Hi Reddit!

Meet Lucia Jang is a North Korean defector, co-author of Stars Between the Sun and Moon and a mother who escaped North Korea to save the life of her newborn child. Lucia is now living in Toronto, Canada where she devotes her life to promoting awareness about the North Korean government. She is joined by Christopher Kim, Executive Director of HanVoice, a Canadian non-profit organization dedicated to alleviating the plight of the North Korean people.

Join us as we launch our latest program Project E which aims to increase North Koreans’ awareness about the outside world and promote a desire for democratic change.

Both HanVoice and Lucia Jang will be taking your questions! Please allow extra time for responses to questions as Lucia does require a translator.

Update: We wish we could answer each one of your questions but unfortunately we have to bring the discussion to an end. Thank you reddit for your participation in our AMA! Please do remember to check out the links above for additional information on Lucia Jang and HanVoice. If you're interested in supporting Project E, feel free to donate at our Indiegogo campaign. Thank you!

Comments: 117 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

probably_not_serious26 karma

When Kim Jong Il died we saw a lot of pictures of crying masses here in the west. There were a lot of people who implied that this was all just a show. My question is, do you think the majority of those reactions were genuine or do people fake it out of fear.

Also, we heard a lot of stories about people who were arrested because they either didn't cry or were not crying hard enough. Is that something that would really happen?

Han-Voice38 karma

I wasn't in North Korea when Kim Jong Il died but when Kim Il Sung died, I was genuinely sad. We mourned and cried for almost 10 days. From the tenth day, I had no more tears in me but everyone around me was still crying so I had to continue and force myself to cry. If we didn't continuously cry and be very sad for the death of Kim Il Sung, our loyalty would have been questioned. We cried even harder than when our relatives died. People weren't arrested for not crying, only their loyalty was questioned.

Hi probably_ not_serious, Chris here. For an amazing description of how little control we may have of our own emotions when we're face to face with someone we half suspect to be a "god", have a quick read of Jang Jin-Sung's book "Dear Leader", where he recounts how animated he began to weep the first time he met Kim Jong Il. It is absolutely terrifying. Having shared a few cocktails with Jang Jin-Sung myself, it was hard to picture such a reaction from a such a stoic guy. But then again, my life has never been on the line...

peanutbutterandritz24 karma

Is there anything we, as citizens of other countries, can do to help the people of North Korea? How does HanVoice help, and are there other organizations doing similar work?

Han-Voice19 karma

Hi peanutbutterandritz, Chris here. The answer is an emphatic "YES"! 10 years ago, the only news anyone ever heard about North Korea related to nuclear issues. In recent years, we have seen a dramatic shift in trending North Korea stories to the issues that matter the most: the North Korean people. This has undoubtedly been with the assistance of Redditors like you who have taken interest in the human rights issues. Increased focus on the people has prompted more documentaries, articles, books, and movies about the human rights crisis in North Korea, culminating in a UN Human Rights Council - Commission of Inquiry report released last year.

HanVoice helps on 3 primary fronts - building awareness, engaging in advocacy work on institutional/governmental levels to help North Korean refugees, and running special programs like our HanVoice Pioneer Project (a refugee leadership program - see our website) and Project E. The North Korean regime paralyzes its citizens through maintaining absolute control and domination over its people. Any activities which chip away at that control (such as empowerment by information or hearing about successful refugee accounts) will force change from within and hopefully, non-violent changes at the top as well.

p3rsi4n24 karma

During your time in North Korea did you ever view any western media, like movies or tv shows? If so, what ones?

Han-Voice35 karma

I did watch foreign media including Chinese romantic comedies. I thought everything in the movie was fake and made up because it was very different from my life in North Korea. It took me more than a few instances to realize I was unhappy in North Korea. That's why I believe Project E is important so more North Koreans can learn more about what's happening outside the country.

SamTheManWithThePlan18 karma

Do most all people in North Korea (implicatively) secretly hate Kim Jong Un and the government, or are they truly brainwashed to the point where they know nothing could be better? Is there a lot of learned helplessness?

Han-Voice31 karma

I didn't hate the government when I lived in North Korea. I'm not sure what they think now. Even when my family was starving, we didn't blame our government. We were taught to blame the US for cutting the food supplies and making us live in extreme poverty.

EDIT: Hi SamTheManWithThePlan, Chris here. North Korean experts (Professors Noland and Haggard) have conducted several refugee surveys in order to track the changing mentality within North Korea. One striking thing they noticed was that North Korean citizens are criticizing the government more and more. This has been corroborated with several explicit examples of dissidence (i.e. proliferation of black markets, less fear of consuming foreign media, increase in fashion/clothing, etc.). However, at the time Kim Jong Il was taking his last breaths, Noland and Haggard found a stark absence of criticism of the first 2 leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. However, we've heard more recently from many defectors that have left North Korea that there is much less reverence bestowed upon Kim Jong Un. Korean tradition can be quite "age-ist", and so coming into power at such a young age may have worked against the baby-faced "supreme leader."

crashdemon18 karma

What is different outside of North Korea than you thought it would be? Did you have expectations of what life would be like outside of North Korea and have those expectations been meet?

Han-Voice43 karma

I never imagined life outside while I was in North Korea. When I watched Chinese movies in North Korea, I was in disbelief of the life that was pictured in the movies. In these movies people could live free lives and could talk publicly, but I still didn't believe it. But beyond that I never imagined how well people lived outside of North Korea. The government banned movies that had telephones and bikes, because the government wanted to make North Koreans believe that everyone outside of their country were living in poverty.

SummerOftime17 karma

You escaped in order to save your child's life.

  • Who was going to kill your child? Was it the NK government? And why?
  • Also, how did you manage to get to Canada?

Han-Voice30 karma

Yes, the officials were going to take away my child once born and kill him as the baby's father was a Chinese man. I had the baby at a relative's home in the mountains and crossed the river over to China. My newborn baby was in a plastic bag for protection from the water.

I was living in South Korea when I moved to Canada. I came because my oldest son has a disability and I learned Canada has excellent health benefits.

PouponMacaque16 karma

What do you believe was the tipping point where the North Korean government solidified so much control over the people that there became so little chance for reform or revolution, and so little knowledge of the outside world relative to other countries?

If the following rights had been retained more strongly by the North Korean people, how do you feel the Kim regime's rise would have gone differently: the right to bear arms, stronger personal property, a better standard of living, better education.

Thanks! I am glad you are among the lucky few who enjoy this kind of self-expression, and hope for many more to join you soon!

Han-Voice18 karma

Hi PouponMacaque, Chris here. I think the tipping point could've been a powerful combination of the Soviet Union recognizing Kim Il Sung as chairman of the Korean Communist Party, Korea's independence from Japan (all in the 1940s), and North Korea's intense rivalry with South Korea. The history of the Korean peninsula is mired with rule by non-Koreans. We've heard from many defectors that Kim Il Sung was always revered by the North Korean people for his hand in "freeing" Korea from imperialist rule... this despite the fact that the cult of personality began with the "Great Leader". With a constant "threat" of the US forces in South Korea, Kim was able to further manipulate his people into compliance. It didn't hurt either that Kim Il Sung established the Korean People's Army, which was stocked with Soviet weapons. He who holds the gun holds the power.

The interesting thing about a "rights-based" framework is that, to my understanding, such a framework is only compatible with capitalism. Property, for instance, doesn't exist in a communist society. Indeed, the concept of property is still somewhat foreign to many defectors.

I think looking forward, however, another interesting point is that, whereas the existence of South Korea may have originally assisted the North Korean regime in controlling its people, now that with this incredible gap in economic prosperity between these 2 countries, more North Koreans are using South Korea as a frame of reference for how badly things have gone wrong.

ThatBlackGuy_15 karma

What is the Education system like in North Korea, and what (apart from American propaganda) is taught as part of modern day science, history and global culture ?

Han-Voice52 karma

There was a strong focus on math and propaganda was incorporated into all our exercises and problems. For example, if 100 brave North Korean soldiers killed 25 weak American soldiers in the first battle and 30 in the second battle, how many American wolves did they kill altogether? This is how we learned math.

TheCheshireCody13 karma

Hi Lucia,

There are people who say the propaganda about North Korea is as bad as the propaganda North Korea is said to feed to its citizens. How would you compare the things people say about what is going on in that country to the reality you experienced?

Han-Voice21 karma

From where I'm from, it's very similar to what people are saying here. It's completely different than where I'm living now. No Internet, phone, no freedom to do anything and a lot of restrictions.

Before the famine, I had a job. The wage for one day only pays for one meal back in North Korea but here my daily wage pays for a month's living expenses.

IamHitmonlee13 karma

Anyo Hashamnika from California! I recently read an article about the underground of North Korea. I previously had not really understood such a possibility, as I thought such things would be discouraged and unreachable. However a new article I read had a journalist who was coupled with a high ranking official and was able to go to one of these markets where people hustled and bustled.

My question is, does the party, or Kim even, truly control the masses to the degree as such regulation as to somewhat mirror 1984? Or does the underground thrive and rest as general knowledge?

Han-Voice24 karma

Although I have not read 1984 personally, I know that it deals with a tyrannical regime that manipulates its people, and has a cult of personality. In my experience with NK, I can confirm that the NK regime was tyrannical. They hid other guise of a communist party, but the true nature of social and political life was far from a true communist state. It was led by 3 generations of dictators, all of whom had complete power of the military, police, and press. Not only that, but we all believed the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were gods. We had framed photos of our leaders on our wall and thanked them for our food before we ate. When Kim Il Sung died, we cried for days because it was unbelievable that our father, our god, had died.

at-idiot13 karma

Do you miss anything about NK?

Han-Voice26 karma

I miss my family. My parents and siblings are still in North Korea.

I_Posted_That13 karma

For Lucia: was there something that brought you to Canada specifically? And where else would you like to visit in the world?

Han-Voice21 karma

I was curious about Canada because I heard about it from a movie I watched. My oldest son has a disability and I heard Canada has a great healthcare system which is one big factor.

I'd like to visit the US because I heard a lot of terrible things about the country while living in North Korea. I'd like to see the country for myself.

Nashad13 karma

How did you manage to get out and why dont more people do the same?

Han-Voice18 karma

I went with a friend to China to smuggle in rice and I saw how much better the life was in China. I decided to stay in China permanently. I defected in 1997 and my experience was not how it is now. With the growing number of North Koreans defecting, it is very dangerous as border-security will shoot anyone who is caught.

PerceeP11 karma

Hi Lucia! Are North Korean people happy in general? How do they perceive their country and how aware are the people about larger events outside of the country?

Han-Voice25 karma

No, people aren't happy. There is a reason why people decide to defect from North Korea. Every day is a struggle and I was working to just have food on my table. How can anyone be happy?

omgpokemans11 karma

What surprised you the most about life outside of NK?

Han-Voice15 karma

The most surprising thing about living in Canada is that food is available anywhere. In North Korea, even if we could buy food, there is nowhere to purchase any ingredients. The only option is to not eat anything. Here, there are food markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, produce grown on plants, and more.

grilsrgood9 karma

I've heard families of defectors who remain in north Korea can have their lives made a living hell by the government. Do you know what became of your family since you defected?

Han-Voice13 karma

I was in contact with my family three years ago through a Chinese phone but unfortunately, now I'm unable to reach them. From my understanding, they are not in a prison camp but are being spied on. Even contacting them can be very dangerous. If they are caught communicating with me, they will be punished.

DazBlintze9 karma

Does the general public in North Korea have any idea of how the rest of the world lives? Are they generally happy people?

Han-Voice23 karma

When I was in North Korea, we had no idea about the outside world. We were told that we were living in better conditions than everyone else. Only now that I'm in Canada I can appreciate the freedom I have. Back home, people are living in worse conditions than homeless people here in Toronto. There are no shelters, food banks, and support from the government.

Right now, it seems like a lot more North Koreans are aware of how the rest of the world lives. This is due to foreign media and information sharing.

mt1rdt9 karma

What is something in day to day life in North Korea that would surprise us? Can be good or bad.

Han-Voice23 karma

This might not surprise you at all but this is what was the most surprising difference to me after arriving in Canada. There is absolutely no food available anywhere. Even if we could buy food, there is nowhere to purchase any ingredients. The only option is to not eat anything.

usuallyclassy699 karma

Can you tell us about the supposed widespread methamphetamine use in NK ? Is it really an epidemic or is it used casually ?

Han-Voice20 karma

In North Korea, we ate marijuana leaves as food and didn't realize it was a drug. We would feel some of the effects and usually slept all day. I can't speak about meth us as I don't know too much about it.

savageclown8 karma

How is life in North Korea?

Han-Voice13 karma

Growing up it was OK because I was living with my parents and we received money from the government. In the mid-1990's the government cut off our money and food rations so it became very difficult to survive. We were starving. My mom, sister, and I used to go into the fields daily to look for anything to eat.

It became unbearable to live so I had decided to defect. I was able to escape to China.

Chagachagachuchu7 karma

What is something in North Korea that you can't find anywhere else?

Han-Voice17 karma

My family and my childhood home. There's nothing else in North Korea that I can't find here.

TheNordguy7 karma

How was food in North Korea?

What is you favourite food?

What's you happiest and saddest memory?

Han-Voice17 karma

There is a food shortage in North Korea (outside of Pyongyang) so I often ate tree bark and other things on the ground.

doodies7 karma

What do you imagine/hope the average North Korean would do with the USB key full of information?

Han-Voice9 karma

Hi doodies, Chris here. Change can't come from within North Korean until its citizens have the ability to fathom a different world. Traditionally, North Korean has been a country where rules are dictated from top-down. However, in more recent times we've seen the NK government forced to change its regulations to keep up with on-the-ground life. An example of this is the government's regulation of markets, which is in theory, completely inconsistent with communism. Now, however, the government allows and regulates markets in North Korea, which would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. As more information proliferates throughout North Korea, we believe that we'll see more of this bottom-up change.

Rmf19917 karma

Was it difficult to adjust to the freedom and independence you had in the outside world?

Han-Voice14 karma

At first, it was very hard to adjust because I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go for help and what I was allowed to do. However, my mind was at ease because I had no regulated routine and I could then experience what freedom really was. Freedom to say and think, watch and do anything I want has been life changing.

MagicMan3507 karma

Do people believe the lies they are told about that being "normal life" in North Korea?

Han-Voice17 karma

I was taught that we were living the best possible life in North Korea and that every other country was poorer than ours. We were so sheltered that until I was in China, I didn't believe we were living in extreme poverty even while my family was starving.

North Koreans need to know what life outside North Korea is life. They cannot continue to live the way they are. Whether it's through foreign media or communications from the outside world, information is key for change. HanVoice has a program to do exactly this: www.hanvoiceprojecte.com.

Psychopath-7 karma

Do you have any hope of getting your family out and reunited with you?

What do you think the world should do- if anything- about the situation? Should we be helping defectors? Attempting to depose the Kim family? Nothing at all? What do you think the outcomes of any of these strategies would be?

Han-Voice20 karma

No, I've lost contact with my family and don't have any hope of reuniting with them.

One way North Korean defectors can receive more support is by support adjusting in our new lives (whether it's South Korea, US, and Canada). I faced a lot of discrimination in South Korea so as a North Korean, it's hard to find a job, grow in a community, and have any type of social life. I hope to get rid of any stigmas that North Koreans are incapable, dangerous, etc.

ZimzAlabimz6 karma

What do you look forward to the most, for yourself/world, in the future now that you are living in Canada? Best wishes from Manitoba!

Han-Voice15 karma

I look forward to raising two happy children who are safe from prison camps and starvation. Their future is what I'm living for now.

lordfaramir135 karma

Welcome to the real world. I saw you mentioned visiting USA, any other countries?

Han-Voice15 karma

I want to visit Africa because I read and watched films about the Safari. I do love animals very much. I haven't been to the local zoos yet so I'll need to visit this summer.

p3rsi4n5 karma

what kind of change does HanVoice hope to achieve in NK with projectE?

Han-Voice8 karma

Hi p3rsi4n, see our answer to doodies.