Hae Sun had to learn how to take care of herself very early on. She spent many of her teenage years as a salesgirl on North Korean trains, traveling from city to city. She would buy snacks and other products at underground markets and then take them on board trains to sell to passengers for a profit. It sounds like a decent job, except everything she did was illegal. If she was caught by guards on the train, she would be forced to sit or stand on the exterior of the train, blasted by frigid air until the next stop, where she would be sent to prison.
Hae Sun went to prison four times working as a salesgirl and served four months of hard labor, endured severe beatings, and witnessed people die. While there she learned about life outside North Korea from other prisoners. She grew weary of her government’s neglect of its people and frustrated with her inability to make a better life for herself, so she decided to escape.
Hae Sun says of the shift in North Korea after the 90’s famine: “Everyone who was already going to die starved to death. Then the people who weren’t suited to make a living in the markets died. So now the only people who are still alive are those who are good at selling things.”
Hae Sun is apprehensive about adapting to South Korean culture, but is excited for her newfound freedom and hopes to go to university and utilize her Chinese language skills to become a Korean-Chinese interpreter.