One of the Harry Potter movies was to be shown to all the kids near the end of term, until one of the fundamentalist missionaries took exception. The “compromise” was that only one class was allowed to watch it, so the author had to make a Sophie’s Choice between her classes. I had just read a review of the movie Jupiter Ascending, about how delightfully bad it was, which made me desperate to watch it. And I could.
There’s a parallel to be drawn here between the scared North Korean Party trying to control the minds of their citizens and these missionaries trying to do the exact same thing.
It was at moments like these that I could not help but think that they — my beloved students — were insane. Either they were so terrified that they felt compelled to lie and boast of the greatness of their Leader, or they sincerely believed everything they were telling me. I could not decide which was worse.
While the author was there, they were told all the other colleges had closed except theirs. They were teaching the sons of the elite. All the other kids from the closed colleges would be sent off to work on infrastructure projects, in anticipation of Kim Jun-Un’s ascenscion, she speculated. The missionaries fully funded this particular school, which is why it was tolerated. She was pretending to be a missionary, but she really wasn’t a believer.
I sang along, but I could not help noticing that if you replaced the word ‘Jesus’ with ‘Great Leader,’ the content was not so different from some of the North Korean songs my students chanted several times each day.
For the first time, thinking was dangerous to my survival.
I share a birthday with Kim Jong-il. Today, in fact. All the kids in North Korea receive gifts from the Party today. Sometimes my birthday coincided with a day off school, thanks to a President’s birthday, but I always pretended it had something to do with me.
I wonder what a North Korean kid thinks who shares our birthday.
This is a memoir of a woman who went into North Korea pretending to be a missionary (but was really writing a book about) teaching English to college-age boys. It’s a fascinating glimpse behind that curtain. It’s hard to imagine myself living in such a closed system, but she does an excellent job of making you feel the panic and suffocation.
There were only a handful of times any student veered from the script. During our conversation about Park Jun-ho’s birthday party, one of the boys blurted out that he liked singing rock ‘n roll, and then he turned red, quickly checking to see who might be listening. I had never seen anyone scan the room so fast, and the other students went quiet and looked down at their food. There was no explanation for such an instinctive reaction except for a sort of ingrained fear that I could never fathom…..Was this really conscionable? Awakening my students to what was not in the regime’s program could mean death for them and those they loved. If they were to wake up and realize that the outside world was not crumbling, that it was their country that was in danger of collapse, and that everything they had been taught about the Great Leader was bogus, would that make them happier? How would they live from that point on? Awakening was a luxury available only to those in the free world.