I wrote this Dec. 22, 2018, and saved it to publish for Mother's Day.
We enter the small men’s hair salon, and a middle-aged woman with her hair neatly piled up greets us. I give her my humble plate of American Christmas cookies. At first, she doesn’t seem to know what they are until my husband explains again—Merry Christmas.
All smiles, she shares with two other men and another who walks in. “Delicious,” she says in Korean munching on a cookie and half a banana chocolate chip muffin.
After a bit of small talk, we show her a photo of the cover of my book Rice from Heaven. She’s in awe that I participated in this, but she immediately starts talking about how North Koreans have to report if they find anything like this; otherwise, they get watched. So I contemplate if maybe this wasn’t so good, sending balloons over. But the refugees who funded this must know.
This leads to us asking more about her past. She escaped 14 years ago (2004) with a group of twelve, including her teenaged son and a broker leading them. It was winter time, and they covered themselves with some kind of white sheet to not be seen by soldiers. They crossed the river, water up to her chest. But when they got to China, a new broker awaited. When she discovered they would be exploited, she fled. In retaliation, the broker sent her son back to North Korea where he spent time in a concentration camp. He had so little to eat, only kernels of corn. They had to pick cabbages out of a field. They would hide cabbages in the crux of their shirt and nibble on it like rabbits.
She laughs at the image and sound of a rabbit eating. But then her laughter turns to tears as she tells us her son got so cold and lost two toes from hypothermia. Eventually they released him due to his medical condition. After making her way to South Korea via the Asian Underground Railroad, she tried to send him money a couple times, but each time it was confiscated. Of course, he is being watched. So to prevent further complications, she quit communicating with him. It’s been ten years. She misses him. As she weeps, I can feel her ache. She also has a daughter and husband that she left. She grabs my cookies and munches away her stress.
The news shows Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. She frowns and lays into the Korean president. “It’s all for show,” she says. As I flip through a women’s magazine, there’s another photo of the two together. I close it. I don’t dare ask what she thinks of Kim Jong Un visiting Seoul, another hot topic in the news.
I feel guilty for prying into her past for an interview. I silently pray that she will be reunited with her loved ones. For now, she seems to be doing well, having just opened her second hair salon in Pyeongtaek. (She used to cut hair in North Korea.)
I walk away with a heavy heart. Sad for her but feeling deeply blessed to have my son at home with me, well and alive, along with my daughter and husband. I ask for her business card. I know it’s not her real name. She shows us her real name on her Korean I.D. The last names at least match. I will pray for Mrs. Sohng.
As I tuck my son in bed, pray and kiss him goodnight, my eyes tear over as I think of Mrs. Sohng and all the women who long for a missed child.
May God reunite families. Tell your children you love them. Who knows when the last time is? ♥
5/8/2019 06:39:30 am
Thank you for sharing this, Tina. I can't even imagine this woman's pain, and so many others...
5/8/2019 11:17:36 am
Thank you for this post and for the stories you have written about the tragedy of the two Koreas. I am astonished that it continues, seemingly unabated, to tear a people apart. God bless the democratic South Korea for standing firm.
5/8/2019 11:39:55 am
Thank you for writing about this, Tina. It's so heartbreaking. One can only hope and work for a better future. And not despair.
5/8/2019 11:59:58 am
I appreciate your sharing this, Tina. It's so sad, but it helps me know better how to pray for the people of North Korea.
5/9/2019 12:23:12 pm
What a story, Tina . . .truly bittersweet. We have no idea what others suffer. Your prayers might work wonders. I hope you will know for sure one day. Thanks for sharing this incredible account. And Happy Mother’s Day to you!💗
5/9/2019 05:57:32 pm
Tina, thank you for sharing this story and putting a face to the struggles of the North Korean people. It is just so hard to understand. We will continue to pray that things will change.
5/10/2019 10:22:02 am
Real stories help me to understand so much more. Thank you.
5/12/2019 07:56:56 pm
Such a bittersweet story Tina. It's stories like this that will help people know of the pain and separation others are still suffering which should not be happening in this day and age. So sad. Bless you for sharing this Tina.
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Tina M. Cho, children's author
I'm a children's author and freelance writer for the educational market. Welcome!