Hello Reddit, my name is Kang Chol-hwan. For ten years I was a prisoner at Yodok political prison camp in North Korea. My family and I were sent there after my grandfather was accused of treason by the Kim regime.

5 years ago, I did a Q&A on Reddit about the living conditions in North Korea. In 2020, I've decided to do the same.

Since escaping North Korea, I have become a journalist, author, and human rights activist. I am the founder of the North Korea Strategy Center, an NGO whose goal is to advocate for free media and press in North Korea. We target North Koreans directly by sending external media such as movies, documentaries, and dramas inside the country. To learn more about NKSC please visit our website and like our Facebook page.

http://en.nksc.co.kr https://www.facebook.com/NKSCFriends?ref=ts&fref=ts

I have also started 2 Youtube Channels- 강철환TV and Aquariums of PyongYang, in Korean and English respectively. My team and I use the channels to discuss about North Korean politics and we hope to expand our topics to our international audience.

강철환TV (KOR): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdjpUonPkp6CicVDkz2ZTZg

Aquariums of Pyongyang (ENG): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCfTvpicjmYufhhLolE7dIdQ

My Proof: Picture→ http://imgur.com/4xAuM2k Wikipedia Page → http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kang_Chol-hwan

I will be answering questions with the help of my translator next week. So please leave your questions and give us some time to answer them :) We look forward to hearing from you.

EDIT #1: [From Translator] Thanks for your comments and questions. Keep them coming! Also, I would like apologize for constantly switching from 1st to 3rd person. All questions will be answered by Mr Kang unless stated otherwise.

Comments: 1680 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

stridersmf1493 karma

what kind of food did they give you to eat and what time did you have to get up and go to bed ? did they let you talk to the other prisoners at all?

aquariumsofpyongyang2347 karma

They had a very limited ration of food. As there were many corn fields, they mostly ate corn as a staple. Due to a period of malnutrition, people started turning to hunting for rats for consumption.

Prisoners are able to talk to each other.

dontquestionmek1256 karma

What were some of the more extreme things you saw while in camp?

Did you make any friends in prison that you intend to keep up with as time goes by?

What is the craziest thing that happened to you personally while serving your time?

aquariumsofpyongyang2030 karma

xtreme things y

The most extreme thing in the camp was how desperate people were to live. And also, seeing executions, where people were hang to death in public. The most normal form of execution is by shooting.

I have made friends in North Korea. However, it is very dangerous to contact them even in North Korea. Needless to say, it is even more difficult when I'm in South Korea.

Batmans_Butler1245 karma

What memory do you cherish the most from North Korea? What memory do you wish you could forget? Thank you for everything you have done.

aquariumsofpyongyang1756 karma

The most cherish memory: When he was in Pyongyang and attending elementary school.

The memory he wish he could forget: When he was in prison.

petit_cochon1346 karma

This translator isn't really into nuance.

paulhinrichsen198 karma

or providing any depth of an answer...of course he hates the 10 year memory of prison

aquariumsofpyongyang331 karma

Translator: that's exactly how he replied :) As some questions were repeated and there were time limitations, we were unable to provide much depth for some questions. While doing the interview with Mr Kang, he said it in the most earnest and straightforward manner that his life in prison was the worst and he wished he could forget it.... not specific parts but in general.

31m01184 karma

How did you escape North Korea and did you flee alone?

Huge respects to you, I can't think how strong people like you are.

aquariumsofpyongyang1965 karma

He escaped by the river into China. With the help of some Chinese, he hid in a Chinese vessel into international waters and got saved by a Korean ship. He escaped with his friend.

Astralarogance896 karma

What percentage of North Koreans don't like Kim Jong Un?

aquariumsofpyongyang1561 karma

At first, there weren't many people who dislike them because of the lack of outside information.

In the past, 80% of people liked Kim Il Sung.40% liked Kim Jong Il. However, as there is an influx of outside information, Mr Kang suggests that only 20% of people like Kim Jong Un.

Also, as there are many negative connotation about Kim Jong Un. eg. Building mixed saunas and karaokes for adult entertainment.

saltysteph403 karma

I'm curious for this statement. Are mixed saunas and karaoke a bad thing? I would think it could be seen as a gift to the oppressed people.

Hynauts633 karma

When your people is starving I'm not sure Karaoke/Saunas are appreciated.If I was poor and hungry in NK, I think I would see this as a gift to the people that are rich enough to not worry about food and others first necessities things like medication.

EDIT: I'm reading this again, and I may have misunderstood. Are the people actually complaining about mixity or the establishments ?

aquariumsofpyongyang354 karma

North Korea is nevertheless still an Asian and conservative country.

MorpleBorple284 karma

If I were to guess I would guess that these places are only for the inner circle, and young girls plucked from various places around the country. If that's right, I could see people objecting to the elite behaving as they do in a similar way to how we object to Epstein's Island.

aquariumsofpyongyang541 karma

That's right. While North Korea is a patriotic society, it is also a conservative one. With adult establishments as such in midst of starvation and other forms of suffering, it really shows a bad image of Kim.

saltysteph24 karma

Sure I can see your point. I'm curious about what we can do. The people are starving, but what can they do? What can we do? Is it better to be starving and have no karaoke or to be starving and have karaoke? I'm not trying to be an ass. Is he giving them "bread and circuses" to detract from the lack of food and medication?

aquariumsofpyongyang327 karma

To explain further, it's KIM putting the elite's (aka, those that can afford) sexual needs first and the most basic survival necessities of people that makes it a huge problem. It becomes obvious that Kim doesn't care about them at all despite being their supreme leader, and therefore, making him a less respectable leader. Hope this answers your question

mrbeckersmagicaltoot509 karma

What made you question the propaganda while so many others never did?

aquariumsofpyongyang953 karma

External information made him question the propaganda. The truth is, as external information and content becomes more common in North Korea (via the black market or through sharing), more and more people are questioning the credibility of the regime. However, many people are uncertain of what can be done to improve in the situation.

Chiliconkarma55 karma

Is there any good description of this increase in external information? What information is people in NK interested in?

aquariumsofpyongyang93 karma

Through interviews and years of working with North Korean Elites, their interests depend on the age group.

Older people prefer serial and period dramas and young elites (those in university) like intellectual content such as books about economics, etc. In general, variety shows and dramas are very popular among NKeans.

While we all think that everyone in NK are being trapped in the country, that's fortunately not the case. Elites get to go overseas, mostly in China for businesses or as ambassadors. Their children are also able to study there. With that, they are naturally more aware and able to look for external information.

presidentkangaroo476 karma

I read your book about 10 years ago and it left an impact. To the best of your knowledge, is Yodok still there?

aquariumsofpyongyang496 karma

Yes, it is still there. However, due to the arrest of Jang Sung Taek and his family, Yodok prison was reestablished once again.

lvreddit1077449 karma

Have you seen the kdrama Crash Landing on You? Do you believe it was able to portray life in North Korea well?

If you haven't seen it, how well do you believe South Koreans understand life in North Korea?

aquariumsofpyongyang561 karma

Yes, he feels that the drama has portrayed life in North Korea well.

He feels that South Koreans see them as foreigners. They are intrigued and they receive many information. However, due to the differences in mindset, they have a distorted perception about North Koreans.

my-main-throwaway1376 karma

Do you suffer from any PTSD?

Do the events that happened in the prison effect your everyday life?

aquariumsofpyongyang707 karma

To be honest, he isn't sure. He felt like he has gotten used to it, but definitely, it was an extremely traumatic experience. With this traumatic experiences, Mr.Kang feels that it has affected all prisoners and North Koreans even though they may not feel anything. Sometimes, simple things in everyday life reminds him of the life in prison, eg. Feeling chilly on a rainy day makes him feel gloomy.

MorpleBorple250 karma

Do you think that the average NK citizen believes that the regime has their best interest at heart?

aquariumsofpyongyang517 karma

Do you think that the average NK citizen believes that the regime has their best interest at heart

Definitely not. NK citizens know that the regime does not have their best interest but most of them could not do anything to change their circumstances.

ilovemodok224 karma

Is it true that marijuana is legal in North Korea? Is it commonly smoked by people there?

aquariumsofpyongyang474 karma

Nope, it is illegal. But it is really commonly smoked and available. Also, punishment is lenient.

FlipperMonster202 karma

Despite the horrible conditions inside of the camp, was there anything positive that gave you hope/respite?

aquariumsofpyongyang330 karma

Although the camp is horrible, he feels like it gives people the will to live even when life is hard. Also, although it is really small, he made many friends and it seems rather close knitted.

s3tangil4163 karma

do you believe south korea and north korea will/can be united?

aquariumsofpyongyang347 karma

do you believe south korea and north korea will/can be united?

If the government is North Korea is still there, I don't think it's possible. Due to the difference in political stance.

thefakeraymond132 karma

What kind of external media you send across seas? I know you said movies, documentaries, etc. But are you just sending stuff to people who ask, is there a mailing list?

Im glad you made it out, and are trying to help others who were in some sort of trouble as you were. It's nice seeing the good side of things like there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

aquariumsofpyongyang233 karma

Hi! I'm a staff working with Mr Kang. I'll help answer some questions related to the organization and leave the rest to be answered personally by Mr Kang next week!
We send information through USBs, external harddrives and chips. We've people working with us in China. As we've been doing this for years, we've collated a list of people that are interested in the content. Usually, these people are elites making frequent trips to China.

We are now looking into sending entrepreneurship content to university students as many defectors of that age has expressed interest :).

Thank you so much for your question.

szc00162 karma

That is very interesting, I was under the impression that most North Koreans do not have access to computers, and the ones that do, have their computers locked down by the government.

So how can they view this content?

aquariumsofpyongyang60 karma

Staff: Small computers that Chinese businessmen smuggle in can be attained from the black market. In recent years, we received inside news that a few university students were caught watching external content in their dormitories. The main instigator was expelled and later disappeared. The rest of them were forced to stop school for a year and were sent to a reform institution for a year. So, while they can view these content, it is also quite risky for them to do so.

HuskyPupper80 karma

What are your feelings of Trump getting friendly with Kim Jong un?

aquariumsofpyongyang205 karma

What are your feelings of Trump getting friendly with Kim Jong un?

At first, it seemed like a good thing. It feels like Kim Jong Un is more comfortable with Trump as compared to Xi Jin Ping.

However, Trump is now against Kim Jong Un as he failed to denuclearize as promised. Trump probably thinks that his discussions with Kim Jong Un was useful for re-election