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Yeonmi Park at Antidote Festival

Yeonmi Park:
Learning what freedom means

It’s A Long Story

Sydney Opera House

Born in North Korea in 1993, Yeonmi Park grew up in a society devoted to ‘Dear Leader’ Kim Jong-Il. As a child she regularly came across dead bodies on the street and spent months at a time without electricity. People she knew were executed for merely watching American movies. In 2007 Yeonmi and her mother escaped into China, but were captured and sold to human traffickers. Two years later they reached the Mongolian border, and eventually arrived in South Korea.

He was arrested and we never knew when we were going to see him again.”

My father

"My mother was staying at home and took care of us. But, my father was in the Party. He was a Party member. But still, that didn't guarantee his security in life. I mean, the food, those things were not provided. So, he had to engage in the black market business ... he started selling sugar, rice, clogs. But later, he sold metals and that was illegal in North Korean government system ... He got caught and he was sent to prison.

"We don't have the concept of lawyers. I never got to see him or we didn't know when was or what his court date was. So, all we knew was that he was arrested and we never knew when we were going to see him again. And, from there, our status in this society has dropped to the bottom."


Nothing to envy

"In North Korea, in school, I learnt that we live in the best country in the world, that we had nothing to envy. I truly was grateful for my Dear Leader who was protecting us from the 'Western Universe'. And, I was truly grateful that I was North Korean. But, at the same time, I saw the misery.

"My grandmother, before 60, she killed herself because that was during a famine and there weren't enough things to eat. So, she knew that she was going to die anyway. And, I saw my uncle was dying from TB (tuberculosis) and people dying on the streets. But, how, as a normal person, can you believe that if you see your brothers dying from starvation that you have nothing to envy in the world? That's possible in North Korea somehow."


“I was truly grateful that I was North Korean. But, at the same time, I saw the misery.”

Love and Titanic

"I saw the black DVD and one of them was Titanic. And, I couldn't believe it. How can a person die for love? Because, in North Korea, love is such a sinful thing. And, that was really shocking to me. But, later I really saw some sense of humanity in that movie, that you can make a movie, it's just not all about propaganda. You can make a movie whatever you feel like. At the same time, I didn't really comprehend that could be my life, that could be the world I can be in.

"Usually verbally we don't use the word love. In writing, we see it a few times. It's about the love for the Dear Leader. But, there was never a time that I heard my father telling my mother that he loved her or none of my parents told me ever they loved me. It's the most awkward word that I learnt in South Korea. "


"I'm a very different human being right now, I became a different person. When I decided to escape, it was not even a decision. Like, imagine you're in an apartment where there is a fire. And the only choice for you is to jump from the window. If you're alive, that's your luck. If you die, that's your luck too. Luckily, I was living the border area and I could see the lights coming from China."

“If you’re alive, that’s your luck. If you die, that’s your luck too.”

Escaping from North Korea in search of freedom

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