Chae Young Hee abandoned North Korea for the South 11 years ago
She experienced starvation as well as the brutality of the regime
But seeing images from her native land fill her with pride
"This is how you are brought up since birth. Even I can feel the pull in my heart"
To the outside world the images from North Korean state television are nearly comical – weeping soldiers chasing Kim Jong Un into the freezing sea, elderly women screaming as the young leader approaches, and North Koreans unleashing dogs at a poorly made effigy of a South Korean leader.
But as Chae Young Hee watches, her eyes begin to brim with tears and her lips tremble uncontrollably with national pride.
Chae is not a North Korean anymore, having defected to South Korea 11 years ago, abandoning the totalitarian regime.
In the North, she experienced starvation, the brutality of the regime and fled with her daughter in hope of a better life in the free world. But as Chae watches KCTV, the North’s only television channel its citizens can view, the power of the propaganda she grew up with takes hold.
“They’re God,” she says, referring to North Korea’s trinity, Kim Jong Un, his father Kim Jong Il, and grandfather Kim Il Sung.
The tears are now running down Chae’s perfectly made up face and she chokes back a sob. “This is how you are brought up since birth. Even I can feel the pull in my heart. I thought I forgot about this feeling since it has been so long.
“But seeing this now, I feel I’m back in North Korea. I don’t know how to express myself. He is really great and I feel we will all die without him.”
Chae stops talking and asks for a glass of water. She tries to compose herself.
“I know their sincerity,” she says, as she watches a group of soldiers sing and sway before Kim, their faces red with emotion and streaked with tears. “This is not a lie. It is not an act. It is real. If anything happens, they will give up their lives. They will even jump into fire.”
Chae seems to fall into an other-worldly trance, unable to answer questions as clearly as she did before the North Korean television started to play. She watches children’s programs, which always have the evil American or South Korean villain that must be defeated. Prime-time movies are often war movies or romantic tales where the North Koreans defeat the American imperialists.
Chae laughs as she sees a program she recognizes from her childhood, a clay action movie where an adorable North Korean cat defeats the evil South Korean rats.
Watching her slip back into her time as a Pyongyang resident is a window into how the North Korean regime manages to maintain its seemingly unyielding hold on its people.
“Even if I tried to explain this, I don’t think people here would understand. They won’t think this is real,” she says, watching a news clip of adoring citizens waving flowers and rushing to the young leader.
“But this is true. That is the truth. And we can’t think for ourselves. When North Koreans watch news on the dear leader, they believe in it. We live because of him.”