Thursday, March 24, 2005

Glimpse of World Shatters North Koreans' Illusions

By HOWARD W. FRENCH, The New York Times, March 24, 2005

YANJI, China - Sitting on a bare floor in a chilly one-room apartment, Lee Hae Jon and her younger sister, Hae Sun, struggled recently for words to describe their lives since they clandestinely made their way here from North Korea five years ago. Their mother married a Chinese man and disappeared from their lives without a trace. Since then, a Chinese widow of Korean descent has taken the girls into her apartment and kept them clothed and fed. But for five years, the teenage sisters have not dared to go outside in daylight for fear of being sent back to their country, or worse, trafficked as young brides or prostitutes in this booming Chinese border city.

The sisters try to teach themselves Chinese, using a couple of old textbooks and repeating phrases from television, which they watch endlessly. A crude Hula-Hoop is their only source of exercise, and each knock on the door their only excitement. They never know whether it is help from their caretaker's friends or the police coming to arrest them.

"We have no friends, and no future, nothing at all, really," said the soft-spoken older sister, Hae Jon, 17. "But if we stay here, at least we have enough to eat. In our country, we could go for days without eating." Within months, according to an underground network of people who help support the sisters, Hae Jon may be alone. Hae Sun, a shy girl of 13, is dying of kidney cancer and is not permitted to be flown out of the country for advanced care.------------

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