Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's still like 17,000 to 1

Yonhap is reporting on North Korea military claims that a thirty-year-old South Korean man named Kang Donglim [강동림; kang tongnim] has defected across DMZ and into North Korea. Mr Kang is a pig farmer who at one time worked for a Samsung-affiliated semiconductor company. (The story is also carried by the BBC, AP, and Reuters.)

[UPDATE: Reports indicate that Mr Kang was fleeing an assault charge (against his former boss) in his hometown.]

According to the Korean Central News Agency (the DPRK mouthpiece), Mr Kang was doing so to fulfill his "longing" for the worker's paradise. The KCNA says Kang "is now under the warm care of a relevant organ" (which, coincidentally, is American prison lingo for being sodomized and made someone's bitch).

While thousands of people have worked their way south, not too many make their way north. It's entirely possible foul play was involved, though the most logical explanation is that Mr Kang is simply one of those outliers who doesn't believe the writing on the wall about the DPRK and assumes it would be a better place for him. In fact, the KCNA says, Mr Kang had tried several times to defect during his time in the ROK military but failed.

One always wonders if these things are legitimate. According to AFP, Mr Kang is from Pŏlgyo (Beolgyo), on the south coast, so this is not some case of a Kangwon-do area farmer chasing down his pet pig and accidentally getting too close to a North Korean unit on patrol and being taken in.

But I do believe such things can happen, and South Korean maps should do a better job of showing motorists where the hell the DMZ is on their map. There are parts of Kyŏnggi-do Province on the way to Torasan Station that are just across a river from North Korean territory (you can see the buildings) and Kanghwa-do Island has some parts that are almost as close. My then-fiancée and I drove close to one such point, a village on the northern side of the island, having no idea that the island just across the way was North Korean territory, until a South Korean patrol popped out of nowhere, demanded my ID, and then told us to turn the fu¢k around. I think she broke up with me because I kept endangering her life.

View Larger Map


  1. Are there areas in South Korea besides the DMZ that are not accessible to civilians for their proximity to the border?

    I thought the guard posts along the Imjin were a pretty good indication of where you were.

  2. lucky guy. when i went to the DMZ to defect i wore a new suit and brought flowers and everything but a sniper clipped me in the shoulder anyway.

  3. Shinbone, maybe Mr Kang brought one of his pigs with him. You may have heard: the North Koreans are hungry.

    And instead of a new suit made of mere cloth, you should have worn a bacon suit, like these kids.

  4. Adeel, the part of Kanghwa-do I was referring to is sort of that kind of area. The Google map I put at the bottom is of that area. The line at the top is the effective border between the ROK's Kanghwa-do Island and the DPRK's South Hwanghae Province mainland.

    While Kanghwa-do is an island with plenty of historical sites for tourists to see, the northern part of the island is cordoned off — that's what my ex and I encountered — to keep out all but the local residents, who are probably carefully screened.

    A good swimmer could easily make it across, and I'm sure in particularly cold parts of winter that part of the river has frozen over before.

    When my ex and I thought about taking a ferry to some smaller islands farther out, we had to go through some considerable scrutiny, showing ID cards and what-not and registering our names. In the end, we didn't go, because we would have missed the last boat back.

    Another place that is very close to North Korea (just across the river) but with a surprisingly high amount of civilian traffic is a mile or so stretch of highway just north of 통일전망대 (Unification Observatory) around P'aju. Here's a Google map of the area. Of course, it's very difficult to exit the highway there, and barbed wire and occasional guard posts make it difficult for people on the ROK side to get over to the river, and I'm sure there are similar fortifications on the "North" side to the west, but if a DPRK defector got past them somehow (there are farming villages on the DPRK side), they might be able to swim across in the cover of night.

    All in all, I think the Chinese border is probably far more porous. But it would be a daring escape worthy of a book or movie if someone made it across the DMZ (going south, that is).

  5. The headlines should read, "Mentally Retarded South Korean Man who was Former Samsung Reject Stumbles Incoherently Across the 38th Parallel."


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