A few nights ago the wind whipped down our street, tossing plastic bags into the trees and rattling the windows.

C and I huddled under a blanket and watched a cheery program about North Korea.

I would like my next trip to Korea to include a visit to the DMZ. It scares the poop out of me, but I want to see it.  There’s a rarely-used meeting room right there on the border, and when the South Korean guards open the door to the north, they hold on to each other, inch forward, and brace themselves against the wall for fear of being dragged into enemy territory.

There’s a North Korean village visible from just across the border, with a record-breaking 500+ foot flagpole blaring the country’s emblem. But the buildings surrounding it stand empty – most are facades designed to entice southerners to cross into the prosperous and friendly north. Yeah, right.

To see North Korea is to see two portraits: The first is a healthy citizen, carefully rehearsed, dogmatic and zealous to a fault. When the option is death, you’d be surprised what you’ll say you believe in. The second is that of a starving child, eyes sunken and dull. This is a country ruled by fear. Defection means punishment for the entire family you leave behind. “Work camps” are a death sentence.

Have you seen satellite photos of the two Koreas at night? The South is lit up, fully illuminated and pulsing with life. The North is a black void. There’s a wonderful book called Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick…everyone should read it. Readers get to know North Korea through the eyes of six ordinary citizens, who managed to defect. I cannot imagine living in a country you’d risk your life to escape. There are times I’m deeply embarrassed by the U.S., but I like to think I’m smart enough to know the difference between the inane warblings of Christine O’Donnell and a truly totalitarian state.

Recently, I heard a piece on the radio about refugees from Iran who are making lives for themselves in the U.S.. One man expressed his astonishment when he hears Americans complaining while waiting in line. And it’s true. What the hell are we complaining about? When I think about it, pretty much every line I wait in is for a service I’m grateful to have. Grocery store. Post office. Even the damn DMV. Because that means I have a vehicle. That I can use to go anywhere I want.

I can go anywhere I want.

Advertisements