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Running from the regime

"Running from the regime" Continued...

“We have this special rhythm, so there would be different intonation for each word,” Jeong said. “We would say as if we were trying to chew each word.” She demonstrated with the phrase “These Monsters of the Anti-Revolutionary Korea and the United States” on the stand, then chuckled self-consciously, as though realizing how silly she sounds now.

Jeong was born into a good family in 1964, in the Hamhung city of North Korea’s Hamgyong Province. Growing up, Jeong had “this great trust about the Kim family.” Her grandfather fought against the Japanese occupation and later with the North Korean army during the Korean War, so she and her parents enjoyed the benefits of a national hero, though Jeong had never met her grandfather. Both her parents worked cushy public office jobs. Jeong attended a three-year college and landed a job as an announcer on state television, a prestigious job in North Korea. 

Jeong believed everything she read—until the famine hit in the mid-1990s. The free education, free healthcare, and guaranteed rations disappeared. Once starvation hit during Kim Jong Il’s reign, Jeong’s illusion of the happy socialist society faded away with each person she saw die of starvation, disease, cold, or public execution. In 1999, with the help of a broker, Jeong defected to China. She found relatives there, who helped fund the money to buy her an illegal passport to South Korea. She arrived there in 2002 and now lives in Seoul.—Sophia Lee

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