IamA North Korean defector who went from being on the brink of starvation to powerlifting. Ask me Anything.
Hi, my name is Jake and I’m from North Korea. When I escaped in 2005 I was close to death from malnutrition. I spent several years in Canada before returning to South Korea this year to complete my college degree. I discovered lifting as a way to cope, but now it's a hobby I love.
In conjunction with my studies, I work for JAYU, formally known as The North Korean Human Rights Film Festival. JAYU provides a platform to engage patrons in a global human rights discussion through the arts. We strive to be the catalyst for change and envision a world of globally minded and informed individuals who support human rights.
Next month, December 5th-7th, we are hosting our 3rd Annual Human Rights Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Our full festival schedule is here: jayu.ca/festival-schedule And our Facebook page here: facebook.com/jayufestival
We are a non-profit organization and couldn’t do this festival without our wonderful staff, board, and volunteers. If you would like to donate or get involved, please consider donating through our IndieGoGo page here: http://igg.me/at/jayu/x/8807794
PROOF: Here's JAYU's official website: http://www.jayu.ca/ama-with-jake-friday-november-21st/
And here's a picture of me, I cannot show my face unfortunately due to family still in North Korea.
Although my English is pretty good, fellow JAYU staff member Arius is here to help me translate.
So, ask away!
EDIT: Okay everyone, I need to get ready for class. I will try to get back on later and answer some more questions. Thank you everyone for your interest!
My Mom first escaped from North Korea to China to get some food. But it didnt go well. So she couldnt go back to NK. She worked very hard at a Korean Chinese farm and made some money. With that money she was able to bribe the boarder guards. My sister and I were able to cross the Duman River with no problems.
Yeah tell us more about how you escaped!
I crossed from very wide side of the river so at that time I was very small and weak. My sister was even worse. So we used a tractor tire tube as a boat. After I met my mom I stayed there 3 days. Then went to Shunyang to get in to the South Korean embassy.
I cannot reveal actually how I was able to get in to the embassy, or even how it was coordinated. Most North Koreans have to travel all the way to SE Asia or risk deportation. I was one of the lucky ones.
How would you describe typical North Korean humour?
To be honest, not very healthy. Most jokes are not that funny. Like if you go for 400 km with no food then you will get the luck with happiness, or something like that. It doesn't really translate.
What was the most shocking thing for you after you escaped?
What were your preconceptions of the outside world?
Were there any repercussions to your family you left behind?
My biggest cultural shock... It was the first time to see very diverse people. I mean many different appearances like white, aboriginal people, black people etc
Also people were so much kinder that I thought.
I'm going to ask a strange question. Is there anything you miss about North Korea? Despite how terrible the country is there anything at all that you miss?
Of course my childhood friends and my hometown. Also my relatives. My friends are most likely serving their mandatory 10 year military service so I don't know If I could even see them now.
What, did they tell you about the outside world and what convinced you to escape? And thank you for doing this!
It wasn't some romantic reason like searching for freedom. I was hungry, and I missed my mom. This is what I feel most people don't understand about North Korean defectors. Most are just hungry, and escape looking for food. Nothing is worse than that feeling of starvation.
are most of the stories about north korea echoed throughout the west true? are north koreans required to have a portrait of the kim-il sung, jong-il, jong-un on the wall, and no other picture can be hung? do the police come in to inspect if you'd kept those portraits clean and require a special cloth to clean it? is the state as big brother as many people believe it to be or is it a gross exaggeration?
Yes, it is true. However nowadays the level of enforcement highly varies. For example, for people in more remote rural areas farther away from Pyongyang it's not going to be as crazy like you heard.
And money can buy you out of any problems you might have.
what kind of regimen did you start with?
what was your weight at moment?
Eat a lot, lift as heavy as I can.
When I escaped I weight 42kgs (93 lbs) and at the moment weigh 85 kilos (188 lbs). I workout because I always feel small. I wanted to look big. It's also a big stress relief for me.
Would you consider weight lifting North Korea's national sport?
I didn't even know how to do a pushup properly in North Korea.
Ive heard that marijuana use is pretty common in north Korea, and that there is little stigma against it. Who controls the production of pot in Korea? How is it distributed? Is there quality control? How expensive is it?
The government is controlling and selling it illegally to other countries. But I didn't know that is a type of drug until I escaped from there because we were never taught about it.
Hi Jake! Thanks for doing an AMA. I have a few questions for you:
Where were you and your family in terms of the North Korean social hierarchy?
If for some reason the NK regime were to collapse, would you want to return to your hometown (or NK in general)?
How much are you currently able to lift? Do you even lift? (Sorry, that last one was a joke).
To answer your last question, my bench is 300, deadlift 460, and squat 350. Actually I've had a knee pain for a long time now so my squat is not as high as I would like.
Do you see many of people in North Korea who legitimately support the government?
Many people who have power work for Kim family. They directly benefit from the current system. And some rich people also give their money to get whatever job or position they think is favorable.
Many others however, average North Koreans, are really not as swept up as you might think. We are just people, trying to go about our daily lives. Trying to find food, in my case.
Are you still able to communicate with your remaining family in North Korea, and if so, how?
Unfortunately, I haven't spoken with some immediate family members for over 8 years.
How do you feel about the trend of Western tourists visiting North Korea on vacation?
I don't know what you would want to see. It is very orchestrated. You would never see what my life was like, for example.
How do you introduce yourself to other people? I'm sure you get many people who are genuinely interested about NK. Do you openly talk about where you came from at first or do you wait until you feel a certain level of comfortableness?
It's not that I am uncomfortable with it, I don't want to be defined by being a North Korean. So, I usually just say I'm from Seoul. I've been here long enough that I am able to speak like South Korean accent now.
What's your diet like? I find it difficult keeping meals within my budget when I work out. You need sooo much food when expending all that energy.
Avoid instant food. Not too much alcohol. No smoking. Eat a lot of food including meats and other protein sources.
I don't have a trick or particular diet that I follow, to be honest. Just eat.
Did any of your family members try to defect with you? Or did you have to go alone? How are their living conditions currently?
Yes. I was fortunate to escape with my sister. Our mother left North Korea before us and was able to pay off some border guards to let us through.
How did you come to Canada?
Originally on a student visa. I tried to immigrate permanently, but since I technically classified as a South Korean citizen, my application was denied.
It would have been much easier if I were to claim asylum from North Korea, but that's of course impossible.
Is fitness at all a part of life in NK? On that note are sports popular to the common man?
No, I couldn't even do a proper pushup in North Korea.
I'm going to have to ask the obvious questions here...
How did you escape? How did you get to Canada?
Thanks for doing this AmA! :)
View HistoryShare Link