Charles Ryu (@freshprinceofpyongyang) escaped from North Korea — twice — and now works with Liberty in North Korea to fight for the rights and freedom of those who have been left behind. This is part two of a two-part episode. Check out part one here!
What We Discuss with Charles Ryu:
- The risky train ride that began Charles’ escape to freedom.
- How the swift current of a freezing river likely saved Charles’ life.
- What Charles did once he got to China with no money, food, or water.
- The chance encounter with a good samaritan and the circuitous path that led to the United States.
- Why winding up in a Thai prison was the best day of Charles’ life up to that point.
- And much more…
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As hard as we may try, our efforts to live with an attitude of gratitude sometimes get derailed when life throws unforeseen obstacles in our path. But as unfair as we may deem our current situation, a fresh perspective serves to remind us that no matter how bad we think we have it today, somebody, somewhere has it way worse. We believe this may be just the fresh perspective the doctor ordered.
Charles Ryu of Liberty in North Korea escaped from North Korea, was deported back and sentenced to a forced labor camp, worked in a coal mine, and then escaped North Korea again by the time he was 17. He now lives in the US fighting for the rights of those he left behind. This is part one of a two-part episode, which will conclude next week. Gabriel Mizrahi, no stranger to North Korea himself, joins us. This is part two of a two-part episode. Check out part one here! Listen, learn, and enjoy!
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More About This Show
This isn’t our typical show, but it’s one that will probably open a few eyes as to what life is really like in North Korea and why people like today’s guest — Charles Ryu of Liberty in North Korea — are willing to risk their lives to escape once they discover there’s a much different world on the other side of the border.
Joining us is Gabriel Mizrahi who, along with Jordan, has been to North Korea — aka the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — as a curiosity seeker on multiple occasions. Western visitors allowed into the country only get to see a carefully curated, state-sanctioned version of what’s going on there, but as you’ll hear in the words of someone who’s experienced perhaps the worst it has to offer, the official story differs from the shocking reality.
What you might find most surprising is that Charles hasn’t been diminished by his ordeals, but strengthened with resolve to work toward a free and open North Korea that enjoys a true connection with the rest of the world. There’s not an ounce of bitterness in Charles’ voice as he relays what he’s endured under an oppressive regime most of us would consider nightmarish in scope. There’s no resentment in his demeanor against those who have committed wrongs against him, just a sincere belief that North Korea’s future will be brighter than its shadowy present thanks to the efforts of those committed to catalyzing change.
Note: what began as a standard interview became a three-hour conversation before anyone realized it, so this is part two of a two-part episode. Check out part one here!
THANKS, CHARLES RYU!
If you enjoyed this session with Charles Ryu, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Instagram:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Liberty in North Korea
- Charles Ryu at Instagram
- Bad Boys
- Photos From the Lesser Seen China-North Korea Border by Soo Youn and Elijah Hurwitz, National Geographic
- Family Guy
- Rick and Morty
- American Dad
- North Korea Propaganda Claims Rogue State Won World War 2 with No Mention of US by Matthew Robinson, The Daily Express
- Dating, North Korean Style, The Guardian
- Coding Dojo
Transcript for Charles Ryu | Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist Part Two (Episode 88)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. As always, I'm here with my producer, Jason DeFillippo. This discussion also includes my friend, Gabriel Mizrahi, and we're talking with my friend Charles, who actually escaped by himself from North Korea twice. This is a really an incredible show. If you haven't heard part one, go back and listen to part one that we released last week. It is an incredible, and it's a long story, but it is just absolutely fascinating and incredible. And those of you who don't know much about North Korea, again, you know as I mentioned before, you go to prison for folding a newspaper the wrong way. There are people who are in labor camps, who die there because they couldn't see very well because they were malnourished and they sat on a magazine or newspaper with the leader's face on it. I mean, it's that kind of repressive society and Charles is a really good storyteller.
[00:00:48] He stayed strong throughout his whole ordeal. He's got all these crazy experiences both inside of and during his escape from North Korea. And we go into great detail here on these two episodes with Charles. So I hope you enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed recording it. Absolutely fascinating. And if you want to learn how I managed to book all these great people and manage my relationships using systems and tiny habits, check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free. That's over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And don't forget, we've always got worksheets for the show so you can make sure you get all the takeaways from the guest, all the practicals and everything else. That link is in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. So now for the thrilling conclusion here with Charles Ryu.
Charles Ryu: [00:01:34] I worked in a mine about a year and I realized, you know, that it was my time to escape North Korea again. And you know, I know how hard it is, you know, escaping North Korea would be without any money or like food, you know, because I wasn't really good at saving money and even though I was planning on saving some money but…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:51] You didn’t save a lot. You spend on…
Charles Ryu: [00:01:53] I was like spending on, you know, like partying.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:01:56] Will Smith DVDs.
Charles Ryu: [00:01:57] Yeah, right! I was a big fan of Will Smith. So like he is really inspirational to North Koreans.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:05] Will Smith is inspirational to North Koreans?
Charles Ryu: [00:02:07] Yeah. Yeah. Like at least like for me, you know, for me and my friends. I want to be a Will Smith. But yeah, James Bond, you know. Sure. And I knew how hard escaping North Korea would be without any money or food. And I knew that if I was caught, you know, I could be killed, but those risks were way that working in the dark coal mine every day until it's my turn to slit lamp or die. So one morning, instead of entering the mine, I walked up the path and began running and I ran, ran off from the coal mine and I was living on the street for three months. So I escaped coal mine in 2011, May of 2011. And then on a humid day in August, I was lying down on a hillside. I have no plans whatsoever. I was homeless because I didn't want to die in a coal mine. I escaped but I have no way. How am I going to get to China? But I was lying on a hillside and in the distance, I saw a train come to stop and people were exiting out of the train cars, middle of nowhere.
[00:03:11] I'm like, I wonder if I can steal something. And I walked down the path and I looked at the sign, it says Pyongyang -- from Pyongyang to Hyesan. Hyesan is like the border town, right? And I'm like, “Oh my God, this is my chance. I need to get on that train.” So I walked into like the crowds and I tried to, I could blend in and I was pretending I belonged there and then as soon as the power come back or as soon as the train was trying to move again, people were trying to get into the chain and I joined the line and the guard stopped me and asked me like, “Oh, can I see your documents? Can I see your birth certificate?” I'm like, “Oh, sh..!” and I lie that, “Oh, my mother had them and that she was already on the train”, and he nodded and I headed straight for the train bathroom to hide. For the next two days,
[00:04:05]I was hiding on the train and then sometimes I have to climb out of the window, hide on the top of the train, or sometimes I have to come down and sit on the hitch between the two cars [indiscernible][00:04:16]. And if I was caught, I'll be ended up in a labor camp somewhere most likely. In the middle of the, I think it was a night, yeah, I was almost at the border town when the hand guard grabbed the back of my neck and dragged me to a holding cell on the train.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:04:36] A guard found you? On the train?
Charles Ryu: [00:04:38] Yeah, on the train because it was like at midnight and I was so cold and I was like sleeping in the, like a nearby bathroom. And then suddenly I felt something kicking in my back and then the guard dragged me into a holding cell on the train. And there are two other boys in the room who have been caught too. And as the guard locked the door to the cell, he told us that we will be handed over to the authorities at the next stop.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:05:05] Is the crime taking the train or trying to escape? They don't know that you're trying to escape yet. It’s just illegal to ride.
Charles Ryu: [00:05:11] They don't know that. Yeah, illegal to ride the train. So like, “Oh, you'll be handed over to the police at the next stop.” And then, you know, I thought about like how terrible the detention center have been, you know, Iike long days of manual labor, sleepless night that I've spend remembering the rules and the constant feelings of hunger. I refuse to let that happen again. So as the train began to slow down for the next stop, I saw a window was unlocked so I pushed it open and squeeze out of the small opening and I jumped off the moving train, rolling the ditch and began sprinting for some nearby trees. I walked for like hours, illegally catched a second train and two days later, I finally made it to the border town.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:57] You jumped out of the moving train?
Charles Ryu: [00:05:59] No big deal?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:01] Yeah, no big deal.
Charles Ryu: [00:06:02] Because the train was preparing to stop so he wasn't that fast.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:07] Okay.
Charles Ryu: [00:06:07] And like on the side, it was like a grass. And I first saw hard rock and I'll probably die of rock something, but I'm fine, you know.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:06:18] I love how to you this is not that big of a deal, but to us, I can't even imagine.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:22] I would not jump out of a moving train. I don’t care how slow.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:06:25] A moving train, you’re stuck in a room that a guard has put you in. I think, I don’t know, I think I just try and understand the psychology of that because I'd be like, “No, they put us here. This is where I have to stay.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:36] I'll explain myself when I talk to the police.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:06:38] Yeah, right? But at this point you've been through so much, you're just like, you know…
Charles Ryu: [00:06:42] Yeah, I know what to do. You know, because that's like regular day life for North Korean like homeless, you know, because they get caught all the time and they were sent to like the orphanage. But a lot of kids escape orphanage because that's like worse than living on a street because they don't feed you in orphanage. So a lot of orphanage kids would escape like, you know, from the orphanage.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:07:05] So you're on the border town that day?
Charles Ryu: [00:07:07] Yeah, now finally in the border town, right? And then when I first escape North Korea in 2008, I made a few friends at Hyesan City and then I went into his house until like 5:00 in the morning. And like, “Hey, you know, like I'm trying to escape again. Will you come with me?” Because I needed somebody, you know, because before in 2008 when I escape, I have somebody in my back watching over me.
[00:07:32] But this time, like I'm completely on my own and I'm like, I don't know how am I going to cross, you know, I don't know how am I to get around the river, you know, because there is like rules. 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM, you can only allow to go during that time. Otherwise if you wander around the river, you're going to get shot, because they think of you as like escapee, you know.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:07:53] And you don't have the protection of the [indiscernible][00:07:53].
Charles Ryu: [00:07:55] I don't have the protection anymore. So I was trying to convince this kid to escape with me, right? And he said, “Yes!” He is going to escape with me. I'm like, “Oh my God, thank goodness.” You know, because that kid knew like really well around the border. So yeah, we are planning on escaping the next day and then at night. But like this kid goes out and comes back and saying, “I don't think I can escape with anymore because I met this chick”, you know, so in North Korea, like it was August, right? So there's like a chestnut farm in the mountain, like a wild chestnut. And then you sell it at the black market and then you go camping there to collect the chestnut. But this guy knows one girl, like who he has a crush on her and he finds out that this girl is going to chestnut farm and then she invited him to go with her. He's like, “Dude, this is my only chance.” I'm like…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:56] What guys will do just to get one girl!
Charles Ryu: [00:08:59] I know, right? I'm like, now I'm sitting here, I'm like, “I really hope that that girl was worth it”.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:04] Should I leave the most oppressive regime on earth? “Yeah, but I might get some of this at chestnut farm. So, sorry bro.” Damn.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:09:14] Skipped escaping for a date.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:16] He better have married that girl.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:09:17] Do you know?
Charles Ryu: [00:09:19] I'm not sure. I have no idea. Like what she have done. But…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:09:26] Did you feel like you had to ask somebody else for help because doing it alone is scary and having somebody with you makes it more possible? Or did you just need him to tell you where to go?
Charles Ryu: [00:09:39] He would be like mental guide, right? I mean like having…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:09:42] Mental guide?
Charles Ryu: [00:09:43] Yeah. Having somebody next to me, you know, even though we get caught, you know we have like better explanation, right? “Oh, we're just friends, you know, wandering around.” It's not just like, “Oh, we just, you know, escaped”, and like no big deal. But like by myself? Like I have to explain myself, right? So I guess like having him next to me, I guess it gave me a lot of motivation to go a little further. But for myself, I didn't know like if I could do it, you know, but I'm already determined, you know, even though I'm going to die, like I don't want to die in there, you know, I'm going to die here. So in the afternoon, the next day, in the afternoon, I walked into the river that divides North Korea and China, which is Yellow River.
[00:10:29] And then I hid in the tall grass for, I don’t know, until the darkness and I couldn't really move. I had to just remain like this position, looks like a shrimp and because it wasn't windy, you know, and the grass was like so still, you know? And if they see it's moving because they have flashlight, you know, if it is moving, they're going to come down and check. So I couldn't move at all. It was finally a dark and I thought it was my time. And then I slowly walked into the water and then I would start walking, walking, and like my brain is completely blank. Like, I don't think about anything, but I just feel the cold water and it's so cold and like,
[00:11:20] my heart is like beating in my throat too. And then halfway into the river, I slipped on a rock and I let out a scream because the water current was so fast and I couldn't do anything about it. And I think i let out a gasp, I wasn't screaming, but I let out a gasp and then immediately a flashlight was on my back and I heard a soldier screaming at me. He's like, [indiscernible, in Korean/Chinese][00:11:49]. He’s like, “You bastard, comeback here! Stop! Stop or I will shoot.” At that point I'm like, I'm dead anyway. You know like, if I stop here I'm going to drown. Like I was steady the way either he will shoot me or I'll obey and we return to the shore only to be shipped off to labor camp, right?
[00:12:16] And I decided not to stop. And I kept waded ahead and like each stop like took me further away from North Korea and closer to dream of my freedom, which is China. But the guard was kept screaming at me, but he never pulled the trigger. And then five minutes later, because the thing was like, the river was like this way, right? You river current was like this way, but the current was so fast. So if I left it from here, I ended up here, right?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:12:48] Down, down the bank.
Charles Ryu: [00:12:50] Yeah, down like further down. She was like chasing me. And then I arrived at there and then I went into the corn field. Corn, like there's like a big corn farm.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:13:02] You’re in China now?
Charles Ryu: [00:13:03] I'm in China now. And then, I made it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:07] So the current took you faster than he could run. So then you ran into the corn field?
Charles Ryu: [00:13:11] Yeah. He got lost. He has lost check of me. Yeah. I guess the part of the reason that she didn't shoot is that she doesn’t know where I am. She lost.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:20] Yeah, I was going to say it, doesn't sound like compassionate something. She was like, “Where the hell did this guy go?”
Charles Ryu: [00:13:24] Yeah. “Where the hell did he go?”
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:13:26] Are you in a cornfield? And you’re running, hiding?
Charles Ryu: [00:13:29] You know, I catch my breath and I took my old clothes and wing them out. And then like I'm just sitting there stunned, you know like, “Oh my God, I just did it.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:42] And they don't chase you into China?
Charles Ryu: [00:13:44] No they can't. Like it's actually illegal to cross the river even though bullet, they shoot, right? Like legally, on a legal term, if the bullet lands on China, that's a war.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:57] Oh yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:13:57] Oh so, they can't shoot across the river?
Charles Ryu: [00:14:00] So they can’t shoot between in the river because that's not China. That's not North Korea. So in between the river, you're not allowed to shoot. It's a law but North Korea doesn't care anyway because they shoot anyway and they kill people anyway. That's what I heard. Like when I was in like a refugee camp because a lot of people like, that's actually in the law. You know, you can shoot the person in between the river because that's like nobody's land, the river.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:28] No man's land, yeah.
Charles Ryu: [00:14:29] No man's land because it's in border. I never heard a gunshot. you know? No, I'm not in a cornfield. Like think about where I'm going to go.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:14:39] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guests, Charles Ryu. We'll be back right after this.
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[00:15:35] And if you're not satisfied, cancel within 45 days for a complete refund -- no baloney. HostGator's also giving our listeners up to 62% off all their packages for new users. So go to HostGator or hostgator.com/jordan right now to sign up. That's hostgator.com/Jordan. Support for The Jordan Harbinger Show comes from our friends at Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans -- America's premier home purchase lender. Let's talk about buying a home. It can be one of the most important purchases you'll ever make, but today's fluctuating interest rates can leave you with unexpected higher payments, which can turn a great experience into an anxious one, and that's why Quicken Loans created their exclusive power-buying process. Here's how it works, they check your income, your assets, and credit to give you a verified approval. This gives you the strength of a cash buyer making your offer more attractive to sellers. Once verified, you qualified for their exclusive rate shield approval. They'll lock in your interest rate for up to 90 days while you shop for your new home. Then once you've found the one, if rates have gone up, your rate stays the same, but if rates have gone down, you get to keep that new lower rate. Either way you win. It's the kind of thinking you'd expect from America's largest mortgage lender.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:16:42] To get started, go to rocketmortgage.com/Jordan. Rate shield approval only valid on certain 30-year purchase transactions. Additional conditions or exclusions may apply based on Quicken Loans data in comparison to public data records. Equal housing lender licensed in all 50 States. NMLSconsumeraccess.org number 3030. Thanks for listening and supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, visit jordanharbinger.com/advertisers. We also have an Alexa skill so you can get inspirational and educational clips from the show. In your daily briefing, go to JordanHarbinger.com/alexa or search for Jordan harbinger in the Alexa app. Now back to the show with our guest, Charles Ryu.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:21] Yeah. What's the plan now you're just like in a hitch-hike?
Charles Ryu: [00:17:24] My original plan was just living in China because I knew I couldn't find my dad because I know that he's far away. You know, but like my only hope at that time was, “Okay I'm going to find some city because I can stay here”, because I found a city, but that city was full of Chinese police, you know, trying to catch the North Koreans so I couldn't stay there. So I have to find a way to get away. Some walking, I don't know where I'm going. No money, no food, nothing else. Only thing that I have is like almost faded away, like shoes, you know, like almost like a fell-apart shoes, poor clothes. I'm walking and I walked in China for three days. I didn't know what else going without any water or food and all this, I was like really hungry.
[00:18:19] I was dehydrated and I was exhausted. Like really, really only hope that kept me going, you know, it was finding a residential district, you know, and just finding some water, some bread, and just staying there, pretending I'm a homeless and just begging for food, begging for money. And if I just live like that, I'm still free, you know, because I can do whatever I want, you know. I don't have to risk my life working in a coal mine, you know, just to get paid 3 kilograms of rice, right? Finally my feet got blisters and it start to bleed. It bled and I can't walk anymore. I'm hungry, I'm exhausted. And I started regretting, like why did I leave North Korea, if I was in coal mine, I was to get fed, I have place to sleep. I still have some money in my pocket and I'll still have fun with my friend.
[00:19:15] And then I really thought about, you know, should I go back? Should I turn back?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:19:21] That's how bad it was?
Charles Ryu: [00:19:22] Yeah. That's how bad it was. Should I turn back? It’s like middle of really nowhere. It's like nothing else but forest.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:29] So you're in the forest, you're not walking on a road? You’re just walking.
Charles Ryu: [00:19:32] I'm not walking on road. I'm like walking, there was a side road too, but I'm just following the road, you know, in a forest.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:39] Off to the side so that nobody sees you.
Charles Ryu: [00:19:41] Nobody sees me, right?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:19:42] And you don't speak Chinese, right?
Charles Ryu: [00:19:43] I don't speak Chinese. I speak a little bit of Chinese like broken Chinese.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:19:46] This is like scary.
Charles Ryu: [00:19:48] Yeah, it's really scary. And that at one point, yeah, so like I don't care anymore because I'm almost dying. It's been three days without any food. I'm dying anyways, so I just slide in, lie down on the ground, do whatever you want. Do whatever you want. And then I'm religious, I'm Christian.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:08] I knew this was coming. I knew you're going to say it. Sorry, but I was like, this is why he goes to church now.
Charles Ryu: [00:20:16] Yeah, I'm religious and then I prayed to God because I met a pastor when I was in China for the first time, 2008 and he came to her house giving me some Bible and I gave me some money. “Cool! Christians give out money.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:31] Yeah. This religion is awesome.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:20:32] This was the first time you went to China?
Charles Ryu: [00:20:33] Yeah. First time I went to China.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:20:35] You were going to church back then?
Charles Ryu: [00:20:36] No, I wasn't going to church, but he came to our house and he prayed for me. And then like when I was in the detention center, I prayed a lot, I wasn't praying. I was having a communication. I was just like talking like in my mind. Talking to like, this God. You know, I keep talking, keep talking, keep talking. And then, yeah, in China I was so desperate. And then I was shouting. Literally like crying and shouting like, “Why? Why?” And I prayed like, “I didn't want it to die like this”, you know? And I cried and cried until I became more dehydrated. I couldn't cry anymore. And then like,10 to 20 minutes later, a Chinese dude riding a motorcycle and then he passed by me and then he stops and he turns back and he came to me and he sees me lying down on the ground. Like, “Are you from North Korea?” Like, [indiscernible][00:21:41]. I was like, “Wait, no. [indiscernible/in Korean][00:21:47
[00:21:49] You know, I told him like, my dad is Chinese, and he's like, “Yeah. Get on the motorcycle.” So we rode like couple of hours. I don't know, I think it must be like 12 hours. And then we got to his place and he gave me medication, he gave me food, he gave me shoes, he gave me clothes, he gave me a place to sleep overnight and the next morning, he connected me to a South Korean missionary. And then he was like, “Are going to South Korea?” I'm like, “I'm trying to find my father here.” Because it's like at that time, I wasn't thinking of going to South Korea, right? Yeah. And then I'll say, “Oh, I'm looking for my father here.” And he’s like, “If I give you money and if I give you like bus ticket, do you know where to go?”
[00:22:33] I was like, “Yeah, I know where to go.” He put me on a bus to my father's place. And I knew, because I lived there for nine months, I know where my father lives. So do you think it's a coincidence or it's a miracle?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:46] I mean you certainly got some good fortune having that guy pass by. Cared enough to stop and help you.
Charles Ryu: [00:22:51] Yeah. And then, I knock on my father's door and then he does like freaking out. To be honest, like 16-year-old kid and crossing the world like heavily fortified and most closed up country, escaping that country by himself. It's like impossible, you know, and then he thought also I was a criminal. Like, “Did you kill someone? Are you on the run?” You know what? “That's why did you escape?” I'm like, “No.”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:26] “Oh, this place sucks, remember? You used to live there.”
Charles Ryu: [00:23:30] You used to live there. Yeah. And I was working in a coal mine and I explained it, you know, and I was just hungry and I just wanted to live my life and freedom, you know? And then he was like, “Okay, well that makes sense.” And then I escaped in 2011 August, but 2011 October, Kim Jong-Il died. The security has been gone like triple.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:55] Oh, they made the security even tighter?
Charles Ryu: [00:23:58] So like some North Korean military came to China to look for North Koreans. Captured them and to work back to North Korea, right? So I couldn't move. Like I was always staying at home, you know, I also scared. And then finally my dad was like, “Okay, you know what, if you stay here and if you get caught, you know you're going to go to labor camp and this time you're going to be 18 so no more, you're going to go to four years labor camp. No mercy for you.” And then he found a broker, the smallest people out of China to South Korea. So I embarked on another long journey to Southeast Asia and I was on a bus to travel to Southeast Asia. And I know how dangerous that journey is. Because I've seen a lady viding off her vein, killing herself because she got caught nearby Mongolia. And every single time the bus stops, my heart pounding in my throat, you know and like my palms are sweaty and it's like full of like sweat, you know, because if I get caught here I'm going to die. And like if the bus stops, like every single hair on my body is just sticking up. You know, because I'm so scared. But fortunately I didn’t get caught.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:14] Oh man!
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:25:14] Are you alone at this point?
Charles Ryu: [00:25:15] So I wasn't alone. There was a couple of other North Koreans who escaping with me and then we had a broker.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:25:26] He's with you?
Charles Ryu: [00:25:27] I don't know who he is. You know who I am, but I don't know who you are, in case we get caught, we don't tell on you. You know we don't know who.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:25:34] But he's on the bus?
Charles Ryu: [00:25:35] He's on the bus. I have no idea who it is. But he know me.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:25:37] The person who arranged this told you he's going to be on the bus but you won’t know who it is, there are 2 or 3 of you on the bus.
Charles Ryu: [00:25:47] I don't know who it is. Yeah, three of us. And then about a week, I finally met. So we are in a bus, we’re on a like motorcycle. We are in a van, you know, and then we are escaping through Southeast Asia, you know, and I got to Southeast Asia. I got to Thailand and then we were on a boat like a heavily small boat. Like I really narrow boat. It's like a big tree, you know, cut it in half.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:13] Canoe?
Charles Ryu: [00:26:13] Canoe! Yeah, back there, I am in the water, right? And it's a canoe.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:20] I know what you…yeah, like these little Thai boats, hollowed out logs. Oh my God, you are in that thing? That's so scary.
Charles Ryu: [00:26:27] I know, right. I couldn't move and I heard a story about like crocodiles in the river, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:32] I don't know about that.
Charles Ryu: [00:26:33] Mekong River. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:34] Oh maybe. I'm surprised you even gave a crap about crocodiles at that point.
Charles Ryu: [00:26:39] I mean like, after this river, like I'm free, I'm completely free, you know? And like I'm holding down on it and I'm looking at the light towards Thailand. I’m like, if I move a little bit we're going to flip, you know, I was like, “Oh, my god!” I don't know. And then we got to Thailand, and then we voluntary surrendered to Thailand police. So they're like, “Oh, we're going to put you in a prison for 10 days.” I'm not going to lie, that was the best day of my life. Going to Thai prison. Waking up in a Thai prison camp, I mean, because for me, I have only a certain experience, you know, because it's for me, freedom, like I can exhale. I'm like, “Oh, now I'm finally free.”
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:27:31] Thailand recognizes North Korean refugees, right?
Charles Ryu: [00:27:33] Yeah, as refugees.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:27:34] Right. So you're like, you know you're in good hands.
Charles Ryu: [00:27:36] Yeah, I know I'm in good hands. You know, and then they're sending us to South Korea. So what happened is you entered Thailand without any permission, but Thailand, they let you go wherever they want to go because we are refugees, right? They're kicking us out of Thailand to South Korea.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:27:54] Right. That's the understanding.
Charles Ryu: [00:27:55] Yeah. That’s the understanding.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:27:57] So you felt better waking up in the Thai prison than you did waking up in that hotel in China.
Charles Ryu: [00:28:01] Yeah. 100 times better and plus they fed us white rice and chicken soup and egg, like, “Wait, what?” I ate like 50 pieces of corn every meal in North Korean prison. You know, I'm like, “Wait, what? This is a big step up”, you know? And like they just let me sleep like however I want and just wake up anytime there's food, there's water, I don't have to do anything.
[00:28:26] And then I was trying to apply for South Korea, but they didn't recognize me as refugee because my father is Chinese.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:32] No. Oh wow.
Charles Ryu: [00:28:33] Yeah. So they said like…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:28:35] Wait, you're in Thailand?
Charles Ryu: [00:28:36] I'm in Thailand.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:28:37] You're applying for refugee status to South Korea. They won't give it to you because you're only half?
Charles Ryu: [00:28:42] Half Chinese and half Korean and I'm like, Chinese government doesn't recognize me as refugee and they sent me back to North Korea. I want to live. I went to detention center and I've been through crap and I got sent back to North Korea, “But you guys don't want to help me?” And they're like, “Charles, we really want to help you but we cannot change the law. We would have to send you back to China.” I'm like, crap.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:12] Oh my God. You just thought you were out.
Charles Ryu: [00:29:14] I'm out. Like there is no hope for me because resettlement was the only hope for me because like I'm in Thailand.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:21] Thailand won't let you stay?
Charles Ryu: [00:29:23] Thailand, they won't let me stay because like…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:25] China will send you back.
Charles Ryu: [00:29:26] China will send me back.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:27] And now South Korea won't take you.
Charles Ryu: [00:29:29] Yeah, they won't take me so I'm an international like orphanage.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:32] Stateless.
Charles Ryu: [00:29:33] Stateless. I really thought of like killing myself at there.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:36] Did you really?
Charles Ryu: [00:29:37] I didn't eat for like a week. You know, I became like cutting, you know, just drink water and I just like I can't eat because I'm so stressed because I got moved to another cell, from North Korean cell to international cell, to move back to China. And because like…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:51] They already started the process?
Charles Ryu: [00:29:53] Yeah, they already started the process.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:29:54] So you’re already like, “This is happening.”
Charles Ryu: [00:29:56] Yeah, this is happening, I'm going to die. You know like every day was a struggle. Every day was like a war for me. You know, because trying to find the South Korean, like embassy, like Asian you shouting at them like, “Please help me!” But I met Jesus. I'm just kidding. But seriously though, like one guy who like recommended me like, “Hey you should apply for UN. I think they know your situation. Well I think they might take you.” And then I applied for UN and then most of people, they have to wait a year to get our first interview, right? But for me, I got my interview within a week.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:40] So who is this guy that told you to apply to the UN for international refugee status?
Charles Ryu: [00:30:44] Jesus.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:48] I'll qualify that one.
Charles Ryu: [00:30:50] So he is another North Korean dude. Who is going to United States and he is waiting to be processed.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:30:57] Where did you meet him?
Charles Ryu: [00:30:58] At International refugee camp.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:31:00] He's there too.
Charles Ryu: [00:31:01] Yeah, he's in the same cell as me, right? But all the people there are international. But there's a cell for only North Koreans and there is a cell for international people that they're going to America, you know, they're going to like, Japan, you know, all over the world. And he was like, “Oh yeah, you should apply for America. They might be, you know, accepting. They might help you out.” So I applied for UN and then I got my first interview in the first week, second interview in the second week, third week, fourth week. I went to hospital. I got my body checked out, everything is good and then you're going to go to America.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:31:44] Wow. How did that happen so quickly?
Charles Ryu: [00:31:46] Because I was a minor at the time.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:31:49] How did you fill out the paperwork? I don't even understand.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:51] Yeah, I’m interested.
Charles Ryu: [00:31:52] There was a Korean, you know, like a translator helped me out.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:31:56] He worked at the prison?
Charles Ryu: [00:31:57] She's working for UN.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:31:58] A UN worker helped you apply? What did that feel like?
Charles Ryu: [00:32:04] Oh my God. Like the day that I got my plane ticket, I could not sleep. I was so excited and I'm like, all the things that I can do, right? All the things that I, how I'm going to live. Like I'm trying to map out how I'm going to live, you know, the rest of my life. You know like, I’m going to do this, I'm going to do this. I'm going to live my life so good. You know, I wanted really good. I'm going to be freaking rich. I'm going to help out. I'm going to have to like all things, you know, I'm going to church. Like my thoughts are like full of plans, you know, and at the same time I'm so excited, you know, I couldn't sleep. For the whole day.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:32:45] Until that point, you didn't plan to go to America?
Charles Ryu: [00:32:49] I didn't know. I mean, I knew about America, but I didn't even imagine going there because you know, it's such a foreign country. You know, it's such a foreign to me. South Korea was only like my option, you know? But even better, way better. So I didn't know about America. I mean, I knew about America, but I didn't think of coming to America.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:12] Imagine you think you're going to die in a North Korean labor camp and you end up in Los Angeles instead.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:33:16] Yeah, it's blowing my mind. So you get on the plane. Did you fly from Thailand?
Charles Ryu: [00:33:21] Yeah, I'm flying to South Korea and I remember looking at…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:33:25] So you went from Thailand to South Korea? South Korea to Los Angeles?
Charles Ryu: [00:33:28] To Los Angeles Airport, LAX.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:33:30] Did you know anybody here? What was your plan?
Charles Ryu: [00:33:32] No. So IRS, so international refugee, like international refugee service. So they had people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:39] Much friendlier than our IRS?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:33:41] I was about to say, “I didn't know the IRS helped refugees get settled at different international refugee service.”
Charles Ryu: [00:33:47] Yeah, I think it's IRS. I'm going to look that up. But it's like, what's IRS?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:52] It's our Internal Revenue Service. You'll learn all about them now that you're paying taxes.
Charles Ryu: [00:33:56] Oh, IRS, the taxes. Yeah. Tax collectors, right? You go there to file a tax?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:01] Not as helpful as the ones that you're talking about.
Charles Ryu: [00:34:03] Yeah. But there's another like a service.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:34:06] Is it a nonprofit?
Charles Ryu: [00:34:07] It's really bank. It's really big nonprofit.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:34:11] It's a nonprofit.
Charles Ryu: [00:34:12] It's like a UN. NGO. It's really big.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:34:16] They help refugees get settled in different places. So they knew about your case?
Charles Ryu: [00:34:20] Yeah, they knew about my case.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:34:22] How did they know? Did you write them?
Charles Ryu: [00:34:24] Yeah, so I told them everything about, like I told him every specific, like I told them, “Okay so, if you go to China, this jail, you'll find about my paper, you'll find everything about me. If you go with this North Korean location, you'll find everything about me.” And then I guess they have connections.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:34:43] Are they part of the process of getting a visa?
Charles Ryu: [00:34:46] That was the interview, right?
Gabriel Mizrahi [00:34:47:] That's all part of it?
Charles Ryu: [00:34:48] All part of it, right? To, like, accepting me as a refugee. So they have to make sure that I am like identify.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:34:57] Yeah, you’re not a criminal.
Charles Ryu: [00:34:59] Yeah, I'm not a criminal.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:35:00] You're not part of a group, a terrorist group or some group…
Charles Ryu: [00:35:04] Like a terrorist group or power of like any organization. You know.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:35:08] You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Charles Ryu. We'll be back right after this.
[00:35:12] This episode is also sponsored by fin.com. There's just not enough hours in the day to get all my tasks done. My options were to continue trying to do things all by myself, how I had been doing them or hire an assistant. So I was looking into getting some help in hiring an assistant, but that's when I discovered Fin. Like the best assistance, Fin knows your preferences, remembers the people that you interact with and integrates with your email and calendar. Fin can make calls, send emails on your behalf, pay bills, remember important dates and automatically get things done for you. Currently, we're using Fin to actually do prep for the show and get background on the upcoming guests and people that we might want on the show. It's fantastic. Saves me a lot of time. Now if you're someone who doesn't have 40 hours of work for an assistant every week, here's the best part -- Fin is always available on demand and you only pay for what you use. Once you try Fin, you're going to love it as much as we do and as a listener of our show, we've arranged for all of you to try Fin for free. Just use our link, fin.com/Jordan, that's fin.com/jordan to try Fin for free, fin.com/Jordan.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:17] This episode is sponsored in part by Varidesk. Varidesk has made traditional static offices a thing of the past. Today, companies and employees want an active workspace. You know, everybody wants to be standing up, moving around, sitting on a ball, whatever it is, and Varidesk helps people re-imagine their work environment and transform their office design. I've got a standing desk. This thing is built like a tank. It boosts my energy and my productivity. I can sit or stand at it. It's not just a standing desk. It's a variable desk, hence the name Varidesk. It's an active workspace solution as one might term it. Makes it easy to encourage more movement to your workday. Burn a couple of calories, stand up, you know, let that 230 slough become some sort of a productive window for you. The new Pro Desk 60 electric standing desk -- this is the beast that I got. I love this thing. Commercial-grade materials, stable at any height. It's not going to tip over when you put your stuff on it. You can assemble the thing in under five minutes. Plus it's made to last. Like I said, you couldn't break this thing if you wanted to.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:37:16] You can try Varidesk products, including the new Pro Desk 60 electric, risk-free for 30 days with free shipping and free returns if you're not satisfied. Learn more at varidesk.com/Jordan, that's V A R I D E S K.com/jordan. Thanks for supporting the show. To learn more about our sponsors, visit JordanHarbinger.com/advertisers. We're rebuilding the show from scratch, so a nice rating and review in iTunes or your podcast player of choice would really help us out. It only takes a minute or two. And if you want some tips on how to do that, head on over to JordanHarbinger.com/subscribe. Now back to the show with our guest, Charles Ryu.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:51] What was your first plane ride like?
Charles Ryu: [00:37:53] Oh, I remember looking out the window as the plane began to land in California. You know, I've never dreamed of being on a plane like even coming to America, you know. It's like I'm so high up, you know, I was so terrified of turbulence, you know? I'm like, when the plane is shaking, “Huh! Shh…”, all plane rides and flight, I got used to it because I flew for like 16 hours or something like that from Thailand to South Korea and South Korea to here. So I got used to it, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:25] Like the airplane food? Like, “I'm going back to the coal mine.”
Charles Ryu: [00:38:29] Yeah. It's like, “God, this is terrible. Healthy food? Like, what is that?”
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:38:32] Give me that Thai prison.
Charles Ryu: [00:38:35] All like the vegetables, and like brown rice. I'm like, “Are you kidding me? Like What?”
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:38:41] You're not even in America yet?
Charles Ryu: [00:38:43] I don’t like here because I hate this food. I’m like, “What I’m going to do with this?” Give me some good stuff. You know, like oily, you know, like dripping oils.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:51] That’s right. Like the In-and-Out we had for lunch.
Charles Ryu: [00:38:54] Panda Express, you know, like dripping with oils, you know, like dripping with fat. And then, I didn't even imagine going on a plane or even coming to America, you know, and as I stepped off the plane, I felt these strange feelings there were none before. You know, it's safety, like I was finally safe and didn't need to hide anymore.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:39:18] What does safety feel like? Like if you could describe it, how would you describe it?
Charles Ryu: [00:39:24] Like feelings of relaxed, you know, like every single part of your body muscles, you know, it's like relaxed, you know, and like you can breathe. You can breathe that air, you know, I used to breathe like fear, you know, I used to breathe like fear in China because every single breath that I'm taking, it's a fear because I'm afraid of getting caught and afraid of being beaten, you know, afraid of being taken away. But finally I’m breathing air, like a normal air, right? And I can feel that, I can feel safety in the air, you know what I mean? Like I don't need to hide anymore, you know? I don't need to be afraid of government anymore. I don't need to be afraid of something. I don't need to fear anything because I'm protected.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:21] What was the first, immigrating from another country is hard, but you're basically immigrating to the 21st century from North Korea. I mean it's like time warp.
Charles Ryu: [00:40:30] Yeah, right. For me it was like, yeah, getting into like time machine. Because a lot of North Korean systems, you know, getting into like time machine, you're fast forwarding like 50 years, 70 years, you know where it's like there's technology, there is phone, there's computer, there's touchscreen, there is a drone, you know there's like camera and everything like it's really unique. It's mind blowing and it's just mind blowing experience to have all those kind of technology in my hand, you know? And I don't know what to do with it. And I'm like, “Is this like eating thing? Is this a food? Is this like something that you wear? You know, is this something that like you do something with it?” I don't know what I'm doing with it, but the most thing like I had a first smartphone in 2012 as soon as I got here. I got my smartphone, Samsung Galaxy S2, I think. And I remember looking through that phone, you know, it's so like, it's a small TV, you know, it's a small television.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:27] It has more than one channel.
Charles Ryu: [00:41:30] Yeah, more than one channel. It's like 24-hour, you know, like it has a YouTube, you know. And yeah, in North Korea we only have like one channel, which is like educational broadcasting, you know, like brainwash propaganda. I like more than one channel, I was so distracted. I’m like watching like a kid and I'm like five years old kid.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:41:49] Watching every Will Smith movie?
Charles Ryu: [00:41:50] Yeah, watching Will Smith clips you know, and like watching all those Family Guy, watching the Rick and Morty, Family Guy, American Dad.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:03] It's my wife's favorite.
Charles Ryu: [00:42:05] American Dad? Yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:42:06] I know you had seen movies, but I'm sure a lot of that was new. Did you understand it?
Charles Ryu: [00:42:15] I didn't understand anything by just like the main characters, right. Characters or how they act, you know, and I didn't understand anything like two years later, you know, and then I could speak, and then…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:42:30] Oh yeah, because you didn't speak English a lot.
Charles Ryu: [00:42:32] I didn't speak any, only thing that I could say was thank you. And two years later, like my ear was like opening. I can understand you and it's a magical moment. And then somehow like I'm not afraid to speak anymore because I was always shy. You know? Like, if I try to speak something, my face turn red, you know, I couldn't like say anything, but I understand better, you know, and movies became like my friend, you know, because like I understand and then like it's somehow I turned it into like, what do you call the people with like, just communicating with like a device like only on the computer and the keyboard heroes?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:19] I don’t know. Keyboard jockey? I don’t know. You’re only communicating online?
Charles Ryu: [00:43:23] No, I mean like I'm just watching the TV all day, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:26] Oh yeah, couch potato.
Charles Ryu: [00:43:28] Couch potato! But yeah, I was in high school, so I was like, every after school, I've done homework, I’ll just like sitting on a TV all day. I think that's how I learned English.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:43:37] So you went to high school?
Charles Ryu: [00:43:38] Yeah. So I went to high school. So you know, funny thing is, I arrived in September 21st, 2012 and I went to high school right the next day.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:43:50] The next day?
Charles Ryu: [00:43:51] Right next day. Yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:43:52] But you landed in LA though, right?
Charles Ryu: [00:43:54] No, I landed in LA and then I was on like Jet Blue or something and then I went to SAC, San Jose Airport.
Gabriel Mizrahi [00:44:01] You went to Northern California?
Charles Ryu: [00:44:04] So I resettled in NorCal. Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:09] They just put you in high school like, “He'll be fine. He doesn't speak English. He's been homeless working in a coal mine.”
Charles Ryu: [00:44:14] Yeah. I dodged the bullet, you know, and…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:44:17] And just escaped twice from the most repressive regime. So you drop it. How old are you at this point?
Charles Ryu: [00:44:22] I was 17 and like American age, I was like 17 and 11 months old.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:44:27] So almost 18.
Charles Ryu: [00:44:28] Almost 18, yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:44:29] And then you went to an American high school? Day after you landed. You don’t speak English.
Charles Ryu: [00:44:34] Yeah. I don’t speak any English.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:44:35] What is that like?
Charles Ryu: [00:44:36] It was chaos. I don't know anything. I'm like, I got to survive this. This is another whole different level of stress I need to deal with.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:44] A whole nother level. What are you talking about? You come from a labor camp, and chemistry class is freaking you out?
Charles Ryu: [00:44:51] I don't understand. I have to get this, I need to understand, you know, I need to write down everything what they're saying, but I don't know anything.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:57] Oh my god!
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:44:58] I mean, can you even write in English?
Charles Ryu: [00:45:00] No.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:45:01] Did anyone know that at the school?
Charles Ryu: [00:45:03] No. I mean they knew that I couldn't speak any English. They knew that I couldn't write anything, but like they put me in an ESL class, right? But I'm going to school with freshman kids. I was almost 18, there's a 14 years old kid that's sitting right next to me talking something about something, something, something. I don't understand anything. I'm like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” I don't understand anything.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:45:26] Does anybody know that you came from North Korea?
Charles Ryu: [00:45:28] They didn't know. Only principal and a couple of teachers knew that I was from North Korea, but they helped me a lot. Like they keep helping me, you know, helping with math. You know, they're helping with English, but it was really tough. It was really, really tough. It was even tougher than like, I guess in a certain extent, it was tougher than working in a coal mine because like I don’t really understand.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:50] You mean, high school is tougher than working at a North Korean coal mine?
Charles Ryu: [00:45:52] You know, because I don't understand.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:54] There's a code for the episode.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:45:55] In a way, I can understand that because you don't speak the language.
Charles Ryu: [00:46:00] Yeah. I don't speak the same language. I don't know the culture, you know, I don't know, because I grew up, I'm an elementary drop out in North Korea. I didn't go to school at all.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:12] And even if you did, you'd know about like Kim Jong Un, not a whole lot more.
Charles Ryu: [00:46:15] Yeah, and I don't know anything about history, you know, but I learned that America dropped the bomb on Hiroshima in Japan and that's how they surrendered. But how I learned in North Korea is like Kim Il Sung fought the head-to-toe armed Japanese soldier, Japanese like captain of army and Kim Il Sung came in and he beat the crap out of them and just like kicked him out from North Korea. And they freed us from like Japanese, right?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:46:44] They taught you that Kim Il Sung was responsible for ending World War II? Not just the Korean war?
Charles Ryu: [00:46:49] Yes. Not just Korean war, but winning the Japanese, you know, they kicking the Japanese out of North Korea.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:46:56] Are there other historical, like are there other versions of history that you remember learning about in the States that you were just like, “Oh my God, what I was told was completely wrong.” Do you remember any of those moments?
Charles Ryu: [00:47:09] Like for example, like Kim Jung Il and Kim Il Sung fighting the Japanese, right? Like kicking them off from North Korea. That's like, that's how he fought. It's the fall of Japanese, right? Head to toe armed Kim Jung Il, Kim Il Sung winning the war, Korean war. It’s ceasefire is never ending, you know? And I think Kim Il Sung like kind of lost the war, you know? But he doesn't tell us he lost, he prevented America invading North Korea. That's the two things like the major history.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:47:41] Those are like two big moments. And they both have to do with Kim Il Sung.
Charles Ryu: [00:47:43] Yeah, they both have to do with Kim Il Sung, right? So I’m like, “What?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:47:48] What surprise you most about Americans after you thought were all werewolves and evil and then you ended up in like San Jose high school?
Charles Ryu: [00:47:56] They're kind. They're so kind and caring, you know, because like they all helped me, you know, my social worker was a white lady. She was in like late twenties, you know? And then she would always been kind to me, you know? And also surprised, you know, like, she was really nice to me. You know? I thought like, I would expect like they've been so stubborn, you know, they being so violent, you know, but there's so kind, you know? Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:28] We never talked about that kid who stole your shoes.
Charles Ryu: [00:48:33] Yeah. Right. So, going back to that point, so I met, that's not a kid actually, he's like in his mid-thirties at that time. And he stole my shoes in the detention center and I don't know what happened from then because he stole my shoes and then he went off. I was working in a detention center for awhile and then I met him in Thailand, the prison camp.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:58] Did he have your stinking shoes?
Charles Ryu: [00:49:02] No, it's been like two years later. So he doesn't have it. He has like a better shoes, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:06] You should have stolen his shoes.
Charles Ryu: [00:49:08] Right. I know. I was going to do that. And then like, so I was a new recruit. So right after the next day I arrived in Thailand. They put me in a truck and they drove me to a local prison camp, right? And then I was like, we're all like searched up and make sure we don't have any drugs or anything else. And they were also stopped, and then we went in with the handcuffs. And then when we entered the prison cell, they uncuffed us. But I see this dude is looking so familiar, but he's not Korean. He's speaking Korean. He looks so familiar. I was like, “I think I've seen you somewhere.” And then, Oh my God. As the dude, but he doesn't remember me. I was like, “I saw you at the Tanchon detention center and you took my shoes”, and now he remembers that. He’s like, “Oh my God, thank you so much for your shoes because of the shoes I could escape.”
[00:50:14] And then he's telling me this story, right? So he stole my shoes and then he also went on a train with these two police officers who’s transporting him. And then he tells me that also like when I was an interrogation office, he swallowed up paperclip and then he went to the bathroom like a couple of days later and he pooped it out and then he kept the paper clip, right? And then like he kept it in under the tongue while he was like transporting it and then he took it out and he uncuffed.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:45] He kicked the handcuffs.
Charles Ryu: [00:50:48] Yeah, he kicked the handcuffs then he’s running in between the trains. But the train was moving, right? So all the doors are closed and then all the windows are closed too. So as soon as like he got away, maybe a couple of feet and then the guard realized he is gone and then he is chasing him, right? He's like chasing him and he's seeing all those windows like closed and the doors closed too but he sees one window that is open and then he's running through that window and then he's just like, “pssshhh” you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:27] Dove out the window.
Charles Ryu: [00:51:28] Yeah. He dove out the window. I don't know how fast the train is going in. He’s explained how the train was going pretty slow. And then he just dive out, out of the train and he rolls in like a rocky. And then he walked for a couple of days and then he get back to China and then he working in China for a while. He saved enough money. He bought a broker and then now he's on a journey to South Korea. And then that's how he met me.
[00:52:02] And then because he was really old and he has some money, I didn't have any money, I didn't have anything in Thailand. So like he was with me about like month and half, I was staying in Thailand for like eight months but he was with me for the first month and half. Within that month and half he pays for everything, like he bought me food, he bought me snack, he bought me cigarette, he bought me like everything, you know, because he's like, “Yeah, because of your shoes”, and it's like meeting like a hometown person, you know. It feels really good because you know that person from North Korea, right? And like meeting him, it's like, “What?”
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:43] Yeah. How random. That is such a weird coincidence.
Charles Ryu: [00:52:46] Right? It's like [indiscernible][00:52:46], you know.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:52:48] Life is so crazy. That’s so wild.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:51] Do you still keep in touch with him?
Charles Ryu: [00:52:53] No. Actually, I lost contact with him when he got to South Korea. He gave me a phone number to call, but like he doesn’t pick it up. So I just think he changed his number or something.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:02] Do you remember his name?
Charles Ryu: [00:53:05] Yeah, I do remember his name.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:06] You mind if I just say it, maybe he'll email us? Maybe not?
Charles Ryu: [00:53:10] Maybe not. Yeah. Maybe not.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:11] Got it.
Charles Ryu: [00:53:13] Because his family protect him.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:14] Yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:53:14] I understand. How long have you been in America?
Charles Ryu: [00:53:18] It's been six years now.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:53:20] And I assume, do you think you'll stay here?
Charles Ryu: [00:53:23] For the rest of my life? Yeah. I got my citizenship, right? So I'm just going to be here. Yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:53:30] This might be a weird question, but is there anything about North Korea that you miss?
Charles Ryu: [00:53:36] I do, actually. I do, like, I have a lot of things that I miss about North Korea, like North Korea, it's like clean land, you know. It’s not exposed by mankind or humankind, you know? So it's very, very original. It's not developed, you know? Yeah. Like clean, you know. The nature is beautiful. You know, the water, the air is fresh. And of course my friends, like during summer and during hot day, you know, I go out to a river, you know, I know like I smell grass, you know, and like smelling the river, the swimming in there, you know, the water is like delicious. Even the river, the water's delicious. And you know, a lot of people think that like North Korean people are brainwashed to like kill everyone, to like kill America, trying to like have war with Americans, you know, but actually that's not true.
[00:54:41] You know, I mean, like a lot of young millennials, you know, like us, you know, they know about America, they know about South Korea, they know about capitalism, you know. So it's not like that. I know that a lot of people thinks that North Korean people are starving to death, like most of them, but that's actually not true either. Some rich like North Korean high government officials, they live better than like middle-class American does, you know. They have a lot of money, they’re so rich. People who have connections with like governments, you know, they are rich. They can do whatever they want. They can kill someone and they can buy their way out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:22] What did you tell me earlier at Starbucks about people who are fat and bald?
Charles Ryu: [00:55:26] Oh yeah, right, right. I'm sorry. You know, no offense, but people coming from North Korea, right? You know, when I came here like culture shock. It's like people who are rich, they're skinny. People for poor, they’re fat. I mean I didn't understand, how is that possible? You know, people was rich, shouldn't you be fat? And like people who are poor, shouldn’t you be skinny because you cannot eat really well? And you know, in North Korea, if fat people, if you go, no offense, but if you got to North Korea, you're going to be just famous as Kim Jong Un, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:09] Because I'm so fat?
Charles Ryu: [00:56:11] Yeah. Because you're so fat, you're bald, you know. And North Korean people.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:14] I’m not bald.
Charles Ryu: [00:56:16] Yeah. You’re not bald.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:56:17] Yeah, that's so weird. Like in America, it's the opposite, right?
Charles Ryu: [00:56:19] Yeah. It's the opposite, right? But North Korean people like if you go to North Korea, and people are starving so they don't have big tummy and people who is bald like that indicates like you are educated. And you have like high class.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:35] I’ve learned so much, all my hair fell out.
Charles Ryu: [00:56:39] Yeah. Yeah. So North Korean people, they think that if you have a big, big belly and like bald head, they think you're working for government. You're a government official. So like you get free bows.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:55] Free bows. People have to bow to you.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:56:55] Free bows, if you’re bald? Interesting.
Charles Ryu: [00:56:58] Because they think that, “Oh, he's a government official”, government like he's working for the government, right? So he comes through and you just…
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:08] I have to bow to you.
Charles Ryu: [00:57:08] Yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:57:09] Are there other things about life in America that you're still adjusting to or that don't make sense?
Charles Ryu: [00:57:15] I mean like I'm still adjusting to like racism, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:17] Adjusting to racism?
Charles Ryu: [00:57:18] Yeah. You know, like I didn't know about the racism at all. You know, I just start there as only yellow.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:57:26] But you didn't know there were other?
Charles Ryu: [00:57:28] Yeah, I didn't know there were other colors, you know, like white, yellow, like black, you know, but I'm still learning that and I'm still adjusting, you know? It's not the culture, it’s about like 257 other cultures that are, you know, all together, right? And I'm still learning about the capitalism, you know? And I learned that like capitalism enough is not friendly. You know, it's not friendly. You know, people are always trying to make money off over you. You know, people are trying to take advantage of you, you know, if you don't speak any language, if you're not smart, they try to take advantage of you. That happened like so many times to me.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:58:14] Oh, how does that show up? Like, when does that happen to you?
Charles Ryu: [00:58:16] So when I was in school, you know, I really wanted to get a car. I really wanted to get a car. So I had a $2,000 in my hand. I worked my butt off to make the money and then I walked into a car dealership, “I have 2000 bucks. What kind of car can I get?” This guy comes out with that Audi car key. “Okay. I’ll drive it, test it.” I don't even have a driver's license. I have a permit.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:49] You gave a learner's permit?
Charles Ryu: [00:58:50] Yeah. I have permit, and then I handed to him and like, “Oh yeah, sure. Here you go.” Test drive the car. So nice. You know, it goes like crazy fast. And I'm like, “I'll take it. How much is it?” He's like, “Don't worry about it. Just give me your money and we'll just get you the car. Okay?” And then, “Yeah, sure.” And then this guy used my credit. Credit to like apply for the credit? Like a loan from the bank. So they sold me as like $13,000.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:23] Wait, $13,000?
Charles Ryu: [00:59:29] And then this car, it has over heated once. This car engine is almost dying.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:59:39] Wait. So they sold you the car?
Charles Ryu: [00:59:41] They sold me the car.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [00:59:42] For only 2000 down or something?
Charles Ryu: [00:59:44] Yeah, only $2,000 down. So I have 11 to go, right?
Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:47] That guy should be…that’s ridiculous. Insane. That's unbelievable.
Charles Ryu: [00:59:52] Right? And then I bought the car and from that day, the engine oil is leaking. Engine oil is leaking and it gives me a problem every single day for the next six months. And I drove 9,000 miles and then the car blew off.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:08] Oh my gosh.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:00:09] Sold you a lemon car.
Charles Ryu: [01:00:11] Yes. Sold that lemon car, right? And I still have like $11,000 to go on a bank and then the car completely blew off.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:00:17] Yeah, that's sucks.
Charles Ryu: [01:00:18] So I went to the dealership and like, “Hey look, what's happening?” And he's like, “Yeah, you signed the paper. You have everything. I can't do anything for you because you signed it. And apparently you bought the car as it is. We can’t do anything for you.” I'm screwed. And then I'm like, “I have to have a car because like I wanted to drive left”, you know, and I want it to like, I have to go to work, I have to go to school at the same time. So once like, okay, so I'm not going to go small dealership. I'm going to go to big dealership and also they will give me a good car. And then I had another $3,000 in my hand. So I wanted to buy a used car in the big dealership, right? I walked into the door in a Honda dealership in Concord. This guy's okay. You know, he has a big smile on his face, you know, he's super friendly and then he's like, “Are you buying any cars?”
[01:01:11] You know I'm like, “Yeah, I'm looking for a car to buy here.” And he's like, “Yeah, come on in.” You know, he bend over in the table. He’s like, “Morning! You're welcome. You're always welcome.” I'm looking for a person like you to, you know, screw over, you know, and then he sold me a car, Honda Civic, 2015 Honda Civic. So, I had $8,000 on the Audi A4, and then this guy sold me the car at $21,000 in a maximum interest. So you could have purchased as a $14,000. Yeah, $14,000. But this guy is like, “Oh yeah, this is a kid”, you know, he doesn't know anything. So like, let me fuck you over. You know, he's like, so plus the $8,000, $21,000 plus tax plus $8,000. So I got almost like $29,000 for a Honda Civic, 2015 Honda Civic. And then, I had to pay like a lot of you know. So I learned like really big mistake I made like,
[01:02:20] yeah, I made a lot of big mistakes, you know? And I had to learn that this is not something that I know friendly. And then you have to, you know.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:02:29] That must be hard.
Charles Ryu: [01:02:30] It was really hard. You know, it's really, really hard.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:02:31] After everything you've been through, then you get screwed over by like two used cars and a whole…
Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:37] Yeah. The worst kind of humans. Geez.
Charles Ryu: [01:02:40] Yeah. After, you know, I really, really learn from mistakes and then, yeah, you know, capitalism is really not friendly, you know? And, one thing that I learned in this society, why people don't have empathy?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:03:01] You know, why do people not have empathy?
Charles Ryu: [01:03:05] Yeah, empathy for each other. If you're rich, like they don't care. If they're rich, I don't care about you. Why should I care about you?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:03:12] Do you think there was more empathy in North Korea?
Charles Ryu: [01:03:15] I guess within my friends, you know, fellow friends and even though if you're starving, we’re starving all together, right? And if you're struggling, we’re struggling all together, you know. We're in one boat, but like in here, every one is like different levels of like, you know, so it's really hard.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:03:35] And most people here, I imagine, can't begin to understand what you've been through uniquely.
Charles Ryu: [01:03:39] Yeah. You know, but I believe that this is land of opportunity, right? There is still hope. There is a lot of good things about, you know, all the things. So if I work hard, you know, work smart, I think I can achieve my dreams, whatever I have. And you know, like everything that I do, I do it with hope, excitement, you know, I mean, yeah, I've been through a lot, so what? I mean, I don't live in the past. I live in present, so, you know, today, let’s make it stay the best, you know, why not? You know, yesterday happened. What can I do? Learn from it. Don't do it again, you know, and just look forward, you know, keep going, let's just keep walking, you know? And it'll be fine.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:04:28] Do you think you had to learn how to become that way or you just that way, but I'm not sure.
Charles Ryu: [01:04:32] Yeah. I'm just that way. Yeah. Just my personality. It's like just that way.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:04:37] Yeah. If you weren't that way, it would've been harder.
Charles Ryu: [01:04:41] Yeah. It would have been harder. Like I wouldn't know which place I would end up today if I wasn't like that. I can't imagine, you know, I will probably working in a coal mine. Or I'm probably dead by now.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:54] I want to end on something a little lighter, you know, first of all, well maybe this isn't later, but how come when we went to North Korea, people on the subway and things like that, they move away from us? Nobody will talk to us. People won't look at us. Some people will look at us like out of the corner of their eye. But there was very little interaction aside from hotel staff and things like that.
Charles Ryu: [01:05:16] Yeah. Like I'm not sure about that because like I've never told, you know, there is like American people visiting North Korea. You know, the only thing that I've learned and only thing that I've heard was foreign country people coming to North Korea to praise Kim Jung Il. You know, because his leadership is so great. You know, so they come to perform in his birthday party, you know, like Kim Il Sung's birthday party, you know, and I'm not sure why is that, right? And I never knew about that either. Like when I was in North Korea, I've never heard about like people visiting, you know, people all over the country like paying like $2,500 every week just to stay.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:06:01] Jordan and I actually had a question for you about that. So he and I have been to North Korea several times. The first time we went purely out of curiosity and then we both ended up kind of getting hired to lead tourists there. But I think we kept going because we wanted to understand North Korea better because it's really hard to understand it if you just watch the news. And we were just curious and you know, wanting to travel. Jordan and I have talked about this a bunch over the years, those trips opened our eyes to a very different way of life and I think we both feel very lucky to have seen another part of the world and get to know people from a country we wouldn't get to meet. But there are a lot of people who when we talk about it or when they find out that we've been there, don't think it's okay that we went to North Korea and I can appreciate that perspective because they think that if you go to North Korea, you have to pay to be there. You're supporting the government, the government that does a lot of terrible things and it always comes down to, is the cost of tourism worth the learning opportunity? Do you understand what I mean? From your perspective, do you think tourism to North Korea is a positive or a negative?
Charles Ryu: [01:07:19] In a way? I see that this is tourism to North Korea have pros and cons, right? Because like you get to see the beauty of North Korea, right? Beauty of at least like air and water, right? But everything, the pros probably is like, you see North Korea, a developed North Korea. You know, because like everything that you see within that range is what they want you to see, right? Because everything that even though you talk to people on the street, you know they were educated, they were like brainwashed and they have things that they have to say to you. And even though they say like, “Oh, we need help.” “Do you speak Korean? You don't.” You have a translator between you and the guy? You ended up pedestrian. So whatever you talk to them, whatever you talk, whatever they talk to you, it's been translated by the government, right? So you don't get to know the true North Korea by just going through the North Korea with government, right? Because like you're only limited to the resources and limited to things you are seeing, right? But if you want to make it, you want to go to North Korea through border. I mean like through the way that I came out, like if you want to go there…
Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:49] I'm going to pass on that. I’m going to settle for this [indiscernible][01:08:52], in lieu of sneaking into North Korea.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:08:56] I mean, you're right. You don't get to see the real North Korea because you don't get to see all of it. But I guess my question is, is it still worth it for people to go?
Charles Ryu: [01:09:06] It's not worth it. It's not worth it. But I don't think it's really worth it because you're just supporting North Korean government, you know? Because that money is going into building a nuclear weapon, building the bullets, you know, making the bullets that are going to kill North Korean people, you know? So it's not really worth it.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:09:25] So to you, even though the dollar amount is low, very low. I mean, it's almost nothing to you. It's still contributing to something really terrible.
Charles Ryu: [01:09:34] Something really terrible because yeah, so I don't think it's worth it. Instead of you going into North Korea, right? To see what's happening. How about you spend them money to find North Korean refugees that are here, right? Listen to their stories. Find organizations who supports people, supports North Korean refugees that are trying to escape from China to South Korea. How about you help them? How about you read their stories, right? And then how about you just help them getting out of North Korea? Getting out of China. I think that's something that way much more worth than going into North Korea. And I personally believe that working with North Korean refugees to, you know, changing North Korea. I think it's way worth it because North Korean, like refugees plays really, really big role on this huge issues, right? Because people will come South from North Korea, they still have connection back in North Korea. They’re sending like tremendous money back into North Korea.
[01:10:38] Like per year, $15 million are going into North Korea, right? That money is not going into any government. That money is not going into any part of like nuclear weapons. That money is truly going into like North Korea. You know that money aren't used by people. And they are making like markets better, right? And helping that refugee, getting to know them a little bit better. Getting to know them and helping them. I think that's the way that we can truly get to see North Korea, you know, because unification, when unification happen, I'll take you there. Don't worry. I'll take you there. You know? And I believe, I personally believe that North Korea and South Korea will be unified in my lifetime.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:11:23] Reunified. Do you think it’s going to happen?
Charles Ryu: [01:11:25] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:25] Well, we might take you up on that. You might have to go back. I would go back.
Charles Ryu: [01:11:29] Yeah. I'll take you to my hometown and you know, all this, but let's not go, you know, until demonstration [01:11:36][indiscernible].
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:37] I'm not going until that happens.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:11:38] No, I think we've decided for sure.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:11:40] I think we have made that very dangerous for ourselves. How do people date in North Korea? Like how do you meet women and stuff like that, you know?
Charles Ryu: [01:11:48] Yeah. I mean, like dating is free, you know, it's not like government is like, dating is like really free in North Korea because…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:11:56] Hey, just go to chestnut farm, man.
Charles Ryu: [01:11:58] Chestnut farm. Yeah, it's all about the chestnut farm, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:01] I remember I asked one of our tour guides where she meets guys and she goes, she looked at me like I was dumb as hell. And she goes, “At the library. Why? Where do you meet people?” Like, library?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:12:13] One of our other guides said that he meets people on the internet. Do you remember that?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:16] Yeah, like when he's playing Counterstrike?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:12:19] And he's playing like some very low res version of some games.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:12:23] Yeah and he said he chats with girls online.
Charles Ryu: [01:12:25] I don't know about that. I mean...
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:12:27] Do you think he was just lying?
Charles Ryu: [01:12:29] I mean like there is like internet as a Micronet, right? Internet. Yeah. Existing in North Korea. But I don't think that guy is just BS-ing, you know, like
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:12:39] They can't chat with other people on that?
Charles Ryu: [01:12:40] Like within the college, you know, they're allowed to use the internet just within schools, like certain areas. But yeah, I don't think
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:12:51] He was a little bit naughty [01:12:52][indiscernible] possible but anyway, go back to dating. How does that work?
Charles Ryu: [01:12:56] Yeah. Dating is like, it's normal. It’s like just like here, you know, “Oh if you like me, buy me something”, you know, but that’s guys playing that role. You know, girls doesn't get to play that.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:13:06] What does a date look like in North Korea?
Charles Ryu: [01:13:09] Date look like they just walk. You know, because there is a lot of really fun things to do in North Korea too. You know there is actually a park in North Korea.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:13:18] Sounds like a freaking blast.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:13:23] I mean like a park, like with benches and trees?
Charles Ryu: [01:13:25] Yeah, benches and trees. Yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:13:28] Was there like a fun, what do you call it, a funfair? Like an amusement park?
Charles Ryu: [01:13:31] Amusement park? Yeah. There's like an amusement park they can go to but it's really expensive and poor people can't afford it but rich people can afford it. So they just go there and just hang out. It's a lot similar to here, because like North Korean millennials, they've been watching so much South Korean dramas and so much foreign media. So like their mentality is changing at that level.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:13:52] Can you explain what that means? Like they watch a drama and then how does that affect the way they date?
Charles Ryu: [01:13:59] Because past like 20 years or so a lot of like there's like North Korean millennials who grew up after the famine half, after that happened, like there's a lot of like foreign media going into North Korea. There’s like South Korean dramas and people like at first they didn't believe, right? “Oh, this is just a set up. This looks like they're trying to brainwash us”, but like as they keep watching it, and like, “Wait, it's just a normal life. You know, that love story”, you know? And there is like, they don't just see in the people that are in the movie, they don't just see the main actors. We see people that are in background too. We watch a lot of backgrounds too. And like, that's not setting.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:14:47] You're not just looking at the people who are talking, you're looking and you're like, “Wow, there's a lot of cars.”
Charles Ryu: [01:14:52] Yeah, there are a lot of cars. There's a lot of buildings, there's a lot of fancy things. There's fancy tree, fancy road. And they kind of try to copy that. You know, there's a lot of trendy things that are in North Korea by like South Korean dramas too.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:15:06] But who's copying the…
Charles Ryu: [01:15:09] Like a fashion.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:15:11] Okay. Like the way people dress.
Charles Ryu: [01:15:13] Dresses, you know, way people talk and that's how they copy it. And like within among the friends, we try to copy, imitate, like the South Korean accents, you know, like, “Hey, you know like, [indiscernible/in Korean][01:15:26] Just something like that and you know like, “What you're doing?” You know like, “How are you doing?”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:15:34] I think that's Korean for, “Wazzup?”
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:15:38] Yeah, it's more like that. And you copied the slang and the style.
Charles Ryu: [01:15:42] Yeah, copied the slangs and the styles and like the way they date, you know, because like there's a…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:15:46] What does that mean?
Charles Ryu: [01:15:47] Like South Korean dramas, it's all about love stories. Like the rich guy meets poor girl, you know, how they’re like hooked up, you know. I think like that's…
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:15:59] So do you think it makes that, does it make young people in North Korea more ambitious or more aggressive? Like more willing to talk to people or they want to have their own love stories? Is that what you mean?
Charles Ryu: [01:16:12] Yeah, there like social media is changing North Korea’s perspectives. People smiling like slowly, you know, changing in a way that like capitalism, you know, like to have their own stories, you know, they can write their own stories. Like besides like what the government tells you to write.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:16:34] It sounds like that's the main difference in the new generation.
Charles Ryu: [01:16:36] Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of things going on. Like now we have cellphones too in North Korea. So I'm like, “What?” There is like North Korean average person's income is 1500 per year. 1500 per year.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:16:51] US dollars?
Charles Ryu: [01:16:52] Yeah, US dollar. Sorry, yes $1,500 per year. But the cell phone, just per cell phone is like 700 bucks. Yes. Dollars.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:17:04] Wow. So, half. Basically.
Charles Ryu: [01:17:07] Like how can you afford that?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:17:09] So Charles, as we wrap here, we've gone like three episodes long or something like that, but people want to know what you're doing now. I found it surprising to hear that you had a job in IT. I thought that was kind of unusual.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:23] Can you imagine coming from a place where you're working in a coal mine that doesn't even have automated diesel steam, whatever -- carts. And then you're like, “Oh yeah, we need you to code something up for iOS real quick.”
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:18:34] Has got some Python to get this thing up and working?
Charles Ryu: [01:18:36] I want you to build the website. Why won’t you build that AI that can communicate with people? I'm like, “Oh, okay. Sure thing, I got you.”
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:44] Your tech at home was a TV with one channel and now you're coding.
Charles Ryu: [01:18:48] Yeah, I know, I'm like coding for food.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:52] Coding for food. Will code for food.
Charles Ryu: [01:18:54] Yeah. I'll code for food.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:18:55] Especially in an upgrader.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:18:58] You've shared a lot of amazing things today and I just want to say again, thank you so much for talking to us because I mean, you just said it beautifully a moment ago, like the stories have to come out. It's really special to sit down with somebody who has been through something so extraordinary with so much like grace and patience and faith and like, I don’t know, you have like a really incredible story and I feel really lucky to hear it. My question is, “What is it like to talk about it? Is it hard? Is it helpful? What does it feel like when you explain to people what you've been through?”
Charles Ryu: [01:19:36] . I mean, I guess I kind of the mentality of, I mean, I used to didn't like to talk about my story, you know. If people ask where I'm from, I just tell them I'm from South Korea. You know, because I was like, when I got here, I didn't really like to talk about my story because in a way that kind of like brought the fear of my past, you know? And I really didn't like to talk about it, but I talked to my counselor, you know, I had a PTS, you know, so I used to talk to her and then…
Jordan Harbinger: [01:20:13] Post-traumatic stress?
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:20:14] Yeah, PTSD, you were saying?
Charles Ryu: [01:20:16] Yeah. So they take the D because it’s not a disorder, it’s something that you have. So while talking to her, I realized like, you know, I have this fear, I'm going to live with this fear for awhile and I can't get rid of it because this is something that I've been through and its feeling. The harder that I try to imprison my feeling, the harder it bounced back. So why don't I use my story to inspire someone and why don't I tell my story to raise awareness? You know, why don't I tell my story to other people so that people can know what North Korean people went through and who's going through right now. Because my story is not unique. You know, there's a lot of people have the same story. And because of like that kind of mentality, I feel accomplished. Every time I talk about my story, I don't talk about my story to like, I don't want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to learn something
about it and how, and I don't want you to be, I don't tell my story to, you know, like, “Oh Charles, you know, I feel really sad for you. I feel really bad for you.”
[01:21:34] I don't want that. You know, as long as you learn something today, I will appreciate it. You know, if you can use my story to you, because like, I was just 15, you know, I didn't know, but I've did it. And to inspire someone like, “Look, I did it. You know, even that situation. You are now in a better, much, much better situation, you can do it too.” You know, I want to motivate someone, you know, I want to inspire someone and I want to educate someone, you know? So I feel very, very accomplished by telling my story.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:22:07] By telling your story, it gives it meaning, right?
Charles Ryu: [01:22:11] Yeah, it gives it meaning. A lot of meanings.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:22:14] Just in case you thought we were joking about him loving Will Smith, are you comfortable sharing your Instagram handle? You might get some new followers.
Charles Ryu: [01:22:19] Oh yeah, yeah. I will love to. It's called @freshprinceofpyongyang. Yeah, please do. So I'm trying to raise awareness, right? So I just want to show people that North Korean people are normal. Just weird as all of you, you know, and just normal as all of you, you know? So yeah, that's why I am trying to have some followers, and I'm kind of trying to put on a show like daily life of North Korean, you know, and we keep trying to do that right now, but yeah, so that's my goal, you know, to educate people that our North Korean people are normal,
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:00] @freshprinceofpyongyang.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:23:01] Yeah. That's the Instagram handle.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:03] Yeah, absolutely the best. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing all this with us, man. You've got stories for days. Even in the car, you’re just talking about how you got stabbed in the butt.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:23:14] How did we not get to that?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:17] Bonus story -- Charles gets stabbed in the butt.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:23:20] Maybe next time? Maybe now?
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:22] Just drop it now.
Charles Ryu: [01:23:24] Yeah, yeah. I’m going to drop it now. That's after I got released from the labor camp.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:23:32] There's street crime in North…
Charles Ryu: [01:23:33] There's a lot of street crimes. And like there's a lot of bully kids, you know, there is a lot of gangsters. Bullies and gangsters trying to take your things away. And then one time like we are fighting in our grip because like I want to defend my spot. I want to defend like my spot for begging food, sleeping, you know, I want to defend my spot, but there is like other groups who came in and trying to kick us out. So we have choose to fight and they're like, I don't know, because like we're fighting in groups. I don’t know if who I'm hitting but I'm just hitting somebody. And then I feel something really, really spanking my butt. So I looked at it -- a small knife, like a pencil cutting knife. It's stuck in my butt like what the heck!
Jordan Harbinger: [01:24:26] Stabbed in the ass.
Charles Ryu: [01:24:27] Yeah. Stabbed in the ass.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:24:28] Wow. It just does not end with this guy.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:24:31] This guy has so many and it's just one thing after the other one.
Charles Ryu: [01:24:37] I’m like, I was so dead, you know, that one is really like short.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:24:41] I guess you're lucky it was only a one inch blade.
Charles Ryu: [01:24:43] No, no, no. So the cut is this wide, but the one was really deep. Yeah. So sometimes I think it kind of like touched my bone or something. I don't know what happened, but sometimes I feel like the sting. So whenever I walk, or try to walk, it kind of shoots right through my legs. I don't know what happened. I hope it's fine.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:25:09] I think Charles. I'm so happy you're in America.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:12] The least of your worries, man.
Charles Ryu: [01:25:14] Yeah. You can tell some people that you know, I met a guy from North Korea who’s stabbed in the butt. Yeah. Stabbed in the ass.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:19] What I thought was really interesting was when we were in the car, there were all kinds of little details that you don't get from other people either. Of course when you’re in North Korea, let alone even from other defectors because he was on the street for so long, you were on the street for so long, seeing street crime, drug dealing, prostitution there. And I think somebody who's like a government official that flies to China and then says, “I'm not going back home.” They don't necessarily know any of this stuff because they don't see it. They're anonymous somewhere.
Charles Ryu: [01:25:50] Yeah, right. But I'm not about the drunk dealings but…
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:53] Well, we were talking about meth in the car.
Charles Ryu: [01:25:55] Oh yeah. Meth in the car.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:25:57] Oh, if you can’t meth then yeah.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:25:58] There's a lot of methamphetamine?
Charles Ryu: [01:26:00] Yeah. In North Korea, especially people with the money, you know, North Korea makes like the meth, you know, in Hamhung, it’s like the factory is there. So a lot of people does that meth, you know.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:26:15] Just recreationally? For fun they do it?
Charles Ryu: [01:26:17] For fun, I guess. Yeah. And then some people, they just off like three days, you know. And I've also met a lot of people who's done meth in Thailand when I was in the refugee camp, because I met a lot of North Korean refugees and they're just talking about it. It's just like mind blowing, you know? And it's like, “Wait, what?” Like some people laugh all the time. You know, some people cleaning but I'm not promoting the drug, you know, nothing. Anything. But it's just like.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:26:43] So there's a lot of meth, a lot of prostitution and a lot of butt-stabbing.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:26:47] This side of North Korea.
Charles Ryu: [01:26:49] This side of the very lower, because you know, if you have money you can drive out of your way. You know, because police officers, they don't even care. You know, because they don't even get paid enough. So whenever they see the crime, “Yes!”, you know.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:27:08] A chance to get some money.
Charles Ryu: [01:27:09] Yeah, right. So even like even the prostitution, it's like where I'm came from, I'm not talking about whole North Korea, but like some major cities, the prostitution is really big. And like with girls with like a flower, you know, when I was like younger, you know, back in the days when I was living on a street, you know, I've seen a lot of the ladies with flowers, you know, that means like they're prostitutes. And it's really sad to say that, you know, but you have to find a way to survive.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:27:43] That's right. Like I promised, leaving us on a high note, but Charles, seriously, thank you so much, man. It's a pleasure getting coffee, In-N-Out, and some serious North Korea stories. You have been through the ringer. You're 24, but at least you got a bright future here in the States.
Charles Ryu: [01:27:58] Yeah. If I work hard and smart. Then I can achieve my dreams. Thanks for inviting me here. And always my pleasure talking my life story and you know, I feel real lucky, you know, to be here to share my story too. You know, because there's a lot of other people that didn't make it here.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:17] Didn't make it out here.
Gabriel Mizrahi: [01:28:18] No, thank you.
Charles Ryu: [01:28:19] No problem.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:21] So Jason, were you disappointed? I know that this is, I told you this was interesting.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:28:26] It's not interesting, man. Edge-of-your-seat excitement.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:28:29] Yes, I just can't believe it. And the fact that he is not resentful, bitter, upset, totally effed up in many ways. It's just like amazing. How do you? Just can't believe it. And he just took it all in stride. And I think part of it is, he grew up in that repressive society and was an orphan. So he essentially had just already been in such a hard situation that escaping from it was just kind of like the natural way to conclude. What else are you going to do, right?
Jason DeFillippo: [01:29:00] He seems rather well-adjusted after all that he's been through.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:04] Yeah. He's a computer programmer now. He codes. He lives in LA. Like a normal guy, he's got a girlfriend. I mean, it's just surprisingly well-adjusted for a kid who escaped from North Korea and then just got schlepped straight into high school. One thing that I just think is interesting is, they just put them in a high school and he didn't speak any English, no clue what's going on. But at least he wasn't in North Korea, right? Although public high school in LA, I don't know. Also a little dodgy depending on where you end up.
Jason DeFillippo: [01:29:34] That's true. That's true. But they're not going to shoot you for not putting your book in your locker properly.
Jordan Harbinger: [01:29:38] No. They'll shoot you for something else. Yeah, unfortunately. Great big thank you to Charles Ryu. He is just an amazing force and I expect great things from him in the future. I think he's going to be doing a speaking tour. Wouldn't surprise me if he ends up with a book or a movie or something like that, for sure. And if you want to know how I managed to find book, maintain relationships with all these great and interesting people, I use systems, I use tiny habits as well. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course, that's jordanharbinger.com/course. The problem I think that a lot of business owners and individuals have is that we were not able to make up for lost time when it comes to relationships, networking, building connections. The number one mistake I see people make is postponing this, kicking the can down the road and not digging that well before they get thirsty and once you need relationships, you're just way too late. It's too late to make them. These drills are designed to take just a few minutes per day. It's the type of habit that we can ignore only at our own peril.
[01:30:38] It's the stuff I wish I knew 10, 20 years ago. It's not fluff. It is crucial and I'm giving it all to you for free here at jordanharbinger.com/course. Speaking of building relationships, tell me your number one takeaway from Charles Ryu. I'm @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, doing a lot more on Instagram these days. Little instructional videos and things like that. And don't forget, if you want to learn how to apply everything you've learned here today from Charles, make sure you go grab the worksheets, also in the show notes at JordanHarbinger.com/podcast. This episode was produced and edited by Jason DeFillippo. Show notes by Robert Fogarty. Special thanks to Gabriel Mizrahi for joining me on the interview here today. Worksheets by Caleb Bacon. Booking, back office and last minute miracles by Jen Harbinger, and I'm your host, Jordan Harbinger. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something that you love or use, which is hopefully in every episode, so please share the show with those you love and even those you don't got a lot more in the pipeline. Very excited for what's coming up in the future here. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show so you can live what you listen and we'll see you next time.
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