I’m partaking in an example of supreme 21st century decadence and reading an ebook on my cellphone while walking around on a mossy grassy lawn barefoot. The book is Escape From Camp 14, only the third book I’ve read about North Korea but, like the rest (The Cleanest Race and The Aquariums Of Pyongyang), nearly impossible to put down, except when there is blogging to be done.
This is a brand new book, completely up-to-date, and all about a man who was born into a North Korean concentration camp—usually but not always referred to as gulag or prison in English, the North Koreans call them Kwaliso, or what I think translates to Management Stations—and who somehow managed to escape.
Although these Management Stations are not gassing people by the millions, as the Nazis were, plenty of people are still dying there, and while the resemblance of these places may indeed by closer to Soviet gulags, there is still a certain charm to that Russian word—since Russia is the land of gorgeous onion domes stacked on top of one another like wedding cakes, vodka in the cold winters, beautiful women, charming accents, intellectuals, brilliant writers and composers, the only military that poses even a remote threat to America’s, and wailing choral music that must be played on a movie’s soundtrack whenever that movie’s characters visit Moscow. They never go to St. Petersburg, because most Americans probably wouldn’t recognize the frozen canals. It’s not to say that gulags weren’t awful, but there’s a lot of positive cultural baggage riding behind Russian words that have entered into the English language. Even though they were our worst enemies for decades, we still beat them, and as with Japan, Germany, and even Vietnam, Americans are usually quite fond of the nations they have defeated in the contest for world domination, so long as they know their place.
Prison is too generic, but concentration camp is pure evil, and I wish more news sources would use this term when describing North Korea, as this kind of rhetoric might help to galvanize a movement to free that nation’s people. As the author of this book writes, people today debate why FDR never bombed the railroads leading to Hitler’s concentration camps, and in the future, after North Korea falls, if North Korea ever falls, people will wonder why we never did anything about it (though the answer is obvious: they have no oil, and the cost to the world economy (a flattened Seoul) would probably be felt for decades).
Anyway, I was walking around outside in this peaceful beautiful place I used to live in, and a part came up in the book (which is inevitable in any book, practically any mention, of North Korea), where the author speculates about when the government is going to fall (like the rapture, it could happen five minutes from now), and I briefly felt a faint surge of fear, because life for me would probably become far more interesting than it already is if that were to occur, to say the least, but then I looked up at the windy sunlit trees and remembered that I was in America, on the other side of the planet, in a town where it’s not completely necessary to lock your doors, and then another inevitable event occurred: I began to think of not going back.
The last time I seriously considered doing so was in Chiang Mai, some time ago; the only thing that stopped me was the fact that I had left my computer in my apartment in Busan. This time I brought my computer with me.