Balloon Background: The Unreality of N. Korea

**More info on balloons last paragraph ↓

Photo credit: Reuters

First of all, I’m not sure if people understand the situation of what “totalitarian dictatorship” and “oppressive” means in the North Korean sense.  I mean who can grasp this level of isolation from the rest of the human population, especially in the age of social networks, the global economy, the ever-shrinking digital world?

Unlike other tyrannical regimes, which might have rigid controls and/or severe limitations on the Internet; North Korea simply has no Internet.  (Or, I should say, the North Koreans don’t have it—I’m sure their leadership has access).  Other authoritarian governments punish or imprison their dissidents; North Korea has no dissidents.  Any offenders are executed and furthermore their families, for generations, are sent to labor camps.

Isolation in N. Korea is total: there is no connection to the outside world, and there hasn’t been since 1953.  There are thousands there who have zero knowledge of any world history—not even their own.  They are allowed to know that the Kim dynasty has descended from God, and that is all they need to know, according to their government.  It is no wonder that there is no speaking against the government—citizens are not AWARE of any other alternative.  One cannot even speak against the government within your own home.  There is no television that is not state-sponsored—not there is much time to watch anyway, as electricity is shut off at night to preserve their limited resources (which is why satellite pictures of N. Korea often show it pitch black, in contrast to the bright, twinkling South Korean side).

So. I have known these facts for awhile, I’ve watched (w/disbelief) many documentaries on North Korea—many where N. Korean citizens (including tiny little children—esp. unnerving) sing songs about the Dear Leader and then [seemingly] spontaneously break into tears of “joy” and “gratitude.”  They always leave me slightly spooked yet fascinated…  I’ve also watched the docu-films on the dangerous, highly-involved (often 6-mos+ preparation) escape from North to South.  And I thought that I would, through learning about these people’s experiences, better understand the tangled web of brainwashing, fear, and self-preservation that holds this dictatorship together. But I really still am incredulous. The more I find out, the more unbelievable it all seems to be —

And instead of growing closer in feeling, to these Koreans—after all, we share the same ethnicity, we are only 62 years divided as a country; in my mind, they are my Korean “brethren”— I often catch myself feeling as if I am studying a different species, let alone my Korean kinspeople.  How can Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung (his father), and now the 20-something baby-dictator Kim Jong Un treat his own people in such a way? And what kind of people “let” this happen? How did this happen? How did we let half our country’s children starve under a brutal, clearly insane sociopath?  Speaking now as a member of the human race:  How did *we* let this happen??

You wouldn’t begin to understand—at least I couldn’t— the level of isolationism until you get an example.  Here is one—  I just found this out from an interview: N. Koreans grow up and live their whole lives believing (this is incredible) that South Korea is still in recovery mode from the war. . . yes, the Korean War. (Like from the ’50’s.)

And they are still hearing, for years, the same song & dance from their government: North Korea is the best country on Earth; Kim Jong Un is the finest leader (descended from gods); they are the luckiest people on Earth.

DO THEY REALLY BELIEVE THIS? 

When you read interviews of former escapees, former North Koreans, they tell hauntingly similar stories of a neighbor or friend who absentmindedly hummed/sang a bar or two of an old folk song (when Korea was united, so a South Korean song technically) — after that day, they were never seen again.

In the New York Times Magazine, they once featured the colorful artwork of children who had survived the escape from North to South.  Many had drawn soldiers with large rifles shooting members of their family, with much blood drawn in bright red.

This is the same child who no doubt sang the N. Korean patriot’s song and cried along w/the other children when they sang about their “beloved Dear Leader”—!  And here he is a year or two later drawing a soldier of the Dear Leader’s army killing his truly beloved mother.   Does this not demonstrate how young the brainwashing and true–inner/false–outer complexity (confusion) begins and also — maybe more importantly — at how young and vulnerable an age it is equated with life and death.  Is there any other culture where a child must don a mask (in school) in order for him and his family to survive?

Members of an anti-North Korea civic group release balloons containing leaflets denouncing the North's leader Kim Jong-un towards North Korea, at Imjingak pavilion in Paju

Each transparent, cylinder-shaped “balloon” is more than 20 feet in length

**More info on the balloons:
Each giant tubular balloon (approx 20 feet in length) holds three large plastic-wrapped packages.  These packages contain what I told you before, plus a few more things that I just learned about.  Along with the USBs, newspaper clippings, and cash ($USD —though, ✵✭correction, they are $1-dollar bills, not $100-dollar bills, as my dad had said), they also include DVDs, transistor radios, and leaflets that are printed with timely info/news from around the world.  {They are balloon-bombing them with info!}  Also, most cleverly, each balloon is equipped with a small timer.  Once the balloons travel far enough across the border, the timer will break open the plastic and the package’s contents will be scattered across the North Korean countryside.  (How satisfying.)  I’d like to get a video of that.

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Many of the balloons say “Kim Jong Un Is Lying To You” and “The Regime Will Fall”

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Evil Dictatorship Thwarted By Balloons, Part 2

Ok, I asked my dad—thanks, dad!— to dig up some pictures for me.  (I can’t read Korean newspapers — and forget about Googling in Korean!)  The results are FASCINATING.  I’m so glad I got so hung up on these balloons (this balloon story really does capture the imagination); it’s an incredibly cool thing they didーare doing, that is, because no one has stopped them yet, and they are not breaking any laws.  It’s absolutely brilliant!  So low-tech, low-budget, really. . . except for all the money they’re stuffing into the balloons, but that’s not what we’re discussing reallyー I mean, as a delivery method, how brilliant!!  And *what* they’re delivering. . . it’s just so so great!!  ✭〜⭐︎

baloons ready to launch at dmz 1

I was a little off on some things.  They ARE putting US dollars in each balloon, but I didn’t know how many.  Actually, I didn’t know the SCOPE of this project at all.  I was picturing one balloon, maybe two.  And really BIG.  But, as you’ll see in the picture I’m about to post, the Koreans (the recent escapees to the South from the North) assemble and it’s a pretty big launch party with a BUNCH of balloons, skinny long ones.  And each balloon is filled with HUNDRED -DOLLAR (US) BILLS, USB DRIVES (with first-hand testimonials from escapees telling them to LEAVE the North, that they’re being brainwashed, they need to GET OUT NOW), and NEWSPAPER CLIPPINGS from S Korean newspapers. These all in conjunction are designed to help convince, reassure, then actually help actual North Koreans — our fellow Koreans (it’s only been since 1953 that the country has been divided; many families still have surviving relatives they have not seen in over 50 years) — escape.

The US dollar is the only thing that is worth anything for a N. Korean once they cross over to China.  North Korean money would be useless and get them nowhere.  The USB drives and the clippings are the big dose of reality.  Coming from a fellow North Korean — with their accent, knowing their lifestyle exactly, their situation and mindset perfectly, their fears, doubts, etc. — no longer does the message from the South sound like “Yankee propaganda” that they were trained from birth to hate and distrust.  Also, no doubt the North Korean would know the way into the North Korean mind, how to convince them they have been lied to their whole lives, that their country, leader, and culture is the product of a series of cruel dictators.

baloon ready to launch at dmz 2

The balloon, though, is not just a carrier system for these things.  And they are not only floating signage (I’m not sure what the balloons say, but they definitely say something that would make Kim Jong-Un very upset).  I’m not going to wax poetic just for fun; I really believe this.  They truly seem to float upward toward the North like hope. (I won’t apologize.)

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The guy who prepares the helium for the group watches the weather reports and whenever the wind is scheduled to blow northward, he starts setting up —

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COOL, isn’t it??*

(*cooler than dennis rodman) haha.

Evil Dictatorship Thwarted By Balloons

Balloons filled with American dollars and MP3 recordings of North Korean escapees explaining the whole truth of their situation, pleading with them to use the money to escape and join their families in the South have been flown over—carried only by the wind—from South Korea.

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This is just a regular balloon.

The nagging significance, especially to, say, Kim Jong-Un, is that these balloons are filled and flown by former North Koreans, successful escapees to South Korea; their words/actions carry much weight with his citizens—especially the video testimonials sent by the thousands (on MP3s).

This organization (or organizations, I don’t know—my source is my dad) has been creatively using the low-tech/low-cost balloon delivery method to encourage others of their countrymen to follow them to freedom (and—food/electricity/their lost relatives from the Korean War) for about ten years now.

I have never seen reports of this [very interesting instance of Kim Jong-Un and his father Kim Jong-Il both tearing their perms out w/frustration & futility!!] in any US news/blogs (not that I really looked that hard), so I thought I’d write a bit about it here at least anecdotally.  

This basic map shows you the bunny rabbit and how close the two capital cities are.

This basic map shows you the bunny rabbit and how close the two capital cities are.

And though the leaders of N. Korea have demanded that the South stop these people from flying the balloons, because South Korea is a democracy with a right to gather and a right to free speech—the balloons do have propaganda written on themー they are allowed to fly them with impunity.  And all they’re technically doing is releasing balloons into the air.  (Brilliant, right?)  They just happen to be massive and filled with cash money and MP3s.

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Also they must wait for a perfect wind day, so the huge balloon would float over the border, over the DMZ, I guess—

(The unspoilt wilderness of the DMZ.  National Geographic.)

(The unspoilt wilderness of the DMZ. National Geographic.)

The DMZ is mountainous and ironically peaceful and beautiful.  Apparently scientists study the wildlife/plantlife there because the nature has been so undisturbedー a guarded sanctuaryー since the war ended in 1953.

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tunnels

It has always scared me, especially when in Seoul, how close Seoul is to the North.  When you hear the anti-communist alarm/drill in the streets, it just sounds too real.  A little too close, a bit too much reality, for me to be my normal calm self.   I mean, I know these tunnels are blocked now, but they WERE there ー that’s scary enough for me.

But then you look at the DMZ, and it’s eerily calm.  Look at the stone-frozen faces of those military guards, on both sides.  It’s just all very freaky and inhuman.  For a second you wonder if the soldiers are really human.  They don’t move, they don’t blink.  Do they feel pain?  Do they use the bathroom?  These are my serious questions.

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I will follow this up with the real balloons that they flew, as soon as I can find the actual pictures.  I have not seen them myself, so I am quite anxious to see them –

In Honor of Steve Jobs’ 60th

The following is my favorite quote of his, which I think I should read more often.  Always readjusts my mind—in the right direction. I broke it up into four ‘bites’.

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This is the first time for me, posting in the grocery store, in the middle of the laundry detergent aisle—as I’m walking—but I’m sure Mr. Jobs knows that I do this (on my beautiful white iPhone) with the most respect + gratitude.

President Lincoln, Animal Lover

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Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth President, was the first of our leaders to bring a cat into the White House.*

*This is basically what the caption read on Pinterest (where I first saw this photo). Can’t tell if this is photo-shopped or not.

★★Where is that presidential scholar lady from MSNBC when you need her??★★

This next photo, however, is definitely authentic (+ adorable):

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Quite the animal lover, Lincoln also had a dog, named Fido.

This is a rare photograph from around 1865.