Yeonmi Park (@YeonmiParkNK) is a North Korean defector and activist whose harrowing experiences are chronicled in her book In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom. [This is part one of a two-part episode. Continue to part two here!]
What We Discuss with Yeonmi Park:
- Why there’s a black market for poop in North Korea.
- How the people of North Korea are kept isolated from the outside world to the extent that they use a different calendar, have never heard of Shakespeare, and don’t even have words for “oppression” or “love.”
- How North Korea’s guilt-by-association policy can carry punishment for people who are within several generations of someone perceived as offensive to the regime.
- Why Yeonmi finds being on the North Korean regime’s official kill list to be “liberating.”
- How long it might take to watch Titanic in a country that only turns on the electricity for State holidays (and the ultimate penalty for getting caught doing so).
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
North Korean defector and activist Yeonmi Park once said: “I am most grateful for two things: that I was born in North Korea, and that I escaped from North Korea.” In her book In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, she details how she and her mother were betrayed and sold into sexual slavery in China and forced to suffer terrible psychological and physical hardship before they finally made their way to Seoul, South Korea — and to freedom.
On this two-part episode, Yeonmi joins us to share the bizarre mind games generations of North Koreans have had to endure under the current regime; how the regime isolates citizens under its control with its own calendar and propaganda that extends to the math classroom and the nation’s very vocabulary; the punishment for getting caught watching movies from the Western world; what it’s like to be on Kim Jong-un’s kill list; how your entire extended family and grandchildren not yet born could be punished if you commit what the regime considers a transgression; why there’s a black market for poop in North Korea; and much more. [This is part one of a two-part episode. Continue to part two here!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
- Glenfiddich: Find out more about the Glenfiddich #Richest25 here
- BetterHelp: Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan
- Boll & Branch: Get 15% off your first set of sheets with code JORDAN
- European Wax Center: Book your free wax today at waxcenter.com
- Chinet: Visit mychinet.com to find out more
Miss our two-parter with North Korean defector Charles Ryu? Catch up here starting with episode 84: Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist Part One!
Thanks, Yeonmi Park!
If you enjoyed this session with Yeonmi Park, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park and Maryanne Vollers | Amazon
- Voice of North Korea by Yeonmi Park | YouTube
- Yeonmi Park | Instagram
- Yeonmi Park | Twitter
- Yeonmi Park | Facebook
- Yeonmi Park: Escaping from North Korea in Search of Freedom | One Young World
- While They Watched | Prime Video
- Charles Ryu | Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Charles Ryu | Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- Going to North Korea: Part One | Stereo Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Going to North Korea: Part Two | Stereo Sunday | Jordan Harbinger
- Ulrich “The Mole” Larsen | Undercover in North Korea Part One | Jordan Harbinger
- Ulrich “The Mole” Larsen | Undercover in North Korea Part Two | Jordan Harbinger
- Hyesan | Wikipedia
- Kim Jong-Un Wants North Koreans’ Feces to Fight the Fertilizer Crisis | ATI
- Queen Elizabeth Sent Congratulations to North Korea, Palace Confirms | CNN
- North Korean Calendar | Wikipedia
- Guilty-By-Association: Growing up in Hell of North Korean Gulag | Reuters
- Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden | Amazon
- Kim Jong-un Lost Weight. No One Knows How or Why. | The New York Times
- How North Korea Got Away with the Assassination of Kim Jong-Nam | The Guardian
- What Happened to Jamal Khashoggi? 7 Unanswered Questions. | The Washington Post
- Yeonmi Park is on Kim Jong-Un’s Kill List | Chris Williamson
- Dear Leader Dreams of Sushi | GQ
- Arirang Korean Folk Song | 테데움
- Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick | Amazon
- Kimchi | Wikipedia
- Titanic | Prime Video
- Take On Me by a-ha, North Korean Style | TraavikInfo
- Under the Sun | Prime Video
578: Yeonmi Park | A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom Part One
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Special thanks to our sponsor Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky. For the next few weeks, you're going to hear me talking about Glenfiddich and their bold new body of work. That aims to challenge the traditional notions, commonly portrayed in culture, of what it means to be wealthy and live a life of riches. Glenfiddich believes that beyond the material, a life of wealth and riches is also about family, community, values, and fulfilling work. I can get behind that. Those are the values that led Glenfiddich to become the world's leading single malt scotch whisky. This week's guest Yeonmi Park exemplifies these values and you'll find out why later on in the episode. More from our partners at Glenfiddich coming up later in the show.
[00:00:31] Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:34] Yeonmi Park: As George Orwell's Newspeak, right? Who controls the language, controls the thoughts. So regime got rid of the words like human rights. They don't have the word for love in North Korea. Because they don't want us to love other people, other than the Dear Leader. So the only love the North Koreans know is written form word for the Dear Leader, Kims. And we don't have word for like individual liberty. I mean, all those concepts that we take for granted, they don't know.
[00:01:05] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, psychologists, even the occasional North Korean defector, billionaire investor, or tech mogul. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:30] If you're new to this show, or you want to tell your friends about this show, and you're not quite sure how to get them dip their toes in, we've got episode starter packs, which are collections of your favorite episodes, organized by popular topics that will help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start to get started or to help somebody else get started with us. And of course, I always appreciate that.
[00:01:52] Today on the show, my friend, Yeonmi Park. Now, I know she's a little controversial. A lot of you have written to me about her. I realized that there's some differing opinions out there about her, but her story is, no matter which way you look, absolutely incredible. Now, I wanted to do a different kind of show here with Yeonmi Park because her story is wild. Escaping North Korea, we've done shows like this before. It's in her book. Her YouTube channel and other interviews have really covered a lot of ground already. I wanted to break some new ground with her, so we go deep on all things, North Korea. That's why it's a two-parter. You know, I'm obsessed with that place. I've been there a bunch of times, a lot of stories. I wanted to get her stories and her thoughts on a lot of the cultural stuff and the propaganda and the regime and escape. It's a harrowing tale. I know you're going to enjoy it.
[00:02:36] And if you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors, thinkers, and creators every single week, it's because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests, who you hear on the show, subscribe to the course contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:02:53] Now, here's Yeonmi Park.
[00:02:58] Let's start with a bit about how kind of crazy North Korea is. Because most people have heard of it. People who've seen and heard you on other shows know a little bit about it, but I think it's really hard to imagine a country that doesn't have food. Americans think poor countries are like Mexico or a Southern state that the roads are really bad. You know, they don't understand sort of the deprivation in DPRK or in North Korea.
[00:03:25] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. I think it's the only place that modernity hasn't touched. Their lifestyle is still in the 15th or 16th century in the dark ages. Can you imagine you don't have benefit of technology, you have electricity? I mean, you can have transportation. 90 70 percent North Korean roads are not paved. The only paved roads are in Pyongyang, in the capital. I never even see the crosswalks. So we didn't have cars.
[00:03:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:03:52] Yeonmi Park: So for us transporting, people have is like oxcart or bicycle if you are really rich in the city.
[00:03:58] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So I've seen cars in North Korea because I went there a few times for journalism purposes and a sort of tour purposes, which is a whole other question of like the ethics of giving money to a horrible regime. And we can get down that road later. But the amount of cars you see in all of North Korea is like the amount of cars in a normal suburban neighborhood in the United States.
[00:04:19] Yeonmi Park: But I'm sure you were only going through the highways that only tourists can go to.
[00:04:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:04:24] Yeonmi Park: To Wonsan or the DMZ from Pyongyang, right?
[00:04:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We did go to the country a little bit.
[00:04:30] Yeonmi Park: Oh, where did you go?
[00:04:31] Jordan Harbinger: It's hard to say, because we didn't really know. We would do things like — once when we were there, it was during this like 100 years celebration that was probably 2013 or something. A lot of the roads were closed because for whatever reason, probably they were flooded, I think.
[00:04:46] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:04:47] Jordan Harbinger: And we went into the country and what we would do is if we saw something interesting, a bunch of us would say, "Oh, I have to go to the bathroom," or, "I feel sick," and the bus would stop and we would all get out and use the bathroom on the side of the road, but we would really just be looking around.
[00:04:59] Yeonmi Park: Oh, wow, what a good tactic that is.
[00:05:01] Jordan Harbinger: It was pretty good. Yeah. They definitely caught on after a while. And they're like, "If you guys want to see something, just ask, but no photos." And we're like, "Oh, they know."
[00:05:10] Yeonmi Park: Wow, that's smart.
[00:05:12] Jordan Harbinger: They know.
[00:05:12] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:05:13] Jordan Harbinger: So we saw some country houses where the doors are like probably up to my nose and you have to duck to get in because the house is a hundred years old or whatever.
[00:05:22] Yeonmi Park: All right, you mean, in North Korea, in the countryside, it's hard to see the windows. If they have windows—
[00:05:28] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:05:29] Yeonmi Park: —the best we can do is put some like plastic bags on it if it's freezing cold in the winter.
[00:05:35] I didn't think
[00:05:35] Jordan Harbinger: about that. Yeah. There's not a whole lot of glass. So did you grow up then in the country?
[00:05:39] Yeonmi Park: No, I was growing in a city called Hyesan. It is one of the bigger cities or is just a border town. The North Koreans do everything they could to put up the show on the border. So the other side of countries don't judge them. But even that is like unheard of like standard of living and I grew up there a few months later when my father got arrested.
[00:06:00] Jordan Harbinger: The idea of putting on a show for the world, what you're saying is, it makes a lot of sense from Dandong in China, you can look over, I think, the Tumen river, you see like a Ferris wheel and colorful houses, but it's very clear when you use zoom lenses on cameras that they're rusted and they haven't been used in ever.
[00:06:20] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, they have this other village in DMZ too. It's a shelf village like ghost village where nobody's inside. That life never come off.
[00:06:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, Panmunjom.
[00:06:29] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, Panmunjom, I mean, there is a village too. So North Korea does really good in showing, I mean, pretending and manipulating the narrative.
[00:06:36] Jordan Harbinger: Pyongyang is also like that. The stores, they put all the products in the front window, but then if you notice after a while, it's always the same product and it's always one in each row.
[00:06:47] Yeonmi Park: Wow.
[00:06:48] Jordan Harbinger: After you see like 50 stores with one bottle of Soju, it's always the same. You kind of figured out that nobody's actually buying anything.
[00:06:56] Yeonmi Park: Nobody can afford buying in the stores in general, but even in Pyongyang, so this is funny, when there's a bus of like foreign tourists passing by then they let that town know two hours before. So they turn the light, the electricity and then they give them a call. When they pass, they're like, okay, turned on the electricity.
[00:07:13] Jordan Harbinger: That's wild.
[00:07:14] Yeonmi Park: I know, and then actually before you guys come. I was in Pyongyang sometime and with my father, they call it self-reliant. So they ask us to buy the paints and go paint the roads and maintain everything for free for the regime.
[00:07:28] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:07:29] Yeonmi Park: That's the thing how you see, yeah.
[00:07:30] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:07:31] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. So all the paints, everything you see, it's like people do with their own money.
[00:07:35] Jordan Harbinger: That's the Juche philosophy, right?
[00:07:39] Yeonmi Park: Self-reliance.
[00:07:40] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Like, we don't need anyone's help. We can do it all on our own, except we can't.
[00:07:44] Yeonmi Park: But like that's a slavery. At this time North Korea just had a military parade. In order to be participant in the parade, they demand participation, as order. That you have to practice more than nine to six months of a year without getting paid. They don't feed you and you even pay for your own uniform and shoes and everything. It's like beyond the exploitation.
[00:08:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right. Especially because it's not like you're busy trying to literally find food. As you mentioned in your book, you're finding bark and cooking insects to survive. And they're like, "By the way, focus on really good in this marching band or whatever." And you're like, "Are you kidding me right now?"
[00:08:21] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. But it is not in our thoughts we can say no to it.
[00:08:25] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:08:25] Yeonmi Park: And that's how they became like almighty god.
[00:08:28] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny. You should mention the regime leaders being God. On one of the trips, one of the women that I was with, she brought her baby. They were from like Denmark or something. It was a toddler, probably three years old. And he pointed to a big picture. Of course, there's these huge photos or paintings of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il on buildings. And he said, "Mommy, is that God?" Because the propaganda works at such a deep level that even this toddler was like, "Oh, that person must be really important because he's everywhere it must be God."
[00:08:58] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:08:58] Jordan Harbinger: The mother was like, "No, but also don't say anything," because this is like tread lightly.
[00:09:05] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. I mean in North Korea, we don't have advertisement. All we got is the monuments and statues of Kims. So we don't have the billboard saying, "Look at this show, look at this." None of that. I never even knew the word advertisement. When I got out, that's when I knew what advertisement was. In North Korea, they don't do that.
[00:09:25] Jordan Harbinger: What do you think of the commercialism in the west, in the United States where we have ads on — like this podcast has ads. There's ads on the bus that you ride. There's ads on the outside of the bus. There's ads that pop up when you're using an app. It's a bit much, right?
[00:09:39] Yeonmi Park: Well, I'd rather live in a country that there's ads.
[00:09:42] Jordan Harbinger: Ads and freedom and food versus no ads and freedom.
[00:09:44] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:09:45] Jordan Harbinger: Okay, fine.
[00:09:45] Yeonmi Park: Yes.
[00:09:45] Jordan Harbinger: That is obvious. I just wonder if it's jarring coming from a place where you'd never seen an advertisement to being bombarded with it constantly.
[00:09:53] Yeonmi Park: No, I mean, everything has a cost. There's a trade-off and nothing is free. The problem now, in the west too now, people think things are free, but nothing is free. And like when you go on Spotify or podcasts or YouTube, you watch free videos. Why do you watch it with someone pays the work for it? So seeing ads is like, of course, you have to watch it. But I think once you understand that, you're just going to stop complaining.
[00:10:17] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:10:17] Yeonmi Park: And I think once I understood it, it's like, okay, it makes sense, right? And I think in North Korea, the biggest problem is that everything seems like everything is free, free healthcare, free education, and it turns out nothing is free.
[00:10:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's certainly the case. I saw a hospital when I was there just on tour and it was grim. It was gross and that was the hospital they were willing to show us. Imagine what the hospital that everyone goes to.
[00:10:43] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:10:43] Jordan Harbinger: It looks like there were no patients there. So you knew that was like for show only, equipment from the '80s, stains on things, no bustle — you know, in a hospital here it's busy. There, it was like, they just opened it. So we could look in there and there was probably nobody even working in there.
[00:10:57] Yeonmi Park: I mean, the country where even Hyesan and one of the major cities. In the hospital, they ask us to bring us our own needles if you cannot afford a needle, right? We are very poor. They use one needle to inject everybody.
[00:11:10] Jordan Harbinger: Oh gosh.
[00:11:11] Yeonmi Park: And we don't have actually drops. They use a beer bottle from the trash and they use it as a drop.
[00:11:18] Jordan Harbinger: As like an IV.
[00:11:19] Yeonmi Park: IV, yeah.
[00:11:19] Jordan Harbinger: So you're getting an IV—
[00:11:20] Yeonmi Park: From the beer—
[00:11:21] Jordan Harbinger: —from an empty beer bottle.
[00:11:22] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. And there's people who don't have beds. We don't have sanitary pads or any of that. So you just rip up your clothes or anything you can find and make sure that you don't bleed. And that's how our free health care looks like.
[00:11:37] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:11:38] Yeonmi Park: And in the operations in North Korea, they don't give you anesthesia. I removed my appendix without anesthesia. And in North Korea, it's very common to have a surgery without painkiller.
[00:11:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:11:49] Yeonmi Park: So this is like what free health care does to you.
[00:11:53] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. So you've had a child here in the United States. Was the appendix surgery more painful than giving birth?
[00:11:59] Yeonmi Park: Of course.
[00:11:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah,
[00:12:00] Yeonmi Park: I mean, like—
[00:12:00] Jordan Harbinger: It has to be, right?
[00:12:01] Yeonmi Park: Right. There was no — I think they gave me some painkiller because my mom bribed them, but it was a very weak one. It was not real one like anesthesia for surgery.
[00:12:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. You got like a headache medicine.
[00:12:12] Yeonmi Park: Something like that.
[00:12:14] Jordan Harbinger: That's horrible.
[00:12:15] Yeonmi Park: I mean now I'm thinking about it. It is kind of funny in 21st century you go something like that, right?
[00:12:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It must be really tough though.
[00:12:24] Yeonmi Park: I mean, if the pain is too much, you lose your conscious and then you come back, lose it and come back. But like in North Korea, that's why they use crystal meth and opium as a cold medicine.
[00:12:38] Jordan Harbinger: As a cold medicine? Does it work?
[00:12:40] Yeonmi Park: It does.
[00:12:40] Jordan Harbinger: Have you tried it?
[00:12:42] Yeonmi Park: I haven't.
[00:12:42] Jordan Harbinger: Oh okay.
[00:12:43] Yeonmi Park: But all my friends became drug addicts.
[00:12:45] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, really.
[00:12:46] Yeonmi Park: That's how the regime makes money. They sell missiles, nukes to Syria, Iran, other countries. And they sell to their people and one of them is selling those drugs. Crystal meth and opium.
[00:12:58] Jordan Harbinger: Have you seen The Mole?
[00:13:00] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:13:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So he was on the show as well — Ulrich. He is really like a crazy brave guy.
[00:13:07] Yeonmi Park: So brave.
[00:13:08] Jordan Harbinger: For people who haven't seen that, I'll list the episode in the show notes. But this guy went undercover talking with North Korean arms dealers in China and other countries about selling drugs, missiles, and things like that to countries like Syria, Iran—
[00:13:22] Yeonmi Park: Or the Middle Eastern countries, they buy missiles from North Korea.
[00:13:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's how they generate hard currency for the regime. So a lot of people probably don't really understand why there's no food, right? It's like you have some farmland. How can there be no food? What about food aid? Why was there a famine? It's complicated, but can you take us through why that might be the case? Because it wasn't always the case there that there was no food, right?
[00:13:44] Yeonmi Park: So 60, 70, there are some people dying from starvation, but not in like millions. The millions of deaths began in the '90s from starvation. That's when I was born, after Soviet Union collapsed. So in North Korea, nature is a collective, collectivism, right? You do not own anything. There's no private property. It's socialist country, socialist paradise. So anybody can not own anything. Therefore, entire, even land is owned by the regime. So when you farm in a collective farm, after the harvest, the regime takes the entire crop away from you. And they supposedly give you the public ration.
[00:14:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:21] Yeonmi Park: But they don't give you. So you worked on the farm the entire year, right? I mean, that's like we call job replacement and then take the harvest away. Then regime doesn't give you food. And they will tell you, be self-reliant. Finding your own ways to survive. But if you trade, it's illegal, so they send you to prison and kill you.
[00:14:41] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:14:41] Yeonmi Park: And then, why do they not feed you? It's because Kim Jong-un is sad during the famine. It is easy to do socialism when there are less people.
[00:14:49] Jordan Harbinger: So he was thinking, "Let's just kill a bunch of people and then socialism will work better."
[00:14:53] Yeonmi Park: Also, people when they're starving, you are not going to think about the meaning of life or like freedom. If you are starving right now, like in North Korea, how daily life goes, that if you eat breakfast, you worry about lunch. If you make it to dinner, you think, "Okay, maybe one more day here. How am I going to survive tomorrow?" Every constant second you're thinking about your survival and finding food. So people are so occupied. And that's why it's better for the regime to have a population that is constantly starving. Like Hunger Games.
[00:15:23] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:15:24] Yeonmi Park: Exactly Hunger Games.
[00:15:25] Jordan Harbinger: Exactly. It's keeping people on the back foot, kind of. One of the times that I was there, there were no students anywhere. And then when we went on a bus trip to Wonsan or wherever we were going, you could see the fields were full of people. Whereas the last time I was there, there were no people. And our guide, sort of told us in confidence, that all of the people in the fields were the college students, because they have to leave school and go harvest.
[00:15:49] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. It's like mobilization.
[00:15:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, mobilization.
[00:15:52] Yeonmi Park: Even seven-year-olds have to work.
[00:15:54] Jordan Harbinger: Seven-year-olds.
[00:15:55] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, we don't have the world for minors. We have a word for revolutionary. Everybody is a revolutionary. Even when your kids are five years old, you need to work on the farm and the railways. So even in elementary school, pre-K, middle school, high school, college, or adult, every single one of us has to do the forced labor every single day. That's why entire country is labor camp.
[00:16:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:16:21] Yeonmi Park: The entire country is a camp. So we have to go several months in the harvest season and there are also where we plant the seeds in the summer. And then in the winter, we have to go hunting the poop because they don't have the fertilizers.
[00:16:35] Jordan Harbinger: People want to know what the poop hunting is, right? I've heard you talk about this. But people are like, "She didn't just say hunting poop, right?"
[00:16:40] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:16:41] Jordan Harbinger: Tell us about hunting poop.
[00:16:42] Yeonmi Park: I know like in North Korea, literally nothing to throw away, including your poop and pee. So governments give us this quota. They are so poor they cannot even afford the fertilizer. The country makes a long missile test, ICBM, they cannot make the fertilizer. So they ask people make — give them quota. Like in your family, if you have four people in the family, bring one ton of poop in January.
[00:17:08] Jordan Harbinger: How is that possible? I mean, does a family of four make one ton of poop each year?
[00:17:12] Yeonmi Park: No and you don't even put one a month if you are starved there. You don't poop at all there, right?
[00:17:18] Jordan Harbinger: So weird. What are they expecting?
[00:17:20] Yeonmi Park: That's why we have to go steal poop and hunt for poop. There are poop thieves and in the black market, they sell poop. So rich people, the government officials, they have money, they go black market and buy the poop and then give their quota. Otherwise, they're going to get punished.
[00:17:38] Jordan Harbinger: That is so — like letting that sink in is so frigging bizarre, right? Like the idea that you have to collect something that most of us would never want to touch and you're stealing it from other people.
[00:17:50] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:17:50] Jordan Harbinger: That is a perfect, sort of analogy for the economic state of North Korea.
[00:17:55] Yeonmi Park: It's like complete hell. Like if there's hell, that's what it will look like.
[00:18:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:18:00] Yeonmi Park: Imagine 21st century human beings are looking or like finding poop, hunting in entire day. And if you don't meet your quota, you get punished. Imagine that. When that is the contemporary world that we are living in. That's why the UN says it's a Holocaust. It's a modern day Holocaust.
[00:18:16] Jordan Harbinger: The UN doesn't seem like they're doing a whole hell of a lot to help North Korea. I remember you saying that you gave a talk or were giving a talk and they sat you next to the North Korean delegation, which is horrific to even think about.
[00:18:28] Yeonmi Park: But they thought geographically we are close.
[00:18:32] Jordan Harbinger: Unbelievable. So did the delegations say anything to you?
[00:18:34] Yeonmi Park: Of course. There's five something guys, their delegation, or maybe three guys. In North Korea, everybody had to spy at each other. So it's got a minimum of three people, because if I'm spying on you, so you are spying on that person, that person have to be spying on me. So it's got to be that way. I'm a spy and I'm spying on somebody. So they always send three people, not two people, because if it's two it is to like come spy and there's one or something so three people always. And that's why in the delegation, there's three to five people next to me and they were swearing at me in North Korea. They do know I understand North Koreans.
[00:19:10] Jordan Harbinger: That's unbelievably callous and unthinking of them too. I assume you're not super big on the United Nation's bailing out the people of North Korea.
[00:19:19] Yeonmi Park: No, of course. Queen Elizabeth in the Britain, they congratulated the North Korean regime to finding their party like on September 9th, this week, then they had their military parade, the Queen says congratulations. Imagine if there's a dictator alive or that Hitler is alive, right now, these people or the leader of this free world is sending their congratulation.
[00:19:42] Jordan Harbinger: That's crazy. How have we not isolated this whole thing? The Sunshine Policy is just not proven effective, right? Treating them with kid gloves has never worked. So when you're a kid and you're still in North Korea, you're collecting bugs and roasting them with lighters and things like that to feed yourself, to eat dragonflies and grasshoppers out of desperation. That's sort of like the picture of this. I assume you have to turn your heart off when you're there to hear the plight of people around you.
[00:20:07] Yeonmi Park: I mean when you are born, seeing its suffering in front of your eyes. So you don't even think that's unusual. So that's like exactly the George Orwell's Animal Farm. In the first generation, they know. They lived before the revolution. They knew the time that was different, but when you come to the third ones, the new animals, they have no idea what the alternative life would look like. That's why, like, if you don't know, you're a slave, how do you fight to be free? North Korean people now, who's living there, have no clue. I mean, I've never even seen the map of the world.
[00:20:41] Jordan Harbinger: When you were there, you never saw a map of the world.
[00:20:42] Yeonmi Park: I never even knew that I was Asian. They told me that I was Kim Il-sung's race.
[00:20:46] Jordan Harbinger: You know now, I assume.
[00:20:47] Yeonmi Park: Now, I do. They told me that I was Kim Il-sung's race or some race. And the North Korean calendar begins when Kim Il-sung was born. I don't even know who Jesus Christ is.
[00:20:56] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:20:57] Yeonmi Park: So you are completely, completely isolated. And that's why I just never even knew that seeing the other bodies on the streets and people starving was something unusual. I thought that was a normal thing.
[00:21:09] Jordan Harbinger: The amount of privation and desperation that you grow up seeing, does it make you question whether it's possible to bring a country like that out of — I mean, let's say magically tomorrow, everything is reunited south and north are reunited. It's going to take generations for people to start thinking differently. Or do you think that they'll adapt just quickly, like you did?
[00:21:32] Yeonmi Park: To hear it is the hardest and it'll take many, many generations. I think even their children, going to carry that trauma, but adjusting to modalities very quick. I mean, look at how even people — I came here, I came here when there's smartphone, but people say when they grow up, they did not have a smartphone. And now look at how everybody we're adjusted. That's why I think humans are very adaptable, but I think the trauma, it takes a time to heal. But not though, like, you know, adjusting to electricity, of course, North Korean people would love to have some shower. They'd love to have some TV. Don't you think so?
[00:22:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I've seen TV in North Korea and it's not that interesting. It's two channels.
[00:22:10] Yeonmi Park: In the countryside, there's one. Outside the countryside, one channel begins at like 5:00 p.m. And ends at like something like after 11 but we don't even have electricity anyway.
[00:22:20] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:22:20] Yeonmi Park: So what's the point, yeah.
[00:22:24] Jordan Harbinger: So if people don't know what the map of the world looks like or where their countries are or anything like that, then it seems difficult to believe that they would also know of their own situation, right? You said they don't know that they're enslaved.
[00:22:38] Yeonmi Park: No, they're isolated. They don't know they are oppressed. We don't even have the word for oppression. That's the thing. We don't have a word for stress because how can you be stressed in the socialist paradise. As George Orwell's Newspeak, right? Who controls the language, controls the thoughts. So the regime got rid of the words, like human rights.
[00:22:56] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:22:57] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. Gay, they don't have the word for gay.
[00:22:59] Jordan Harbinger: When did you find out what gay people were like? I mean, I assume that in North Korea.
[00:23:04] Yeonmi Park: Oh, when I came to America.
[00:23:06] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[00:23:06] Yeonmi Park: I remember somebody came and they hugged me and they're like, "Don't worry, baby. I'm gay."
[00:23:11] Jordan Harbinger: That's what he said.
[00:23:12] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, what the heck is gay? I went home and I looked it up. I was like, what?
[00:23:17] Jordan Harbinger: Like, he's really happy. I don't understand. That's funny.
[00:23:19] Yeonmi Park: But they don't have word for love in North Korea because they don't want us to love other people other than the Dear Leader. So the only love the North Koreans know is written form word for the Dear Leader, Kims. And we don't have a word for like individual liberty. I mean, all those concepts that we take for granted, they don't know.
[00:23:39] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:23:39] Yeonmi Park: So it's so funny in America and people talking about how they are oppressed and I'm like, you know, if you're actually oppressed, you don't know you're oppressed.
[00:23:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right, that's plausible.
[00:23:48] Yeonmi Park: North Koreans have no clue they're oppressed.
[00:23:50] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Yeonmi Park. We'll be right back.
[00:23:57] This episode is sponsored in part by Marshall headphones and speakers. Nothing has been compromised when expanding the Marshalls amp heritage of big stage performance to the individual enjoyment of music with Marshall's line of headphones and speakers. I like this mini Emberton that they've got. It's a Bluetooth speaker. It's compact, it's loud and vibrant. And it's really that sort of signature Marshall sound that rocky sound, no chords. And the Emerton has Marshall's iconic vintage look. It really does look like a vintage Marshall amp. It's durable, it's heavy. And I like that field. The heaviness of quality. That kind of feel. 20-plus hours of playtime. It's water resistance so you can splash around with it or bring it to the beach or spill drinks on it when you're playing poker. The black Emberton with the brass lettering, it has that bold finish. That really does look like that OG Marshall amp with a heritage and makes quite the statement. Get your own portable speaker today at marshallheadphones.com. Use code JORDAN15 for 15 percent off any portable speaker at marshallheadphones.com. Again, it's marshallheadphones.com.
[00:25:00] This episode is also sponsored by Better Help online therapy. The best way to think about therapy is through a bunch of probably mediocre analogies here. We renovate our house for various reasons like minor maintenance to prevent future disrepair. You might need to fix the aftermath of a disaster that flooded the basement. When you take down a wall, you might notice the plumbing needs to be replaced as well. Going to therapy, it's a bit like home renovation. Routine maintenance for your mental and emotional wellness to prevent bigger issues down the road. And therapy doesn't mean something is wrong with you although the statistically there probably is, myself included. It means you're investing in yourself to keep your mind healthy. And I can get behind that as well. Better Help is customized online therapy that offers video phone and even live chat sessions with your therapist. You don't have to see anyone on camera if you don't want to. And if you're like me, you just want to freaking keep the thing off. It's more affordable than in-person therapy. You can also start communicating with your therapist in under 48 hours. Why invest in everything else like Bitcoin, but not in your own sanity.
[00:25:56] Jen Harbinger: Our listeners get 10 percent off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan. That's B-E-T-T-E-R-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:26:05] Jordan Harbinger: Thanks so much for listening to and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps the lights on around here. We take all those discount codes and special URLs, and we put them all in one place. So you don't have to memorize them. You can check out all the sponsors for yourself at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support us. jordanharbinger.com/deals is where that is.
[00:26:26] And don't forget, we've got worksheets for many episodes. If you want some of the drills and exercises talked about during the show in one easy place, that link is in the show notes. jordanharbinger.com/podcast is where you can find it.
[00:26:37] Now back to Yeonmi Park.
[00:26:41] So if you don't have the concept of love, what about parents and children? I mean, that has to be, or is it different.
[00:26:48] Yeonmi Park: They care for you. But they never told me, my parents never told me they love me. There's no proposed. There's no word for romance.. Romantic relationships are not celebrated. It's a very shameful thing. The only reason you marry is because you want to glorify the revolution of the party and the Deal Leader, right? We don't know what Shakespeare is. There's no Romeo and Juliet. Every single movie is about propaganda. And therefore, we know the word, like no written form of love, but we don't think that was something we can use to another human.
[00:27:20] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. I've seen weddings there.
[00:27:22] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:27:22] Jordan Harbinger: And the people are really happy and also they drag us in their photos, which is really weird. Like I remember—
[00:27:27] Yeonmi Park: It was a set up. It was already set up. We don't have known events or those holiday things.
[00:27:32] Jordan Harbinger: We're like in North Korean wedding photos holding the bride and the groom. It's so weird.
[00:27:37] Yeonmi Park: Every tourist gets that photo so don't worry.
[00:27:40] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. I thought it was very strange and I thought like, "I hope this is like a real thing," but obviously, it doesn't make any sense that it would happen every single time that we go.
[00:27:48] Yeonmi Park: All of you go there and then get the wedding photos with the people at the monuments.
[00:27:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, right at the monuments or like a park.
[00:27:55] Yeah, at the park or public places.
[00:27:57] There's five weddings at the same time. And it just happens to be enough for all the groups that are here.
[00:28:02] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:28:04] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny that that's all stage.
[00:28:05] Yeonmi Park: But it is true though, when you get married, first thing, you have to go to monuments to the Kims and then pay their respects. Because you marry not because you love each other, you marry because you want to serve the party.
[00:28:16] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:28:17] Yeonmi Park: Serve the revolution. You do, you have to go to monuments for sure.
[00:28:20] Jordan Harbinger: When did you first experience what you now know as love?
[00:28:25] Yeonmi Park: I mean, really later when I came to America, a while later. But I did not know what love was. I don't know even if I know what it is, but the romantic love is like, definitely in America. I did not know what that was until coming to the west.
[00:28:39] Jordan Harbinger: You have a child now. Obviously, that's special. I also have a half Asian baby, very cute. The best mix in my opinion.
[00:28:46] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. I agree too but very bias.
[00:28:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, it's a slight bias.
[00:28:49] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:28:51] Jordan Harbinger: I wondered about that because I thought, you know, maybe it's hard to adapt to romance or concepts of romance if it's literally foreign to you. I mean, people grow up in America thinking about it when they're in elementary school and we see it in movies and you read about it. I can't imagine learning about it when you were 15 or 16 years old.
[00:29:09] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. I mean, people do, like, we don't say like, I love you, but they say, I like you, but that's sort of a South Korean word. So only teenagers who watch K-pop dramas, we say, I like you. So in North Korea, they don't even say I like you. So usually because it has been arranged marriage, the party arranges your marriage, parents arrange your marriage, your grandparents arrange your marriage. It was never voluntary, you can't fall in love. Because in North Korea they have 51 different classes.
[00:29:39] Jordan Harbinger: 51. Do you have to memorize those in school?
[00:29:42] Yeonmi Park: Those are the big three classes. They are like the loyal, middle is wavering, the last is hostile, three big categories.
[00:29:50] Jordan Harbinger: Loyal, wavering, and hostile.
[00:29:52] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. And then they divide us, subdividing them. And that is only government information.
[00:29:57] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:29:57] Yeonmi Park: So when you try to go to university, when you try to join a party, the government has that information. They track you, what happened to great, great great-grandfather. They track every line of your family, your cousins of cousins, your in-laws of in-law. Who did you marry? Your cousin who's— if somebody gets in trouble, if he's elite, even three to eight generations get punished.
[00:30:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. We'll talk about that in a second because that is. That's mind blowing. It's like this medieval aristocracy rules where it's like, people you don't even know you're related to could do something and then you get punished for it, along with everybody else in your family. You mentioned that there was an official that defected and they punished like thousands of people.
[00:30:38] Yeonmi Park: Over 30,000, 35,000 people got punished because of one guy. And most of them, they did not know even they were related to this guy. It's called guilt by association. It's like you're white in America, now in America, you're supposed to be guilty because you're white. Because somehow some white people own the slaves in the back end. It's guilty by association.
[00:30:58] Jordan Harbinger: It's interesting. Yeah. My family came here after that. So whenever—
[00:31:01] Yeonmi Park: But you're white—
[00:31:02] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:31:02] Yeonmi Park: You're guilty.
[00:31:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I suppose. That's interesting.
[00:31:06] Yeonmi Park: It's exactly the same concept.
[00:31:08] Jordan Harbinger: Eight generations is wild, right? Because maybe, you know, your grandfather or even your great-grandfather and that's three, but then it's going to be your kids and then their kids. And then maybe even more.
[00:31:18] Yeonmi Park: But then that's not only eight, even among the three generations, they're your in-laws. If you're married, the in-laws of their children, their fathers, their children go, so even the in-laws, not the bloodline, get affected. If you're married, then you get affected.
[00:31:34] Jordan Harbinger: So the whole point is just to keep people in fear, right? It's like multi-level marketing, but it's like, well, maybe not quite, but it's like the multi-level marketing of punishment.
[00:31:44] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. And they also get rid of the seed of rebellion. That's the thing.
[00:31:51] Jordan Harbinger: Right, rip off at the root.
[00:31:51] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, they get out of the root. So if somebody challenges the party ideology, they don't just go after killing you or your son, your grandma. They really go after Asian generation, like get rid of entire clan. And that's how they prevent the revolution. It's called zero tolerance.
[00:32:09] Jordan Harbinger: Zero tolerance.
[00:32:10] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:32:10] Jordan Harbinger: So what this means is then if you're sent to a work camp because of a relative, your kids could even be born in there or your grandkids, people are born in these concentration camps and they die there.
[00:32:20] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:32:20] Jordan Harbinger: I think they're called total control zone or something, right?
[00:32:23] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:32:23] Jordan Harbinger: This is like Shin Dong-hyuk, he wrote that book.
[00:32:26] Yeonmi Park: Or Camp Chungsan, they've been there, one of the crimes when you are there, the first crime you get killed is the asking, why am I here?
[00:32:33] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:32:34] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:32:34] Jordan Harbinger: So you just don't even know why they are there.
[00:32:36] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:32:36] Jordan Harbinger: And you'll never know.
[00:32:36] Yeonmi Park: Never know. They don't even tell you why you're there. That's how you get killed.
[00:32:40] Jordan Harbinger: I don't even understand the logic behind this, but of course the whole thing just comes down to fear and control. So it doesn't—
[00:32:44] Yeonmi Park: No, it's all about because they can. They can say, "Because I can." Like, that's what the authoritarians, because they can, they do whatever they want. It's not about being white, doing the right thing or the right regulation because they can. Simply tell them, you end up in a concentration camp and then don't ask us why.
[00:33:02] Jordan Harbinger: The book about the concentration camp, I think, it's called Escape from Camp 14. So we'll link that in the show notes. Growing up your mom told you, "Your tongue is the most dangerous weapon, even the birds and mice can hear it." Did I get that right?
[00:33:12] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:33:13] Jordan Harbinger: So this is kind of what you're talking about. You can't say anything to anyone. Everyone is spying on each other, and the punishment is so catastrophic that it's not worth letting anything slip ever.
[00:33:25] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. That's the thing, the birds and mice can hear your whisper. The most dangerous thing that I had in my body was my tongue. That's how they control your speech, but who controls, they control what you're thinking. The regime prevents it with the thought crime, even thinking—
[00:33:42] Jordan Harbinger: Thought crime.
[00:33:43] Yeonmi Park: Even thinking is a treason. So I was afraid to think. I didn't even know what thinking was when I escape to South Korea.
[00:33:51] Jordan Harbinger: You didn't know what thinking was because you thought the leaders could read your mind.
[00:33:54] Yeonmi Park: So we don't even know what critical thinking was. When I was at South Korea, I was taught about critical thinking, I came to know that we're starving and hungry and working so hard for, and that was the regime told us, right? They were working so hard. They don't eat, they don't sleep. And I was like telling the South Korean people and they were like, "What are you talking about? Like, he's the fattest guy in the picture." And I was like, "What do you mean he's the fattest?" I looked at the picture and he was.
[00:34:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:34:18] Yeonmi Park: And that's the thing I need someone to teach me that he was fat.
[00:34:21] Jordan Harbinger: Even though you've seen him with your own eyes.
[00:34:23] Yeonmi Park: All my life, every single day on TV, on the newspaper, he was a big, big guy. How can you be possibly starving? But again, it then registered to me that he was not starving.
[00:34:34] Jordan Harbinger: What's going on with him now? He lost a bunch of weight, Kim Jong-un. He's like—
[00:34:37] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:34:38] Jordan Harbinger: It's unusual because that's not really, I mean, he was very fat when I saw him on TV and I think 2015.
[00:34:46] Yeonmi Park: No, even last until earlier this year, he was over 330 pounds for a 5'7" guy, he was very big.
[00:34:53] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:34:53] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:34:54] Jordan Harbinger: So maybe he's sick. That's what they're saying.
[00:34:56] Yeonmi Park: No, I think he's really working out,
[00:34:58] Jordan Harbinger: Working out?
[00:34:59] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:34:59] Jordan Harbinger: So that he doesn't die too early.
[00:35:01] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:35:01] Jordan Harbinger: That's possible.
[00:35:02] Yeonmi Park: I think that's what's going on because he looks very energetic. It's not like he's ridden by sickness.
[00:35:08] Jordan Harbinger: It's interesting to see the changes in somebody like that. His first speech in public in North Korea was on television and I happened to be there at that time and he was shaking like this.
[00:35:20] Yeonmi Park: He was a child.
[00:35:22] Jordan Harbinger: He was, yeah, it was like 29 years old or something when he gave this speech or less.
[00:35:25] Yeonmi Park: Less 27 or something, yeah.
[00:35:27] Jordan Harbinger: And the guides we were with were like, "Oh, he's so charismatic." And I thought, "No, this is like a C-minus if you're in a class in high school giving a speech." This is legit, terrible. Shaking and staring at the paper, never looking up. I'm like you have to redo that speech if you do that sh*t in high school. And here he is in front of 25 million people on TV.
[00:35:45] Yeonmi Park: Who was supposed to be a god.
[00:35:47] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, some god you are, man. You don't memorize these bullet points here. Like no TED Talk for you, Kim Jong-un. When you live there, the calendar's different, the numbers are different. The years start — you sort of touched on this earlier, the year starts with the birth of the first leader.
[00:36:03] Yeonmi Park: Juche year, we call it.
[00:36:04] Jordan Harbinger: Juche year.
[00:36:05] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:36:06] Jordan Harbinger: The idea that you didn't know, you were Asian though. That's new, right? I guess, did you just think everyone in the world was the same except for Americans who—?
[00:36:13] Yeonmi Park: They didn't tell me what the word was? I didn't even know they were different planets. I didn't even know the word called space.
[00:36:21] Jordan Harbinger: Even though there's a rocket launch, well, I guess after you'd left, they'd launch rockets into space.
[00:36:27] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, but after I left. But I was also in the countryside. I don't see the news on TV.
[00:36:31] Jordan Harbinger: Right, sure.
[00:36:32] Yeonmi Park: Even only the news, the newspaper, one newspaper that people can read is only the officials can read.
[00:36:38] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:36:38] Yeonmi Park: So commoners, we don't even have a newspaper. It's not like everybody can go write in New York Times in the morning, if you have money.
[00:36:45] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:36:45] Yeonmi Park: It's the only approved the people gets the government newspaper and buy it. And in the people in Pyongyang, because only the top people, there's a subway stations, there's a newspaper rack.
[00:36:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I've seen that.
[00:36:57] Yeonmi Park: But people in Pyongyang, they're elites so they can, but not us. We're not elites. We are in the countries. So we don't even get to see though, even if the rocket thing, we don't get to read the newspaper. So how do I know what the space is?
[00:37:10] Jordan Harbinger: Right, right. Yeah. I remember asking a friend of mine in North Korea, one of the guides who I've seen a few times, and I said, "Where would you go if you could go anywhere in the whole world?" and I think she said like Mt. Paektu or something like that. That's the only right answer to that question, right?
[00:37:24] Yeonmi Park: Or Pyongyang, our capital.
[00:37:25] Jordan Harbinger: That's where she lived or worked already. I was like, "No, what about like Africa or something?" And she's just doing, "Africa?" And then her mind drifted off. And she was like staring into space for minutes at a time. And she was really happy because I think she had never actually even thought about that. Like never occurred to her ever. And then quietly at dinner, she told me Canada, so she could work on her English, which I thought was interesting.
[00:37:49] Yeonmi Park: But not America because this is a sworn enemy.
[00:37:51] Jordan Harbinger: No. Why would you come to the worst place in the world? Right, America.
[00:37:55] Yeonmi Park: That's funny.
[00:37:56] Jordan Harbinger: There's signs in China. I assume you saw when you went to China, there are signs that say, "Don't let North Koreans into your home. Don't give them any food."
[00:38:02] Yeonmi Park: If you see them, report on them. We're going to give you money.
[00:38:07] Jordan Harbinger: So there's like refugee hunters in China
[00:38:09] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, slave hunters. Like it's like they give you 5,000 Wan, Chinese Wan, but for these farmers, that's what they make entire year. So that's how they incentivize the people to report the North Koreans. That's how these people make money too.
[00:38:25] Jordan Harbinger: For a lot of people, it's just a mystery why China would send North Koreans back from China back to North Korea, right?
[00:38:32] Yeonmi Park: They could have easily sent them to South Korea because South Korea wants to accept them or America, Canada, Japan, Australia, all the Western European countries will accept North Korean refugees, but China doesn't want North Korean regime to crumble. They don't want someone like me to escape and speak out against them.
[00:38:48] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, you must be making a lot of friends in the communist party of China. I assume North Korea has — I mean, are you worried about ending up on the kill list?
[00:38:57] Yeonmi Park: I have been on the kill list.
[00:38:58] Jordan Harbinger: You know this already to be a fact?
[00:39:00] Yeonmi Park: Oh, there was Korean Intelligence, like casually calling me up.
[00:39:03] Jordan Harbinger: Casually?
[00:39:04] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, casual. Like, "Yeah, you're on the killing list. How about we have a conversation about this?
[00:39:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:39:10] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. It has been there for many years. And it was before Kim Jong-nam's assassination in Malaysia.
[00:39:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. So for people who don't know, Kim Jong-nam was the brother.
[00:39:18] Yeonmi Park: Half-brother.
[00:39:19] Jordan Harbinger: Half-brother of Kim Jong-un and these two women were tricked into spraying him in the face with what turned out to be VX nerve agent. He died at the airport in Malaysia.
[00:39:28] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:39:28] Jordan Harbinger: So when you saw that, that must've been like, "Okay, they're actually doing this.
[00:39:33] Yeonmi Park: It was a big middle finger to the world.
[00:39:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:39:35] Yeonmi Park: Because I mean, for dictators, when they murder people, there's zero accountability.
[00:39:40] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:39:40] Yeonmi Park: The world is not just. So he was like, "Who is he? See whatever I do. There's no—?" Look at Jamal Khashoggi. He got chopped off inside a consulate in Turkey. Nothing is happening to them. Nobody in America is standing up against Saudis.
[00:39:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yep, it's a shame. It's shameful.
[00:39:56] Yeonmi Park: That's a war. Like it's really, we think that good wins in this world or they don't. So Kim Jong-un wanted to show all of us, this is what happens.
[00:40:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Does that make you worry at all or change your behavior?
[00:40:08] Yeonmi Park: But that's the thing. So when your enemy is Kim Jong-un, it's a quite liberating experience. So if you are like fighting against some gang, maybe there's a room to run away. But there's a nation with a nuclear capability reaching America, even America can not handle them. Then if Kim Jong-un decides to kill me, then my life is up to him. Not up to me. There's no way I can escape from him on this earth.
[00:40:32] Jordan Harbinger: And that's liberating.
[00:40:33] Yeonmi Park: Oh yeah, unless I go to Mars with Elon Musk, right?
[00:40:38] Jordan Harbinger: Right, that's true.
[00:40:39] Yeonmi Park: Kim Jong-un will come after me no matter what, as long as I'm on this earth.
[00:40:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I guess you could go to Mars. You thought the internet was bad in North Korea. Try Mars.
[00:40:46] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:40:49] Jordan Harbinger: Actually, he probably makes sure that you have the internet before you go there. I just think that is a good way to look at it. It's the only way to look at it. Otherwise, what are you going to do? Grow up and be fearful of this.
[00:40:58] Yeonmi Park: Nothing because your enemy is so much bigger than you.
[00:41:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:41:01] Yeonmi Park: So it's in a way like, when, I guess, will he decide that I get killed or I will just make sure that I speak what I want to believe in. And that's all I can do.
[00:41:09] Jordan Harbinger: Ironically though, you know, I've seen your Instagram, you go to Italy, you go to Australia or you go to Canada, you go all over the United States. That guy can't go anywhere. He can't leave North Korea.
[00:41:18] Yeonmi Park: That's true.
[00:41:19] Jordan Harbinger: He's in prison. And you've been in — you live there. There's not a whole lot going on over there. That guy, the best thing he has to look forward to is our parties and maybe playing some Xbox like he can't even go to McDonald's if he wants to.
[00:41:32] Yeonmi Park: That's true. But he can kidnap a sushi chef from Japan and make sushi for him.
[00:41:36] Jordan Harbinger: Right, that's awful.
[00:41:37] Yeonmi Park: He just kidnaps people if he wants.
[00:41:39] Jordan Harbinger: The dude can't even get Chipotle. So who's really got it rough, right? I mean, this is —
[00:41:44] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:41:44] Jordan Harbinger: He may try to intimidate you or come after you, but you're right. I mean, so then what? You can't worry about that your whole life.
[00:41:51] Yeonmi Park: No.
[00:41:51] Jordan Harbinger: That's true.
[00:41:51] Yeonmi Park: It's perspective.
[00:41:52] Jordan Harbinger: It is perspective, yeah. So I heard that you don't have any concept of like pornography in North Korea, none of that.
[00:42:02] Yeonmi Park: Or even sex. I didn't even know the word of sex.
[00:42:05] Jordan Harbinger: Because of society.
[00:42:07] Yeonmi Park: And there's no word for rape either. Because on news, everything is happy news. Did you look at the news when you're in North Korea?
[00:42:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, but I don't understand anything.
[00:42:15] Yeonmi Park: Everything is like you're reading a victory. Everything is amazing.
[00:42:20] Jordan Harbinger: It's like wartime propaganda.
[00:42:21] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. The only thing the bad is like our enemies, Americans, but we are destroying them.
[00:42:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:42:27] Yeonmi Park: We are going to win this war, right? So never like someone dies from car accident. There's a fire. Somebody got raped. Somebody got murdered. Like none of us news. So you are so seared from the word — that I did not know what human trafficking was. I didn't know what sexual assault was or rape was. So when I was seeing my mom being raped in China, I did not know even that was a sex or rape. I just thought, oh my God, that was so horrible. That's all I knew.
[00:42:56] Jordan Harbinger: So we'll get to your trafficking story in brief because you've told it in a lot of places. It's in the book, which I recommend, I wanted to have a little bit of a different kind of conversation on this show, just because I feel like you've told your story so well in so many places that it'd be a shame if we just re-did that.
[00:43:11] But of course, I do want to talk about your journey. First though, the propaganda runs so deep in North Korea that I think a lot of people — you really do have to go there to understand it. Not that I recommend going in there and you shouldn't, especially now. But when I was in the countryside once, there was this loudspeaker blasting something, and I said to our guide, that sounds like an emergency. And he said, "No, it's just the news." And then the next day it was the same thing. And the next day is the same. There's always this feeling of like we're being surrounded by the enemy. We have to work really hard when you translate the, quote-unquote, news, it's just fear porn constantly.
[00:43:48] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, everything is a battle. Let's finish our 30 like hundred, I mean, three years of batter or 100 days of the harvest battle. Or some like the spring battle, everything is a battle. Everything is about like fighting and winning.
[00:44:05] Jordan Harbinger: I've heard that even when you're learning something like math, there's propaganda.
[00:44:09] Yeonmi Park: Right.
[00:44:10] Jordan Harbinger: The example I think I saw once was if there are four American bastards and you killed two American bastards, how many American bastards are left? Is that real?
[00:44:17] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. Even the physics, even the chemistry, everything they teach is propaganda. So they use every medium they can. Every song is a propaganda in North Korea, right? Like no songs that were dedicated about country music. There's no genre in North Korea. I never knew the genre of the music.
[00:44:37] Jordan Harbinger: You never knew what?
[00:44:39] Yeonmi Park: The different types of music.
[00:44:40] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, genre.
[00:44:41] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, genres. So when I'm in South Korea, they're like, "What types of music do you like?" I was like. "What do you mean there are different types of music, right?" It's like, "Oh, classical, jazz, hip-pop, pop, indie." I was like, "What are those?"
[00:44:53] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:44:54] Yeonmi Park: Because in North Korea there's just one type.
[00:44:55] Jordan Harbinger: Right, there's the war time, sort of revolutionary stuff. Aren't there old songs though? Like, Arirang or is that also—?
[00:45:02] Yeonmi Park: The Arirang is the only song from the old times that we know of, but that is also bad. Like how you're suffering under previous Kim Il-sung when we are suffering because we didn't have Kim. So that's why they were letting us know that song. Because it's about someone going and missing and a lot of suffering. So they are trying to brainwash us that life was a dark age before Kim Il-sung got here and he liberated the whole universe. That he's a captain of our earth. That we are so grateful to be in this country. Therefore, we have nothing to envy in this world, right? There's nothing to envy is their song title.
[00:45:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Nothing to Envy is also the title of a book by Barbara Demick about North Korea.
[00:45:43] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:45:44] Jordan Harbinger: I assume you've read pretty much every book written by these folks.
[00:45:47] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:45:47] Jordan Harbinger: So it has to be very weird finding out things about your own country that you lived in, that you realize was just like, when you realized the whole thing was just a web of lies. Like Kim Jong-un is just an overweight, young, privileged, horrible guy. He has no magical powers. His father who was also just a horrible guy, also had no magical powers. And the guy before him was just a liar who spent most of the Korean war hiding in Russia. Like it's really got to just rock your whole world, right?
[00:46:14] Yeonmi Park: It is the thing. But then the evil always disguise with this thing about providing you the quality of outcomes, providing you with safety and prosperity and justice. So they disguise themselves as they were the revolutionaries, killing the oppressors, killing the capitalists. Now, I see how they were disguised. But back in North Korea, of course, I was so grateful that Kim Jong-un was defending us from our enemies, which was like American bastards.
[00:46:47] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Yeonmi Park. We'll be right back.
[00:46:51] This episode is sponsored in part by Boll & Branch. We often don't think too much about the everyday materials that we use that are worth giving extra attention to. Like the water you drink, the shoes you wear. Of course, the sheets you lay on every night. No one wants to roll around waiting for your kid to go to sleep. No one wants to cut corners on what's important and few things matter than a good night's rest. Boll & Branch's signature sheets feel so soft and light. You'll forget that you're not actually sleeping on a cloud — or not sleeping at all if you're me because you have a baby — and they're sustainably made. So you'll theoretically sleep even easier, knowing it's not made by tiny children's fingers in some sweatshop situation. We love our Boll & Branch's hundred percent organic cotton, white signature hemmed sheets. They get softer with every wash. And I know that because my kid pees on them all the time. We then put them on our guest bed when our friend stayed with us and he asked where we got them from and wanted to take them home. Boll & Branch arrives in a lux box with a ribbon ready for gifting. So keep that in mind as the holiday season approaches.
[00:47:43] Yeonmi Park: Experience the best sheets you've ever email@example.com. Get 15 percent off your first set of sheets when you use promo code JORDAN at checkout. That's Boll and Branch. B-O-L-L-and promo code JORDAN.
[00:47:56] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Glenfiddich. Glenfiddich #Richest25 — you know how companies love their hashtag. This campaign aims to challenge the definition of wealth and what it means to live a life of riches. And our culture has a lot of this stuff backwards. I've talked about this on the show with many guests, many of the guests in conversation field by Glenfiddich, in fact. Glenfiddich breaks down the single malt scotch whisky norm and helps redefine what it means to be rich. In fact, I actually wondered why a lot of whiskys have the word Glen in it, and it means valley of the deer. So now you have — it's Gaelic by the way. Now, you have even more useless knowledge that you can credit us for teaching you. Glenfiddich is the number one selling single malt scotch in the world, 130-plus years, independent family run business, and is one of the few single malt distilleries to remain entirely family owned and still produced in the same distillery, which William Grant and his children hand-built. That's tradition right there. Skillfully crafted, enjoy responsibly. Glenfiddich 2021 imported by William Grant and Sons Inc. New York, New York.
[00:48:51] This episode is also sponsored in part by European Wax Center. Yeah. You heard me, European Wax Center. We're going to wax something up in here. We all feel better with the confidence that comes from great grooming. Whatever your personal style, waxing gives you an endless amount of choices you can, I mean, you can wax pretty much anything. I've tried. European Wax Center will have you covered whether you want your back, shoulders, legs, nose, or brows uncovered, you can get groomed by the experts at European Wax Center. They also offer personalized consultations. So you can find the right wax that works for you. You know, you've got to get those spider legs on the nose. You got to get those hairs out of your ears or off your ears, depending on where they're located. The estheticians are meticulous and fast. When you first start the waxing routine, it can be a little intimidating, but the more you go, the more comfortable it. The pros at European Wax Center can help you start and stick to that routine. They're also committed to keeping you safe while they keep you smooth with enhanced hygiene measures for an added level of confidence and care.
[00:49:41] Jen Harbinger: Well-groomed is wax groomed. Ready to try it? European Wax Center is so confident you'll love your experience, your first wax is free. Book your free wax today at waxcenter.com.
[00:49:51] Jordan Harbinger: And now for the rest of part one with Yeonmi Park.
[00:49:56] I heard that suicide is illegal in North Korea. Is that also true? And the penalty is death, which wraps your mind around that, I guess.
[00:50:02] Yeonmi Park: It's so paradoxical, isn't it?
[00:50:04] Jordan Harbinger: It is.
[00:50:05] Yeonmi Park: Because they are, they want absolute obedience from you. They do not want you to have any control of your life whatsoever, even death. So it's the only regime allowed to kill you, but not yourself.
[00:50:15] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So you're basically property of the state.
[00:50:18] Yeonmi Park: You are owned by the state. So before you are born, you're adopted by the state. So the only thing, one thing that North Koreans are allowed to do by themselves, guess what it is?
[00:50:28] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, if you have to collect your own poop and you can't kill yourself, I don't know. Is there anything left?
[00:50:32] Yeonmi Park: Breathing.
[00:50:33] Jordan Harbinger: Breathing, okay, fair.
[00:50:34] Yeonmi Park: That's the only thing you can do on your own will. Nothing and not what you think, what you see, what you listen to, how even you move your body. How you dance, you get into trouble, go to prison. If you move your body in a more like maybe sexual way, now, you're in trouble. Even like how you move your body, how you look, what you think, what your haircut.
[00:50:56] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. The haircut it's kind of weird. The guides basically have like two or three choices of men's haircuts, right? That's it.
[00:51:03] Yeonmi Park: No more than two inch long.
[00:51:05] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:51:05] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. And women too. So everybody was laughing. Why does Kim Jong-un require this haircut? To be everybody, men to have his haircut. It was a joke. Because they want control. They don't want you to taste your own free will.
[00:51:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:51:19] Yeonmi Park: They don't want you to think for yourself. So government tells you what to do. What to listen to, what to watch, what kind of haircut to get, what to wear even, right? I mean, the regime tells you what to wear. So you never learn how to think for yourself. And that's why when I was in South Korea, someone told me, "So what's your favorite color?" I was like, "What the heck is that?
[00:51:38] Jordan Harbinger: You mean because you, you don't get to have a favorite of anything?
[00:51:41] Yeonmi Park: No, no, that's never done. They told me my favorite color was a revolutionary color red, right?
[00:51:47] Jordan Harbinger: And everyone in the whole country has the same answer.
[00:51:49] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:51:50] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:51:50] Yeonmi Park: What's your favorite food as a Korean? Kimchi, it's our national food. But in South Korea, they were like, "Somehow you have to think for yourself."
[00:52:00] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:52:00] Yeonmi Park: And that's why regime is control-freak. They make sure they control every aspect of your life.
[00:52:05] Jordan Harbinger: What is it like eating until you were full, after being hungry for your whole life? I mean, the first time you ate until you were full, probably in China, had to just be like a out of body experience, right?
[00:52:15] Yeonmi Park: It was really sad.
[00:52:16] Jordan Harbinger: Really?
[00:52:17] Yeonmi Park: It wasn't a very happy experience. Like, I mean, a lot of North Koreans, like what we want is like eating boiled egg.
[00:52:24] Jordan Harbinger: Boiled egg?
[00:52:24] Yeonmi Park: Because that's offensive to get more than we can have. So like I never ate until I'm full. So I thought like I would do at least eat the bucket of boiled eggs.
[00:52:34] Jordan Harbinger: Like the whole bucket, like 50 boiled eggs.
[00:52:36] Yeonmi Park: Or like a hundred I though I could eat.
[00:52:38] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:52:38] Yeonmi Park: But when you actually eat them, after five, it's very hard.
[00:52:42] Jordan Harbinger: After five? Yeah.
[00:52:44] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, I was like 13 years old. I was like, I'm not like 80 pounds. I was like 60, 57 pounds. I was a lot smaller, we just escaped. So my stomach was so shrunk too.
[00:52:54] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:52:54] Yeonmi Park: And my stomach was not used to processing the fat food, and like a lot of oil in it or protein in it. So I got so nauseous and throwing up a lot.
[00:53:05] Jordan Harbinger: Sure, okay, that makes sense.
[00:53:06] Yeonmi Park: My stomach was not adjusted to the food that Chinese was eating. And mine was like, always like, no ingredients, just pure plants.
[00:53:14] Jordan Harbinger: So a little anticlimactic to eat until you're full. And then, be like, "Ah, actually I wish I hadn't done that."
[00:53:19] Yeonmi Park: In the movies, you'd be like, that's amazing, awesome. But actually if you starve all your life, you can not really digest the food in a while. It took many years for me to eat the food like here.
[00:53:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:53:30] Yeonmi Park: That has so much different calories and fat and everything in it.
[00:53:34] Jordan Harbinger: Do you love eating now?
[00:53:35] Yeonmi Park: Of course, I do. I live for eating.
[00:53:37] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, anytime — look, my wife is also like a very small Asian woman.
[00:53:41] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:53:42] Jordan Harbinger: You all have like a hollow leg or something. Like an 80, 90 pound Asian woman can eat is like mind blowing. It's like it's coming out of her ears or something. I just don't know. It was so funny just to see, like, we'll go out with a bunch of her friends. I'm just like, where are you putting this food?
[00:54:00] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:54:01] Jordan Harbinger: That's funny. Of course, you love eating now. Who doesn't, right?
[00:54:04] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:54:04] Jordan Harbinger: That's very funny. The first foreign movie that you saw, I heard was Titanic and you can get in trouble for watching foreign movies, right?
[00:54:13] Yeonmi Park: Sometimes death sentence,
[00:54:14] Jordan Harbinger: Death sentence?
[00:54:15] Yeonmi Park: Sometimes, yeah.
[00:54:16] Jordan Harbinger: So it's kind of hard for me to wrap my mind around risking your life for Titanic. Don't do it. It's not worth it.
[00:54:24] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. It's in a way that in a country you have really nothing to lose there if you get killed in a way that you want to get killed sometimes. I mean, even if you don't get executed, you might die from starvation or something. So it's easier for North Koreans to risk their life than Americans do, because in America, people are allowed to lose but North Koreans are not. When North Koreans watch those movies, it is the only time they can escape from their misery, their suffering.
[00:54:56] Jordan Harbinger: That actually makes a lot of sense. Were you surprised at all watching Titanic that in 1912, that people had more and better things than you did in 1994 in North Korea?
[00:55:07] Yeonmi Park: I can remember, what are all those like forks and knives? Like Leonardo diCaprio, I don't know either. And then I'm seeing all the plates. I've never seen those plates in my life, but also like in the whole movie, there's no propaganda. A guy just dies for a woman for his love. It's very confusing. In the beginning, I wasn't even touched.
[00:55:27] Jordan Harbinger: It's confusing, even. It depends on who you are, but it's confusing for us too sometimes.
[00:55:32] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:55:32] Jordan Harbinger: Like you're going to freeze to death? You just met?
[00:55:35] Yeonmi Park: I know. The funny thing is that was a long movie. So we were watching like big, big cassette thing. So you need that list of five of them—
[00:55:45] Jordan Harbinger: Wait like a reel or a VHS tape?
[00:55:49] Yeonmi Park: VHS tape. So it's a huge tape. And they only, usually, have maximum 30 minutes, 40 minutes in each tape. The film isn't going like one run.
[00:55:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, okay.
[00:55:57] Yeonmi Park: So if you want to watch the Titanic, it's like one box up of tape.
[00:56:01] Jordan Harbinger: So this is like the Chinese movie format.
[00:56:02] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:56:03] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. Because I've never seen anything — you could fit Titanic on one VHS tape, I think, now.
[00:56:08] Yeonmi Park: No back in North Korea, it wasn't. You need hundreds of things. And also you don't have electricity. It comes only the holidays, of like Kim Jong-il's birthday, Kim Il-sung's birthday, or maybe the New Year, right? Only on holidays, the electricity comes. So finishing one movie can take some months.
[00:56:27] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah.
[00:56:27] Yeonmi Park: It's not like, you're just thinking, you sit there looking at the entire thing. No, it takes always like a battle that they call.
[00:56:34] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man. So that makes you appreciate it even if it's a corny movie.
[00:56:38] Yeonmi Park: Whatever you watch, like I remember people used to ask, don't you like the ads? So I remember, I liked watching ads a lot. So sometimes I call just like turn on TV. I don't have cable but when I go to hotel rooms, I just look at ads. So I stole Chinese signal in North Korea when I was living with a Hyesan supporter, I looked at this like a milk, strawberry milk—
[00:57:01] Jordan Harbinger: Strawberry milk.
[00:57:02] Yeonmi Park: —ads, and I've never seen strawberries like that. I've never ever seen milk. I did not know the cow made milk. So I looked at it, what the heck is that? Drinking strawberries looks so delicious. And even looking at ads for North Koreans is like the most mind-opening thing experience because we don't know what strawberry is, we don't know what milk is.
[00:57:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, because you can't really get fruit, fresh fruit or anything like that in North Korea.
[00:57:26] Yeonmi Park: We don't have a refrigerator. Where do you keep it?
[00:57:28] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:57:28] Yeonmi Park: And I mean, we don't know what watermelon is. And we don't know most of food. Like I never knew a steak was, like none of the food, pasta, pizza,I've never heard about it.
[00:57:40] Jordan Harbinger: Even in the black market though, in your border town, they must have had some candy and clothes and things from China.
[00:57:46] Yeonmi Park: Oh yeah, black market, but those the perishable goods —
[00:57:49] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, yeah.
[00:57:50] Yeonmi Park: Like, cherry and also the differences that we do have wild strawberries.
[00:57:55] Jordan Harbinger: Wide strawberries.
[00:57:57] Yeonmi Park: The wild, the one that grows up actually in the mountain.
[00:58:00] Jordan Harbinger: Wild strawberries.
[00:58:01] Yeonmi Park: Little, tiny thing.
[00:58:02] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:58:02] Yeonmi Park: Not the one like this, this big.
[00:58:04] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:58:04] Yeonmi Park: So I did not know that was like a strawberry.
[00:58:06] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, like the freak fruit.
[00:58:08] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. Fruits look very different here. When I go to grocery stores in the beginning, I had no clue what they were. Like the cherry tomatoes, because North Korea's farm is so behind. They don't do genetic modification at all.
[00:58:21] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:58:22] Yeonmi Park: So like what the heck is this tiny thing? It's called tomato, right?
[00:58:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That must have been such a trip as well, to see all these things. I mean, even now, I don't know what a lot of the fruits are, so I can imagine if you've never seen anything like that. Like the whole grocery store is just overwhelming.
[00:58:36] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[00:58:36] Jordan Harbinger: Geez. What's the deal with the radios in the home, right? So when I was there, there's these, the radio in the wall and you can't turn it off. And it's like straight out of Orwell's 1984 and it plays the news, but it's just propaganda being piped into your house. But what are they saying? Like, is it just the same thing that's on the TV?
[00:58:55] Yeonmi Park: So it's not radios that they give out for free. Thank God, right? But because when they used to be, we have more electricity, when I was younger even, then every home have to put it on and you can turn down the volume but you cannot turn it off. It's connected to the wall. And also to make sure that people's unit, we call it the people's unit. Everybody has this people's unit and they come and check on it and make sure that we are maintaining it. They work. So this is when they tell you, like, do you know at noon? It's like, beep.
[00:59:26] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:59:26] Yeonmi Park: Which means the lunchtime. So you don't do individualism. You eat lunch all together. In the morning, they wake you up.
[00:59:35] Jordan Harbinger: That's so weird. They wake you up. I was in a countryside hotel and they're playing this weird music at like 5:00 a.m.
[00:59:40] Yeonmi Park: It's like morning, morning music to get up.
[00:59:41] Jordan Harbinger: I'm like am I tripping right now? What is that? There's this ghostly music playing in the morning. And then there's like something that sounds very spirited.
[00:59:50] Yeonmi Park: That's the work time.
[00:59:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, work time.
[00:59:51] Yeonmi Park: That's at 5:00 a.m. Everybody has to go to this collective mobilization. So the families, if the moms cannot go, are sick, then children go out. So that's the time in the music blasts, it's work. And then at 7:00 a.m., you come home, eat breakfast, and then go to school. Everybody goes to work. And then we go to class and then like lunch time, it beeps again. And then when everybody goes home. Like it tells you the entire schedule. Everybody moves in the same schedule.
[01:00:17] Jordan Harbinger: If you don't have electricity, then those things don't work. Is that what those vans are with the loudspeakers on them?
[01:00:21] Yeonmi Park: Oh, yeah, exactly.
[01:00:22] Jordan Harbinger: So they're doing the same thing, that's do it for the whole village.
[01:00:24] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, that exactly. That's it. They use the actual humans. So in North Korea, they pick the people who have a good voice.
[01:00:32] Jordan Harbinger: That would be like, my job in North Korea, it's just to yell at everybody in the village to go to work and eat lunch.
[01:00:36] Yeonmi Park: You have to feel them inspired. You have to feel them like really brainwashed.
[01:00:40] Jordan Harbinger: Gosh, that's so depressing.
[01:00:42] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:00:43] Jordan Harbinger: My goodness.
[01:00:43] Yeonmi Park: Or the accordions, in North Korea, we don't have the instruments.
[01:00:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[01:00:47] Yeonmi Park: That needs electricity. So accordions and guitars are the most common instruments. So every music is used to be brainwashing.
[01:00:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Have you ever seen those kid performances? Those are so creepy. Because the kids are really good at dancing or guitar or singing, but then also it's like their whole life, it's like the Olympics of being good at propaganda and having no artistic flair for the thing that you're practicing your whole life. And they're six.
[01:01:12] Yeonmi Park: I know, right? There was a documentary, I would recommend you to watch this which is called Under the Sun and he's a Russian director who goes to North Korea and say like, "Oh, I'm going to make a documentary about how you put up some show, parade or something." And then they like do it, but he filmed them before the thing and after the thing, so, which was, everything was shown.
[01:01:33] Jordan Harbinger: So it's like the B-roll. B-roll turns out to be the actual, the BTS, behind the scenes, is the actual documentary, the rest of it, you throw away.
[01:01:39] Yeonmi Park: Exactly.
[01:01:40] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting.
[01:01:41] Yeonmi Park: But this is a nine years old girl, it's likeZin-mi. At this time, she was holding Kim Jong-il's arm at the priority or parade the whole day. Because everybody thinks she gets killed. So she was like used and the character who was very blessed in a socialist paradise, having a wonderful life. And then she was like, "Okay. Why don't you just maybe read the poetry?" And then she doesn't even know what poetry is. So she reads out her commitment oath to the Dear Leader, and then at the end, she was asked as well because she was not happy that she was not doing good job. Like, "Zin-mi, are happy?" and then like, "What's that?" She does not know what that is, what happy is.
[01:02:19] Jordan Harbinger: Even emotions are off limits—
[01:02:21] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:02:21] Jordan Harbinger: —in North Korea. That is wild.
[01:02:23] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. So these kids are so brainwashed. And they all become robots because they all fear.
[01:02:27] Jordan Harbinger: Robots, yeah.
[01:02:29] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:02:29] Jordan Harbinger: I noticed that there's a lot of sort of robotic, tired people. Well, actually I should say I assumed it was because they're tired. There'd be people who, when they're standing in there, like at a bar serving food—
[01:02:41] Yeonmi Park: Bar? There's a bar in North Korea?
[01:02:43] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, like a hotel or like a restaurant.
[01:02:47] Yeonmi Park: Wow.
[01:02:47] Jordan Harbinger: And they're standing there, but when they're not interacting with anyone, they just do this. My friends and I were like, is she sleeping while standing up? And we learned shortly that she was actually like, sort of sleeping. Because you could see her move it, like losing our balance gradually. And we realized that she was so tired and so malnourished that she was literally falling asleep while standing up and working. And I think like to live your whole life like that and to not be able to have access to your own emotions, you're right, they're like robots.
[01:03:18] Yeonmi Park: People don't live after 60. Like that's the thing in North Korea. You never hear that people who die from stroke or people who die from cancer. We don't wait that long to get killed by disease. Like other things kill us first. In North Korea, the life expectancy is extremely low.
[01:03:34] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:03:35] Yeonmi Park: My grandmother died, I think around American age, like 58 or 59.
[01:03:39] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:03:39] Yeonmi Park: From starvation.. And everybody was like, oh, she's lived a long life.
[01:03:43] Jordan Harbinger: Which is crazy because at 59, in America, you're probably in some of your prime. Your kids may be grown, so you're kicking ass at work and you're doing your thing. You're maybe going to retire pretty soon. You're not winding down.
[01:03:54] Yeonmi Park: No.
[01:03:55] Jordan Harbinger: No, unbelievable. People have asked me this before. They say, "Oh, is it true that if you fold the newspaper wrong, you can get in trouble." And I think we should highlight some of the things that you have to do in North Korea to — the performative nonsense, right?
[01:04:09] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:04:09] Jordan Harbinger: So if you fold a newspaper incorrectly, if there's a photo of the leader, that's it.
[01:04:13] Yeonmi Park: You might get a concentration camp, but if you rip it, so every front newspaper in North Korea has Kim's photo, but on back page, you don't see it. So sometimes you do not see the front page and you rip it, that's how you get executed.
[01:04:28] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, okay. So of course it can be accidental. In hotel ones, there's these magazines they give you on the flight. Every single one obviously has like Kim Jong-un's face on it, before it was Kim Jong-il. So I had a magazine with Kim Jong-il's face on it, and I put it on the table in the hotel because I wanted to keep it. And then there's an ashtray and I put the ashtray on and I put my coins in it and I put it all on top of the magazine, because of course, in the United States, you never think about this. Who cares? It's a magazine. When I came back, all my stuff was arranged neatly and the magazine was gone.
[01:04:57] Yeonmi Park: Oh my gosh.
[01:04:58] Jordan Harbinger: And on the way home on the flight, they seated me in the back next to, I think, like some sort of North Korea. Usually, they separate the foreigners and the North Koreans.
[01:05:07] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:05:08] Jordan Harbinger: I had to seat next to this tough looking guy in the back, which is a little scary.
[01:05:12] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:05:12] Jordan Harbinger: And I wanted to borrow a pen and he gave me a pen. And I had the in-flight magazine and I wanted to write something down except for Kim Jong-il's picture was on the cover and I was writing on the back and he grabbed my arm and he was like, "No," because if you write on it, it makes little indentations on the other side that damages the photo. And I just did nothing for the rest of the flight because I thought what happens to me if this guy gets really pissed off.
[01:05:39] Yeonmi Park: Right. Otto Warmbier, he was tortured.
[01:05:41] Jordan Harbinger: Right, Otto Warmbier. And this is before that, well before that. I haven't gone since. But that kind of thing is, if I feel that level of fear and I'm like, "Look, man, I live in the United States. What are you going to do? We're on a flight. We're leaving the country." I can only imagine what you feel when you've seen people's parents disappear.
[01:05:59] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:05:59] Jordan Harbinger: That must be happening at school, right? Someone's parents or even the kids that you're with—
[01:06:03] Yeonmi Park: Oh yeah. I mean the whole family goes, like the three generations go. If the North Korea, your house get fire, like caught on fire, the first thing, what you do, not rescuing your children or your mom or parents, you rescue the portraits of Kims.
[01:06:17] Jordan Harbinger: The portraits that you keep in your house.
[01:06:18] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. Everybody had to have portraits of Kims. So if you let that get caught on fire, that family clan is dead and sent to prison camps.
[01:06:27] Jordan Harbinger: So you're supposed to save these stupid printed photographs of the leaders instead of your own kids.
[01:06:32] Yeonmi Park: And there are so many, not just the portraits, maybe portraits or okay, this picture, there was a tree—
[01:06:39] Jordan Harbinger: A tree.
[01:06:40] Yeonmi Park: —a tree Kim Jong-un look at or Kim Jong-il back then, Kim Jong-il looked at, and then those trees are like in a treasure because of our Dear Leader looked at it at one point, not touching it, just looked at it. So that thing was caught on fire so somebody held it and protected it. And I think, it's just maybe taking credit, I mean, I think there's a lot of national hero looks like.
[01:07:03] Jordan Harbinger: For sure, yeah.
[01:07:04] Yeonmi Park: Yeah. So even a tree, that's how you are to give your life for.
[01:07:08] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny, you should remind me of this. This is such nonsense, right? Because you'll go to like an ostrich farm or some dumb, stupid tourist thing that you don't even want to go to, but they make you go, it's all on the itinerary. The ostrich farm is literally an example of it or like some sort of glass plant or a chemical factory that has never, that thing hasn't run since 1968. Like it's been off, you can tell it's not a working factory. It's really obvious, and you're going there and you can see like, "Oh, this is the chair that the Great Comrade General Kim Jong-un sat in when he was inspecting the factory." And then there's like a huge mural that took months to create. And it's like, they call it on the spot guidance. Have you heard of this?
[01:07:46] Yeonmi Park: Oh, yeah.
[01:07:46] Jordan Harbinger: It's where he like walks into—
[01:07:48] Yeonmi Park: Where they write letters on the wall where he sat at that time when he visited.
[01:07:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's like, here's this guy who's never seen a chemical factory. And he's like, "Hey, why don't you put that tank closer to that thing?" " And they're like, "Wow, what a genius. He's revolutionized the way we make chemicals." And I'm thinking to show up and tell other people how to do their job must be the most annoying thing in the world. And they're just like, well, paint the entire wall. Write down everything you said. Gold plate the chair that he sat in for five minutes and then make like a golden tile on the floor and then never step there again. It's just so ridiculous. The whole thing is a myth.
[01:08:19] Yeonmi Park: But even when you read about Kims on the newspaper, the description of Kim is one paragraph. Like the greatest leader of our people, the army of the, something, the party of the something, and at something, the youth leader of something. So the introduction takes a paragraph.
[01:08:37] Jordan Harbinger: So it's like Grand Marshall, leader of the—
[01:08:39] Yeonmi Park: Yeah, like blah, blah, blah, going down and actually content begins there.
[01:08:44] Jordan Harbinger: It's like reading a post on forbes.com. It's like all fluff.
[01:08:47] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:08:48] Jordan Harbinger: One sentence of content. The rest of it's nonsense, BuzzFeed.
[01:08:50] Yeonmi Park: Yeah.
[01:08:50] Jordan Harbinger: BuzzFeed journalism.
[01:08:53] Here's a trailer for another episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show with Charles Ryu here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:09:00] Charles Ryu: When I was 14, I got my first opportunity to escape North Korea and go to China. Police came to our house. We are getting deported to North Korea. I got transported to a detention center. They are brainwashing us for nine months. I started working in a coal mine when I was paid only in rice. So one morning, instead of entering the mine, I walked up the path and began running and in the distance, I saw a train come to a stop. This is my chance. I need to get on the train. I finally made it to the border town. I'm already determined the next day, right? I walked into the river that divides North Korea and China, which is the Yalu River. And then I slowly walked into the water. I slipped on a rock and I let out a scream. A flashlight was on my back. And I heard a soldier screaming at me.
[01:09:48] Jordan Harbinger: Oh man.
[01:09:49] Charles Ryu: [Foreign Language] Stop, stop or I will shoot. The guard kept screaming at me, but he never pulled the trigger. And then I went into the cornfield. I'm in China now. So I embarked on another long journey to Southeast Asia. I got to Thailand. That was the best day of my life, going to Thai prison. And then I was trying to apply for South Korea, but they didn't recognize me as a refugee. And they're like, "We would have to send you back to China." Chinese government sent me back to North Korea, but those guys don't want to help me.
[01:10:21] Jordan Harbinger: And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He escaped the police. He had a run with secret police in China. I mean, this guy just has an absolutely amazing sense of survival and story. And that's episode 84 with Charles Ryu, Confessions of a North Korean Escape Artist, part one and part two, episode 84 of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Make sure you check it out.
[01:10:41] All right. That's it for part one. Part two, coming up in a few days. Links to everything Yeonmi will be in the website in the show notes, her YouTube channels and books.
[01:10:49] You can find the show notes, jordanharbinger.com. Please use our website links. If you buy books from any guest, it does help support the show and yes, they work with Audible, those links. So please do click those if you buy from Audible. Worksheets for episodes in the show notes, transcripts in the show notes. Videos of our interviews go up on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. This one is no exception. We also have our clips channel with cuts that don't make it to the show. Highlights from interviews that you can't see anywhere else. jordanharbinger.com/clips is where you can find it. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:11:25] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use every second. That's the Six-Minute networking course. The course is free. I don't need your credit card. None of that nonsense, jordanharbinger.com/course is where you'll find it. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And most of the guests on the show subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[01:11:48] The show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Misrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into North Korea stuff, if you know someone who's fascinated by cultures like this, definitely share this episode with them. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode of this show. Please share the show with those you care about. 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.
[01:12:24] This episode is also sponsored in part by Chinet. Chinet is a people-focused brand disguised as a premium disposable tableware brand. Chinet prides themselves on being part of authentic human connections and playing an important role and togetherness. They've been a part of American culture for over 90 years, providing durable plates, cups, cutlery, napkins, and table covers. Chinet is the go-to brand for cookouts, holidays, birthdays, game nights, baby showers, and more. Chinet brand believes not only that everyone should have a place around the table, but that everyone should be welcomed with open arms and a full cup. Chinet Classic, Chinet Crystal, and Chinet Comfort products are all made in the USA with at least 80 percent recycled materials. Chinet brands products can handle anything from the sauciness ribs to the most generous slices of cake made to be microwave safe and leftovers, best friend, easy cleanup, environmentally conscious. Great for the upcoming holiday gatherings and perfect for all of life's get-togethers. Visit mychinet.com to find out more.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.