See this smiley fellow, above? His main topic is nothing to smile about — North Korea. His name is Thae Yong-ho, and I have a piece about him today — here. I interviewed him not long ago. He is one of the highest-ranking people ever to defect from North Korea.
It was not until 2010 that I met a North Korean. I have met several since, but still fewer than ten. That first was Kang Chol-hwan — the man who grew up in the gulag, where his family was imprisoned, and wrote a memoir called “The Aquariums of Pyongyang.” I remember shaking his hand. I thought I was encountering a being from a different planet — a faraway, nightmarish planet.
While growing up in the gulag, “I buried many hundreds of bodies of political prisoners,” he said.
It is Thae Yong-ho’s mission now to tell people about North Korea — the reality of life within that state, that “hermit kingdom,” the most closed and isolated society in the world. Kim Jong-un is famous now — more famous than he has ever been. But how much do people around the world know about North Korea?
Jeane Kirkpatrick called it a “psychotic state,” something almost unheard of in history. Thae Yong-ho says that life in North Korea is “unimaginable.” He is trying to help people, if they want to, imagine it. (This includes — first and foremost — South Koreans.)
Mainly, this is a man with incredible guts, Thae Yong-ho. Again, I have written about him and his life, here.