Due to my protestant work ethic, when not in class, I spend most of my time in the library studying. Last term this meant I did not attend many of the lunch time talks from famous politicians, visiting academics or NGOs that occur almost every day on campus. I tried to rectify this somewhat this term, which has been made easier by my doing fewer classes. I’ve attended talks or conferences on the status of Middle Eastern studies, the state of Just War legal theories, Iranian politics and theories of Chinese International Relations but unfortunately missed Brahimi, Brzezinski and various ambassadors.
However today, I went to a lunch time talk with boy called Shin Dong-Hyuk. Shin was born in a concentration camp in North Korea and lived in this camp until the age of 23. He knew nothing of the outside world until he managed to escape and make his way into China and then onto South Korea 3 years ago. He has just written a book and is touring the US currently with an organisation called LINK. Listening to him describe his experiences and having the chance to ask him a few question was extraordinary. Without being facetious, it was as close as one gets to meeting someone from a different planet. Until he left the camp, he had no idea of anything beyond the walls of the camp. He had barely heard of Kim Jong-Il to say nothing of countries outside of Korea. The life he described was a combination of Orwell and Auschwitz. I was horrified to hear that he was kept under supervision by the government of South Korea for 6 months, while they confirmed that he was indeed from North Korea, but that they barely provided any transitional support at all. The centre they have for the (re-?) patriotation of North Koreans has 1 psychiatrist for 500 occupants. Meeting him today was truly a humbling and affecting experience.
If you want to read more about his life, there is a brief excerpt from this book here.