyongyang for the countryside. Classes were cancelled, and there was a citywide blackout every night for four nights straight. It was very tense. But for me, there was nothing to do but sit around and wait. Late that same week, on Saturday night, a general came to my room to tell me that they were closing the school for good. A car came at 9:00 a.m. the next day and delivered me home. The war, of course, never came, though the incident is now taught proudly in North Korean schools as a heroic episode in that country’s history. While I knew that the North was probably in the wrong about this one, I did not learn until I got out of the country in 2004 just how barbaric and disgusting the North Koreans’ massacre had been.

Over the next few years, my job was basically just to study more ideology. My primary task beyond that was translating English-language radio broadcasts from Voice of America, Armed Forces Network, Japan, and NHK’s English broadcasts into Korean for the cadres. This was something I was always happy to do. Not only did it make me feel like I was still a member of the real world to hear normal news, but I also figured that the more that balanced information got out, even to the elites, the better. If it helped convince even one cadre somewhere that his whole country was a lie, then that was a benefit.

Sometime around 1978, Parrish, Abshier, and Dresnok moved to Pyongyang because they were all being set up with foreign wives. Following Abshier’s cook accidentally getting pregnant, our leaders told us that the Organization had decided that the policy of providing us female North Korean cooks was not working and that they had found us four Arab women from Lebanon to be our wives. I said no, I wasn’t interested, so they left me where I was in Li Suk. Dresnok said he would at least see what the situation was (as did Parrish and Abshier), and he headed out for Pyongyang. I didn’t see any of them until about eighteen months after that, but when I did, they filled me in on what happened.

This is what they told me. A Lebanese employment broker working with the North Koreans convinced four young Lebanese women that there were four secretarial jobs paying $1,000 a month in Japan. These four women eagerly signed up. They got on a plane they thought was bound for Tokyo, but really its final destination was Pyongyang. These four were supposed to be our wives. Siham and Haifa were two of their names. The other two I don’t know, and I am not sure I ever did. Siham and Parrish paired up, as did Haifa and Dresnok. The North Koreans’ plan went wrong quickly for a couple of reasons, however. One of the girls whose names I never learned turned out to be the sister of someone very high up in the Lebanese government or elite society. So right there, those two were gone, back to Lebanon, never to be heard from again. Siham’s mother, meanwhile, who lived in Italy, hired a private detective to track her daughter down. He did a fine job of it, tracking her to North Korea, and now the mother, who also had friends in high places, had some sort of diplomatic pressure bearing down on North Korea. So Siham and Haifa flew back to Italy to Siham’s mother. But there was a problem to come for Siham: She got back to Italy to discover that she was pregnant with Parrish’s child. So Siham’s mother sent her right back to Pyongyang to be Parrish’s wife. Because of all her connections, though, Siham enjoyed privileges in North Korea that none of the rest of us even could dream of, almost like she was a diplomat herself. She got to leave the country once ever few years, for example, to visit Lebanon or Italy. She also was able to receive letters and money from home.

In the meantime, the Organization still had to find wives for Abshier and Dresnok. Dresnok’s wife wound up being a Romanian woman named Dona. When I first met her in early 1981, she was about twenty-eight years old. According to Dona, she was the daughter of a Russian woman and a Romanian army colonel. Her father molested her throughout her childhood, so she couldn’t get out of the house fast enough. When she was in her early twenties, she met and married an Italian and moved to Italy. She got pregnant but had a miscarriage one night after she went out dancing. Dona was doing some hard living—drinking, drugs—that her husband did not approve of, so he ultimately divorced her. With some of the settlement money, Dona went to art school in Italy. She was one hell of an artist. I will give her that. She could draw like she knew what she was doing.

One night, she was in a bar in Italy, and she met an Italian man who asked her about her background, what she was doing in town, things like that. She told him she was an artist, and he asked her if she would like to go on an art tour. He was acting like an art dealer or agent or some sort of big shot but was, in retrospect, a North Korean sympathizer or paid agent. “How about Hong Kong?” he asked her. “There are a lot of interesting things going on in the art business in Hong Kong right now.” She didn’t have either a Romanian or an Italian passport at this time, for some reason, so he fixed her up with a North Korean one, and off they went. They traveled through Russia, no problem, and they stopped in North Korea before Hong Kong. And in Pyongyang the North Koreans stopped her, claiming her passport was a fake, which obviously it was. But in her panic and under interrogation, they coaxed a confession out of her that she was a spy. And so now they had her, and she wasn’t going anywhere. She was stuck there for good.

Abshier wound up marrying a Thai woman named Anocha. The story of Anocha, who was a few years younger than Dona, is far more simple. After growing up in Thailand and becoming a prostitute, she moved to Macau in her late teens to work in a (nonsexual) bathhouse to try to make a better life for herself. One night, on her way home from work, she was jumped in an alley by two men, forced onto a boat, and taken against her will to North Korea. That was just a few months before meeting Parrish. She said there were two more kidnapped Asian women from Macau on her boat on the way over, but she was not allowed to talk to them, and she never saw them again. When the men all returned from Pyongyang with their new wives, Abshier moved in to Dresnok’s old house, the one near mine in Li Suk, while Parrish and Dresnok took the two houses in the nearby town.

I am certain that there are many people from many nationalities who have been kidnapped from their own countries or who were tricked into coming to North Korea and are now being held against their will. I saw many people from Hong Kong and Southeast Asia who I am sure had been snatched, and many of the Europeans and Middle Easterners I knew, saw, or met in North Korea were, for one reason or another, unable to leave the country due to obstacles that the North Koreans purposely constructed to keep them there. So ever since arriving in Japan, there is one thing that I have never been able to understand: Why is Japan the only country that is—rightfully—making the return of abducted citizens or citizens who are being held against their will in North Korea a large part of their diplomatic dealings with that country? It is a tragedy, in my opinion, that more countries don’t investigate further or take the stand that Japan has, because this should not just be Japan’s issue to fight alone. I am certain there are abductees from all over the world in North Korea.

While the other three Americans were off being given their new wives in Pyongyang, I was left alone to deal with my new cook, Go Chung-mi. She arrived less than a week after Lee left, and, no matter how poorly Lee and I got along, it was only after Go arrived that I realized how good I had had it. Go was nicer than Lee, perhaps, but she was impossible to live with because she suffered from seizures. Violent, table-overturning, body-shaking, tongue-biting, rolling-on-the-floor seizures. She suffered from at least one large one and a number of small ones every day. Go’s explanation for her condition was that during an operation years ago, they had taken too much blood, and she fell into a coma for three months. When she came out of it, she suffered from these seizures ever since. That explanation didn’t explain a whole lot in my book, but at a real level, it didn’t matter what the root was. All that mattered was that she couldn’t really live a normal life. Whether the seizures were a symptom or the cause, Go was certifiably crazy, too. She would wear the same apron all the time. I don’t mean she was just kind of grubby. She wouldn’t take it off for weeks. She would go out and plant or pick corn and then come in and cook, with her hands and clothes still covered in mud. If she spilled a bowl of soup, she would mop it up with the apron and wring it out, then mop up some more and wring it out again, and never change the apron. Sometimes, she would crawl around on the floor, giggling and scrutinizing the floor, looking for fleasized bugs that weren’t there. That didn’t stop her from “catching” them, picking them up, and admiring them. I begged the cadres to take her away. I told them that I simply couldn’t live like this. Finally, on January 15, 1980, they sent her to a textile mill where they stashed the insane, the retarded, and the socially unfit. I felt bad for her, but she shouldn’t have been assigned to be a cook in the first place.

5 | Soga-san

Soon after Go Chung-mi left, my leaders told me that there would be another woman coming soon. But she was not a cook, and she was not even Korean, though they called her by a Korean name, Min Hae-gyun. They did not tell me she was Japanese at the time, only that she was Asian and that they wanted me to teach her English. Though they first told me about her very soon after Go Chung-mi’s departure, her actual arrival did not come until months later. And even on the day she was finally to appear, she was still very late. That’s because of the heavy rains that were coming down that made travel nearly impossible. The little bridge closest to my house had washed out, so they had to hook the 280 Mercedes they were driving to a bulldozer and pull it through the thirty-foot-wide river. I found out later that the car had waited six or seven hours for the bulldozer to arrive. Once they were crossing the river, the water came rushing into the car so high that the girl had to pull her feet up onto the seat and perch there like a bird. When they got to the top of the hill, they decided they could not chance driving down the steep, muddy lane that led to my house and chose to walk. But the girl was wearing high heels, so the leader ran ahead to my house to see if they could borrow a pair of my boots. He took a spare pair of leather boots I’d had for years and ran back up the hill to give them to her so she could come down safely.

Finally, on June 30, 1980, at about 10:00 p.m., there was a knock on my door. When I opened the door and Hitomi Soga walked in, my heart stopped. I didn’t even notice the driver and the leader she was flanked by. I had never seen anybody so beautiful in my life. Just twenty-one years old, she was wearing a white blouse, a white skirt, and white high-heel shoes. In those grubby, old surroundings, it was like she was from a dream or an entirely different planet.

She walked in and sat down with my leader and her leader. The four of us had a toast, including the always-required words of praise to Kim Il-sung, and we started talking. We were guarded, and it was awkward. She was especially spooked since they did not tell her that she was going to a foreigner’s house until she was at the top of the hill. She figured she was going to live with another Japanese woman or at least a Japanese man. And this was North Korea, after all, where you learn early not to trust anyone right off the bat. I didn’t know much about the abductees; I had heard only rumors, so I figured even if she were Japanese, which she said within the first few minutes, she could be a true believer. She must have come there by her own choice or her family’s choice, to study Juche or something. The leaders left at 11:30 p.m., although I am sure one of them stayed up listening to us. Her Korean was good, a lot better than mine and better even than Dresnok’s, who had the best Korean out of all of us Americans. How good her Korean was also made me a little suspicious. At that point, who knew who she could have been? She could have been a spy herself.

That first night we stayed up until 3:00 a.m. talking. Mostly it was small talk about how difficult her trip in the rain had been, where she had traveled from, things like that. As the hours passed and it grew late, I noticed that she was yawning frequently. I asked her if she was tired. She said yes, but she didn’t make a move to lie down, even though she was sitting on my bed. I could tell that she was scared that I was going to try to take advantage of her. I tried to reassure her by showing her the extra bedding I had laid down in the corner of the other room. I told her that I would be sleeping in there from now on and that the bed was hers. She must have been exhausted and relieved, because when she heard that, her head hit the pillow, and she was deeply asleep within minutes.

BOOK: The Reluctant Communist
8.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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