(Historical writings) North Korea: On The Borderline Part 4: Sorrows of a North Korean girl

During my time as a journalist, I did write something that I like a lot, some stories I did work hard on them. So, let me put some of them here, as a reference, and share with you.

Please be noted that since most of these pieces were wrote in 2003, so the stories might not be updated and the information within will most likely be inadequate.

7 Oct, 2003

Although it is widely known in Yanbian Choson (ethnic Korean) Autonomous Prefecture in Jilin province that 150,000 People’s Liberation Army troops have been deployed on the Sino-North Korean border, this news has not put a damper on local people’s nightlife.

Yanbian boasts beautiful scenery. One of its most famous scenic spots is the Changbai Mountains, a great attraction to Choson people from both sides of the border. However, behind all these beautiful landscapes is the grief and sorrow of many young women from North Korea.

Yanji, which is scarcely larger than Hong Kong with an area of 1,345 square kilometers, is in the eastern part of Jilin province. It is the capital of Yanbian Choson Autonomous Prefecture. During the day the city seems very ordinary, and lacking in character. All that changes when the sun sets.

When night falls, the neon lights of shop signs shine through the whole city. No longer seen are the dust and sand raised by trucks passing during the daytime. Instead, the city is alive with people dressed to the nines headed to nightclubs. Although the public order at night is marred by crimes as serious as murders committed by illegal immigrants, this has not hindered the development of the entertainment business.

And as is the case elsewhere in mainland China, the entertainment business always seems linked with the sex industry. “In my homeland, we do not even have enough food to feed ourselves. If I did not leave for work, my whole family would starve to death,” said Hwa Jung, a North Korean girl.

Hwa Jung grew up in a suburban area of Hae San, North Korea, and unlike many of her compatriots, her appearance does not reflect the harsh life in that country. With her delicate face, fair skin and tall, trim body, Hwa Jung resembles South Korean entertainment idol Son Ye-jin. And it is her beauty that changed her life and brought her to Yangji; it may have saved her family, but it also hurt her in the deepest way.

At the end of last year, a number of Chinese people came to Hae San to hire some Choson girls to work in China. They claimed that the girls would be working as hotel waitresses and Choson dance performers. The offer they made was irresistible to any North Korean: a salary of 600 yuan (about US$72) a month, which is four times what a worker in North Korea can earn. The selection process was harsh, as the hirers wanted nobody but absolute beauties. Therefore, only seven, including Hwa Jung, were selected from among several hundred girls.

“North Korea seldom allows people to work in China,” said Hwa Jung. “We were able to go to China only because the sa jang nim[Korean for boss] made some arrangement with the leaders. My family and I were overjoyed then. We thought we were going to be able to support ourselves and improve our living standard. Only heaven knew we would have to do this kind of work!” The “work” Hwa Jung mentioned obviously implied something other than simply a waitress job.

After the girls were hired, they were sent to a nightclub in a high-class hotel that provides Choson cuisine and Choson dance shows at night. For a “tip” of 100 yuan, a North Korean girl will fill the glass for guest; a 200-yuan tip enables a Korean girl to drink together with the customer. If he wants “further development” with her, he must discuss the price with the hotel manager. Normally it will cost 600–800 yuan, but these Korean girls get nothing from that, as the hotel has its own “management system” for these “foreign workers”.

“We do not have any relatives or friends here, so to escape is impossible. Not to mention that our families are all in North Korea. If we try to escape, we might put them in trouble,” Hwa Jung said sadly. “I can never imagine that, in a country as noble as China, I would have to do this kind of work. I have to face hundreds of people whom I do not want to meet, yet I have to put a happy face on to please them. How can I face my family when I go back to North Korea one day?” said Hwa Jung miserably.

In Yanji there are three or four “high-class” hotels of a similar kind where about 50 Korean girls work. They are hired through different channels. In Yanji this is universally known, and nobody sees anything wrong with it.

As there are only a few North Korean girls working in Yanji, they are in demand. But rumor has it that Kim Jong-il, the leader of North Korea, does not like girls from his country selling themselves in another country, so people involved have to play it down. It is said that it is already difficult to arrange for 50 girls to come to here.

Apart from these “high-class” hotels, there are other recreational facilities providing sexual services. The most popular and widespread are the yu gwan, a Korean term for public bathing facilities.

It is an everyday practice for Choson people to go to the yu gwan for a bath. These public bathing facilities are distributed in all the cities of Yanbian, including Yanji, Tumen, Hunchun, Longjing and Tonghua as well as the Tianchi area of the Changbai Mountains. You can even find one in a gas station near a highway. The normal charge for using these bathing facilities ranges from 5–10 yuan. However, the managers of some of the yu gwan seldom miss the chance to make money by offering sexual services through the guise of providing massage services.

Some Choson people reveal that massage services are offered in most of the yu gwan. Sex services are provided in the name of “Korean massage” and “Thai massage”. Usually, the fee for a 90-minute massage service is 200 yuan, which is cheaper than one in a hotel. It is said that there are prostitutes from North Korea working in some yu gwan, mostly illegal immigrants.

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