Jae Jin’s small family always struggled in North Korea. He remembers vividly climbing pine trees when he was young to pick pine nuts and only returning with 10 or so when others would return with hundreds. Why the small amount? He has a strong fear of heights but he knew he had to do it in order for his family to survive.
“Going up is ok because all you have to do is look up and climb. But coming down is the difficult part,” he said.
He also remembers searching for scraps of metal on the dirt floors of factories and described how the floors looked like a battlefield with pits and holes everywhere, since so many people had come before him to dig and search for scraps.
Jae Jin’s father passed away when he was was just 20 years old. It became his duty to provide for his ailing mother, so he started doing business across the border in China and was quite successful. This caused the secret police to turn their attention to him. After being tipped off by a good friend that they were closing in, he knew it was time to leave his home forever. He escaped to China and found work at a restaurant. Starting as a busboy, he worked up to waitstaff and then security for the restaurant. He became fluent in Chinese within six months.
While working there, he met a Korean couple and they struck up a friendship. He would help translate for them and they would teach him English. They would also talk and they told him about life in South Korea, which got him thinking about trying to get there himself. “I had never even thought about going to South Korea,” he confessed. They introduced him to LiNK’s network and he was able to leave safely.
Jae Jin’s time in China really opened his eyes to the falseness of the indoctrination he received in North Korea and the bleak and meager way of life there. “Slaves in the old days were imprisoned physically,” he said. “But modern-day slaves are imprisoned within the mind. North Koreans are modern-day slaves.” But he is not one to look back on difficult days; he wants to go to college after resettling in South Korea and become a Chinese-language major so that he can pursue his other passion: business. He is an entrepreneur at heart and can’t wait to start running his own business. He also wants to return to China to help other North Koreans escape. However, his biggest goal is bringing out his mother. “Having a girlfriend, getting married, those things are not priority to me until my mother is with me safely,” he said. And there is no doubt in our minds that he will accomplish his goals with his go-getter attitude.