In A Long Road Home, we’ll feature a story of an individual who works in the on-demand economy and has overcome adversity to be where they are today. In our first season, we tell the story of Cheol "Charles" Ryu, who is a refugee from North Korea.

Against all odds, Charles has survived being abandoned by his family, becoming a prisoner of the North Korean government, and being an indentured slave in a coal mine. He daringly escaped from North Korea when he was 17 and now lives in the South Bay, where he works for Lyft and studies software engineering.

In this, our third and final episode, Charles tells us about when he decided to attempt to successfully escape North Korea. While most of our story to this point has been a centered around Charles’ struggles, today we’re going to tell you about his miraculous departure from North Korea and his adjustment to life in the United States.

If you’re feeling inspired by Charles’ story and would like to help pay for his education at De Anza Community College, we’ve set up a GoFundMe page, which can be found at gofundme.com/alongroadhome-charles. The first $5K will go directly to paying for Charles’ schooling any funds collected beyond that will be donated to the Liberty in North Korea charity. If you’re not in a place to give, we understand and would still love your help sharing Charles’s story, so if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a review in iTunes.


Interview Transcript

Benjamin: You were homeless for three months.

Charles: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Benjamin: You stole food or whatever. You need it to survive

Charles: Yes.

Benjamin: With your three friends and one day a train comes up and you just say, "I'm getting on the train. I'm getting out of here."

Charles: Yeah, definitely.

Benjamin: Was it impulsive or had you always thought you were just going to leave?

Charles: Yeah, I always thought, "I'm going to leave," but I didn't have the braveness to actually do it and also I didn't have a chance because there was no train at all and the one fateful day, I just looked down and there's a train and the train, which was going from [Chungya 00:01:50] to Hietsun which is the capital city to the end of Korea so it's going to be the border nearby China. I saw that and, "Oh my God, this is my chance. I can finally get out of here." At the time, North Korea's has really poor electric city, right? So the power is off, on and off, often. The train was stopped middle of the journey and then the people got really hot so people are getting out of the train and they're just getting together and talking or chilling and just drinking, smoking, talking. I just hopped in there and I acted like I belong there, you know? I was homeless for three months but my clothes was clean because I was a clean homeless kid. I acted like I always belonged there. Then, two hours or three hours later, the power came back and people are getting on the train but on the train entrance, there's security guards checking the tickets or ID's and they're just holding me like, "Hey, hey! Where are you going? Show me your tickets or ID's." I said, "Oh, you know what? My mom is on the train. She didn't get out when the power went out. I think she went to sleep." You know? "I'm going to wake her up and I'm going to bring her to you. Is it okay? Let me get in." He's like, "Uhh. Okay." Whatever. He just let me in. I got on the train and I was so excited and I was just looking around and I got on this train and train starts leaving and around an hour later, when the train is going faster and then there was a checkpoint, a security check. In North Korea, when you leave your town, you have to get permission from the local governments to leave your town and then the paper documents says that, "He's going to come back in ten days or twenty days. It's okay to go, free to go." Checking that or either tickets or, if you don't have that, you'll be in big trouble. I don't even have my birth certificate so I don't have anything in my pocket. Only thing I have is a lighter. "Oh my God. They're having the security check." They're coming like this way and I went back into the bathroom. I was hiding there, lock the door and just hiding there, and then, finally, they're checking the bathroom, too, and they're knocking on the bathroom. They're like, "[inaudible 00:03:57]." I was so afraid. It's a really good thing I'm [inaudible 00:04:01] train is the bathroom is very end of the train so if I open the train door, a train window, it's the end point to the end of the bathroom door, it's not really far so I could just get out of the train and then just hanging from the train windows and I can just slowly, slowly go up to the end point. Then, I went in there and I just rode it for like three hours.

Benjamin: You rode the outside of the train?

Charles: Yeah.

Benjamin: For three hours?

Charles: Yeah because there is no other way. They're checking the bathroom and every two hours or three hours, there's going to be every time the checking, checking, checking and then, if there is a station, I have to get down there and acting like I'm just walking around and if they're leaving again, I have to run back again, riding the train.

Benjamin: Seems dangerous.

Charles: It's not that fast though. It's like forty miles per hour, you know? Uphill it's going to be like twenty miles per hour. I could just-

Benjamin: You're riding the back of a train that's going forty miles per hour and you don't think that's very dangerous?

Charles: I was just a kid, you know?

Benjamin: Would you ride on the back of a car that was going forty miles an hour?

Charles: In North Korea, there is not really great transportation, right? People are riding really big truck and they don't even have a fence, they just have a little thing. We just all sit there and we are riding like fifty miles per hour. The road is really bad in North Korea so they cannot even ride it faster. I was used to it. It didn't feel really dangerous to me. Anyways-

Benjamin: It seems dangerous to me.

Charles: Yeah but you would enjoy it if you did that.

Benjamin: Nope.

Charles: Nope? Definitely not?

Benjamin: Nope.

Charles: First station of the North Korea, Chinese side, they always have the checkouts with the guns, right? I have to get out and I have to go back into the train and I have to find somebody that can say I belong here or otherwise, they're going to come to me and they're going to deport me to my hometown. I went back into train, it was nighttime, so people are outside and then they're checking the tickets again. I tell them my mom is inside and, "Just let me in," and then I found a military guy, he was on a vacation and he's going home and so, "My grandmother lives in Hietsun which is the border city of China side and my grandmother is almost dying. She really needs my help, it's urgent. It's really an emergency so I don't even have money but I just get on the train because my grandmother is sick and she's going to die pretty soon. I have to be there," and the military guy was pretty innocent. He's like, "Okay. I'll tell them your my brother and you can eat my food, too."

Benjamin: You told him that your grandmother was in China?

Charles: No, no.

Benjamin: No?

Charles: In the Hietsun city.

Benjamin: Border town?

Charles: Yeah, the border city, in Hietsun city. He shared his food. The security guard, he said, "He's my brother," and then we started to leave, right? We started to leave and then, we got into very first station of the China part which is a China North Korea fitting together, right? First part and second part, I got caught because I was sitting on the train connections. It is a door and I was sitting outside, sitting in the connections because there's no seat. The military guard is sleeping with some other people who are sitting in there. I didn't have nothing so I just come outside.

Benjamin: So the military guy, who got you past the first checkpoint-?

Charles: Yeah. First checkpoint.

Benjamin: Then, the second checkpoint, they see that you're on the outside of the train?

Charles: No. It wasn't outside of the train. It was still inside.

Benjamin: Okay.

Charles: I was sitting there and the police officer found me out. "Hey, you're the kid from the military guy. Where's your ID? Where's your tickets?" And I got caught. He locked me into his room. In the train there was a police officer rooms with a few other kids. There was a few other homeless kids trying to go to China, too, and, luckily, they didn't handcuff me. If they handcuffed me, I would never get out. They say, "Okay. We are going to drop you off at the next station. They're going to deport you," to my hometown where I belong. When the train is starting to slow down, prepare to stop, right? It's going to slow down. I open the window. I just jump down there.

Benjamin: Was the train still moving?

Charles: Yeah. It was pretty slow.

Benjamin: How fast?

Charles: Like ten miles per hour because, if I get caught, then I already have my record, you know? Escaping North Korea again and try second time, it's going to be like labor camp, [inaudible 00:08:11]. I really didn't want to get caught. I opened the window and I just jumped down. I got into second checkpoint, which is the second station and then I walk like three hours from the checkpoint to another checkpoint because the station and I can get out of the station in North Korea and then I can walk through the town, you know? In the road and I can get to another station and I walked three hours, asking people, "Where is the station? Where is the train station?" Then, they tell me, "If you go this way for like hour or two hour, you're going to see the train," and I followed the train that brought me-

Benjamin: You're following the tracks?

Charles: Yeah. Following the tracks. Then, what happened? Luckily, I got into other train station and there was no train coming yet and I was waiting for another half an hour and there's a train coming and, "Oh, I'm going to catch that. It's going to go somewhere," right? Like [inaudible 00:09:03]. I look at it and it's the same train, the train I got out from. I was like, "No way!" Then, people get out of there, "What happened? I thought it already passed." He's like, "No. We were stuck there because the power went off," you know? "We were stuck there for like hours, two hours, three hours." "Great." Then I got on the train again but this time I have to go very end of the train when they start leaving because I cannot get in because it's a very, very secure checkpoint. I got into the very end of the train. There is stairs in North Korean train because it's really high, right? There is the stairs and they have the thing that lifts up and lifts up the stairs and there's a small room in there. I just squeezed in there and ride out of there like another few stations. If there's a checkpoint, I can just hop out and I'm pretending like looking for something. If it started leaving, I get in there again. I don't know. I rode it a day and a half.

Benjamin: You were riding for one and a half days?

Charles: Yeah. One and a half days. From the station where I left and to the end of the North Korea which is China border side. I finally got in there and I have a few friends because first time I got to China side, I made a few friends in Hietsun City. I went into his house and tell him, "You know what? I want to escape again. "He helped me escape North Korea the first time. He's like, "Okay. If you go this way, it's going to be ..." He's telling me, "We already go but he's not going to be there."

Benjamin: You remembered the person that helped you escape the first time?

Charles: Yeah because I lived there for six months in Hietsun City. Yeah. I made a few friends.

Benjamin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles: I remembered him but most of them went to jail.

Benjamin: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Charles: And they got executed and most of them died. I asked my friend, "I'm going to escape again. Can you help me? Teach me where to cross because I don't want to fall into deepest water," right? They say, "Okay, Charles. If you go this way, it's going to be really ... It's not going to be really deep. It's okay. You go this way." Then, another kid is ... North Korea has a law, the [river 00:11:03] law that has, from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM only during that time, you can go to river, take a shower or get waters or either, washing their clothes or laundry. Any other time after 7:00 PM, they're going to get you so they said, "If you're going to river out at that time, they're going to assume that you're trying to escape North Korea and then they're going to cut you and they're going to throw you in the jail," so I have to escape during the time. I went into the river at 3:00 PM and I was pretending taking a shower and drinking the water and then, without nobody's attention, I just went into ... It's not really tall, it's about three feet of tall, dry grass and then I have to lay down. I have to hide there almost eight hours, nine hours until it gets dark.

Benjamin: You're hiding outside of the water, in the tall grass that's three feet tall?

Charles: Yes.

Benjamin: Okay.

Charles: No sudden movements. If they get suspicious, they're going to come down and check me out so I just hide there for like eight hours until it gets dark. If I move, the grass is going to be moving and they're going to say, "What the heck is going on?" It was like three hours, just stay like this. Eight hours, "Stay like this." Then, finally, it gets really dark and I was really hungry, too. I haven't eaten almost like two days, three days and the most, "I can't wait," thing like, "I can't really wait. I really want to go," is the barbecue smell China side. Oh my God, it smells so good. China's North Korean side is really dark. It's really [sad 00:12:40] [inaudible 00:12:41] but China side? Bright, you know? Fireworks going on, barbecue smells, people are laughing. I could hear people laughing and around 11:00 or 12:00, I started crossing the water.

Benjamin:

Let's take a quick break to recap what we just heard. The main takeaways from this segment are: Charles made an impromptu decision to escape North Korea when a train headed toward the Chinese border broke down in his hometown. While on board, Charles alluded the train security who were constantly checking for tickets by hiding in the bathroom or by clinging to the outside of the train window while the train was moving. Despite his efforts to hide, Charles was caught by security and locked into a room with other stow-aways. The security forgot to handcuff Charles and so he was able to jump out of the train window as it was approaching its next stop. After alluding security, Charles followed the train tracks and eventually made it back to the train before it reached the border town. Once Charles reached his end destination, he was given support by the people who helped organize his first escape from North Korea. He was then instructed to hide in the bushes until sunset. After nightfall, Charles attempted his second escape by swimming across the river to China. This recap was brought to you by Pro Tier. Pro Tier is a service that provides independent contractors with the ability to quickly and easily form a business. If you're a 10-99 contractor, Pro Tier will create a business license for you that will save you thousands by allowing you to allocate expenses like gas and your cellphone to your business. For fifty dollars a year, you can turn your contract work into a real business. To start a business, visit Pro-Tier.com. That's P-R-O dash T-I-E-R.com and use promo code "Ben J. Shap" for fifty percent off your first year of service. Pro-Tier Okay. Let's get back to Charles.

Charles: Nothing is on my mind, you know? "Oh my God, I'm doing this," you know? I always imagined ... Have you ever had the feeling like you always imagined? "I really want to do it. I really want to do it." But actually when you're doing it, then you're just excited, right? Excited like your heart is bouncing in your throat, something like that.

Benjamin: I imagine a million people are going to listen to this podcast.

Charles: My heart is bouncing in my throat like, "Ugh." Then, one step, two step, closer to the water and it's more scary. You're more afraid. "If I cross this, there's no turning back." The reason only turning back is getting caught from the Chinese police officers and then sentenced to death, to labor camp but still going. There's no turning back, going deeper and deeper. The water is so fast, right? I can't even hold onto myself. I can't even really balance, you know? The rock is really slippery and the water is really fast so I would slip down and I was screaming, you know? Because I was falling in the waters. "Please, help!" The waves, you know? I was screaming, "Please, please, help! Please, help!" I wasn't supposed to do that. Then, the military guy, he just, with the light, hand light, really dark lit, hand lights come out like, "Hey! Who goes there? You bastards! Come back here. I'm going to count down to three. If you don't come back, I'm going to shoot you! Three, two, one!" I was like, "Whatever." Because, at that point, I cannot even turn back. If I turn back, I'm going to die or die here. It doesn't matter. That's when I went down into the water really deep. The water just carried me to somewhere. Around two or three minutes, I was under the water. It just coming really faster so ... Just the river. If I started here it got me to way over here because the water was so fast.

Benjamin: When the security guard was threatening to shoot you for trying to escape, you ducked under and let the current take you away?

Charles: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Benjamin: Okay.

Charles: The reason I did that was because I heard the voice was really young and I felt like he didn't even shoot a gun before so you know what? Whatever. I just went in. I predicted right. He couldn't even shoot it. Then, I got here and then I keep swimming, you know? After I got around here, I kept swimming, fighting with the waves. Then, I got into China side and my clothes are wet and everything's wet. I just went into corn farm. After the river, there's corn farms in China side and I went in there to dry my clothes. Then, I walk into really, really dark small streets because the big ones in China side, there's cameras all over the street. There's lights and cameras everywhere and they're going to find me out and they're going to catch me. I was walking across small, really dark way and, by that time I was really hungry, too. I haven't eaten for days. Then, I found the food. In China, people, they have a religious thing that they have apples, bananas and candies. Have you ever seen that [inaudible 00:17:44]? It's a Chinese bread. Have you ever had that? No? Nevermind. There's biscuits and candies. It's a worship thing, right? Feeding the gods. I was hungry. I was out of my mind. I'm a god, too. Then, I take my shirt off and make a bag and I just spread all of that candies. There wasn't that much. Just one apple, one candy, one bread, a few candies and a few biscuits and I think there was pork. I guess it's pork, some kind of meat, like ear or something, grab all in and just take it and just walking. I have to get out of the city as soon as possible because sooner or later, it's going to be bright and, if it's bright, I cannot move because I look like a North Korean, you know? Obviously. I walk like I ran, you know? I ran to get out of the city. Then, around four or five hours, I could see the sun's coming up, the stars starting to go, right? I got out of the city. I already walking in a jungle and I feel safe. Then, I took a nap around a few hours and I didn't want to walk during the daytime because there's going to be police officers. Sometimes they pass by or go by and I didn't want to be noticed by civilians, too, because they're going to report me so I slept. During the daytime, I try to sleep and, at the nighttime, I try to walk but I couldn't do that. I couldn't sleep. I kept walking during daytime, too. Walking, walking, walking and only thing I see, I feel like, "If I cross this mountain, there's going to be a hometown or there's going to be some of them," you know? Some, let's say, like a gas station. I can beg for food or I can just dig up a trash can but if I go deeper and deeper, there's no sign of human beings. There's no sign of residential area It was hopeless. Keep going and going, it's going to be more and more deeper and I haven't eaten and I was really hungry and my feet are splitting, too, because North Korean shoes is like quality less. There's no quality at all. My shoes are all ... Bottom part is gone. I was basicallywalking with my feet, three days, thinking about ... On a highway, the rough road and walking three days, my feet are splitting. "You know what? I can't do it." I just sat down and I cried. "Why did leave North Korea right now?" If I was working a coal mine for another three months or six months, until I die, I could have eaten well or at least I have a friend I can talk to, like share a sadness together but it's all me. If I get caught, I'll [inaudible 00:20:17] the jail all by myself and I'm going to die in there. All the regrets that are coming up and I was crying, you know? Sitting down there, crying and, at one point, I prayed to God How I knew God is when I escaped first time, in 2008, to China, the pastor came to our house, my father's house and then, he showed us how to pray and he showed us how to believe. I still believe that the reason I didn't die at the labor camp in North Korea, even though I didn't have any family to bring food to me is being faithful to God. Sometimes I think about those times like, "Why did I have to go through all that?" Sometimes it's not really right but sometimes I compare my life and other children's lives in here and I'm thinking that, "Wow. This kind of kid. They grow in perfect situations but I grew in this situation. Why me?" I'm thinking that there's got to be a reason. There's got to be a reason. Then, he got me here, right? He got me here and there's got to be a reason. Anyways, then, I pray to God, "Please, if you're there, this is your time. Please. I don't really want to end my life like this here. Please, save me. Please, save me." I cried really hard, too. Then, like twenty minutes later, I was still crying, on the road, crying and a few cars are going off, on and off, but they didn't even care. They thought some kind of dead kid's just laying down and even the police officer didn't even care. "Eh, he's going to die somewhere," because if I die here, or [inaudible 00:21:49], North Korea, it's the same death, right? Then, [miraculously 00:21:52], there was a Chinese guy riding a motorcycle from the city that I escaped which is the North Korean side and there's a China side, right? I escaped that city and this guy came from that city, you know? Then, got to somewhere else. I don't know where he's going but he's driving motorcycle and then he just passed me by and then [inaudible 00:22:13]. He stopped and came back and he came to back to me. I spoke a little bit of Chinese at that time because I was in China for nine months in 2008 so I spoke a little bit. I didn't even go to school but I had to speak something if I don't want to get caught. He's asking me, "Where are you from? Are you from North Korea?" I say, "Yeah. I'm from North Korea." "Where are you going?" I was like, "I'm looking for my father. He's in China." I didn't even think of that. If somehow ... I got like, "I'm looking for my father." The one really big reason I escaped North Korea was, "Okay. I'm going to go to China side and I want to eat something really fully. I don't want to die with an empty stomach. I want to die with something in my stomach." That was the only hope. If I leave my life in China and even homeless, it is happy enough for me. I have nothing to lose but somehow I say, "I have my father in China. I'm looking for him." He's thinking, smoking and he just gave me a water and a piece of bread. "There you go. Eat this." Oh my God, it was a life-saver. I finished the water and bread and he's like, "Let's go," and he carried me and he took me to his house. I walked three days. Then, with the motorcycle, I rode it twelve hours to get to his house. [inaudible 00:23:29] with the motorcycle, eighty miles per hour, it's got to be another week if I walked, right?

Benjamin: A thousand miles?

Charles: A thousand miles, I'd say.

Benjamin: Well, if it's eighty miles an hour for ten hours, that's eight hundred so if you go for twelve, it's-

Charles: Yeah .

Benjamin: Nine hundred and sixty miles.

Charles: Yeah. Anyways, it's got to be like a week or a month to walk, right? When I arrived at his house, he had a son my age and he had wife. Then, I could hear they were arguing. The wife's saying like, "[inaudible 00:23:57] Why did you bring this kid to my house? You bring trouble to my family and my house!" He's like, "Blah, blah, blah. It's all right." I didn't even know but I'm just guessing what they're saying. "Blah blah blah. We could have this kid," and then he came out with a big bowl of Chinese rice and I think [inaudible 00:24:14]. Panda Express has a [inaudible 00:24:16] half and half, right? He brings a big bowl and then-

Benjamin: Brought you a big bowl of Panda Express?

Charles: Yeah. Kung Pau Chicken.

Benjamin: Yes.

Charles: Yeah. He brings me a big bowl of the rice and the soup. "Here you go, kid." I can't even express my feeling, like how I felt at the time. Then, he gave me medicine for my feet and then he gave me clothing and he let me sleep. I slept in his room and he slept outside, like living room. The next morning, he's calling somewhere and I thought, "Okay. He's calling the cops. It's got to be the cops. He's got to be out of mind to help kids like me, right?" But thank God, he called the South Korean pastor.

 

 

Then, he exchanged the South Korean pastor, he's saying, "Okay, are you from North Korea? Are you hurt? Are you okay?" Really worried, right? I said, "No. I'm okay. He saved my life. I really want to thank him. I really want to return the help." He's like, "Okay. You have a father? I heard you have a father in China and how's that?" I explained very shortly. Then, "Okay, if I give you money and if I give you a bus ticket, can you find your father?" I say, "Yeah, sure." Because I lived in China for nine months in 2008 and I know where my father's house is. I say, "Yeah. If he's living in [inaudible 00:25:35], then it's not very far from here, like three hours on a bus, then it was my father's house." "Oh my God. Thank God."

 

 

Then, the South Korean pastor gave me a hundred yen in Chinese money and then buy me a bus ticket. I got on a bus and the Chinese person that saved me from the highway, he tells something to the bus driver and blah, blah, blah and he's like ... I'm guessing that, "He's from North Korea and he has to go to [inaudible 00:25:58] father so can you please help this kid?" The bus driver looked at me like this, "Blah, blah, blah, blah." Then, they dropped me like a taxi. After, at the station, people are all dropped off and then he's saying like, "Stay. Stay. Where is your father's house?" I tell him the address.

 

 

My father lived in apartments. I walk down [inaudible 00:26:20] on my father's door. He's like, "How did you get here? How?" He's saying bad words like, "How the fuck did you get here?" So surprised, you know? I was seventeen. There is no way-

 

Benjamin:

He was shocked?

 

Charles:

Yeah, he was really shocked. Then, the second thing he thought is he thought I was a criminal. He thought I killed somebody and I escaped North Korea. I was a kid. I used to work in a coal mine. I just didn't want to end my life in a coal mine. It's a meaningless death.

 

 

Then, my father, hit me with a belt. "Tell me the truth. Tell me the truth, mother fucker. Tell me the truth." I say, "Please. I didn't want to starve to death. I didn't even want to come to you but only thing I come up with was you. You're my father. You said you're my father. You said you're going to be responsible for me but you didn't. At the first place, you let me get caught in China and sent me back to North Korea and I went through all that. Then, you stopped."

 

 

Then, second, around two months or three months, my brothers in North Korea that [inaudible 00:27:22], he came from North Korea to my father's house and then there is proof. There we go. Brother came and told my father, "He used to work in a coal mine but he escaped from the coal mine." Since then, the coal mine, the owner, came to my brother's house looking for me and told them, "Your brother still [inaudible 00:27:45] from us so we want you to give us the [inaudible 00:27:48] and rice." He's telling all that and I was okay.

 

Benjamin:

Let's take a quick break to recap what we just heard. After hiding from border security until nightfall, Charles successfully rode the tide across the river to the Chinese border. Once he escaped, Charles hid in a corn field until the next night when he decided that being seen in the border town was too dangerous. Charles hid during the day and tried to cover as much ground as he could at night and fed himself by stealing from religious shrines.

 

 

Charles walked with broken down shoes for over three days until he felt like he could not go on any further. Feeling hopeless and alone, Charles broke down and prayed for help and, miraculously, twenty minutes after stopping, a Chinese man on a motorcycle stopped and took Charles to his house where he fed him, clothed him and took care of him. That same man connected Charles with a South Korean pastor who gave him money and helped him get transportation to his father's town in China.

 

 

Shocked to see his son had escaped from North Korea, Charles' father accused Charles of being a criminal and beat him. Eventually, Charles' brother confirmed that Charles had, in fact, lived in North Korea and worked in a coal mine which led to Charles' father finally believing Charles' story of his escape.

 

 

This recap was brought to you by my company, Ben J. Shap, LLC. In addition to being your podcast host, I'm also the managing director of a network of boutique marketing consultants that help companies identify, reach and monetize their most profitable customers. If you're looking to efficiently scale your business without hiring additional headcount, visit Benjshapp.com or contact us at mail@benjshapp.com.

 

 

Let's get back to Charles.

 

Charles:

I have two sisters and two brothers which is all from my father's side. It's a different mother but same father. One sister is in China and one sister in South Korea and two brothers in North Korea still and the one sister, the youngest sister in South Korea, she had a baby and she couldn't afford the babysitter but she cannot work with a child so what she wanted to do is bring her mother which is my father's first wife, to South Korea so she can babysit her and she can also work to provide babies and then, thank God, I arrived in August so they planned to bring the mother in South Korea in September.

 

Benjamin:

You arrived to China in August?

 

Charles:

Yep.

 

Benjamin:

And your father doesn't believe that you should be there but your brother shows up and tells him that your story is true.

 

Charles:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

Then, a month later, your father's first wife is already scheduled to go to South Korea-?

 

Charles:

Yeah. They had been planning that for a long time.

 

Benjamin:

Now, she's a Chinese citizen?

 

Charles:

No, she's North Korean citizen.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. She's not allowed to go to South Korea?

 

Charles:

She's North Korean and she's trying to escape North Korea, like me, trying to go to South Korea and they had been planning that for a long time, even before I knew that, right? Then, Thank God, if I escaped a month later than her or me, I wouldn't be here but, somehow, everything worked out and then I got a month before she gets there. Then, my father was "Blah, blah, blah," and then my father told me ... My mom, I called her my aunt because I never met her in my life but I can't call her mom so I called her aunt. I never seen her in my life but, anyways, he told me, "Okay. Your aunt's going to be here and she's trying to go to South Korea so when she goes to South Korea, I will let you go with her. If you stay in China, someday, or somehow, I'll get caught and I'll send back to North Korea and I will get executed or either working in a labor camp for four years. Then, that's there."

 

 

I said, "Yeah. Please. Let's do that." We scheduled to go to South Korea in October.

 

Benjamin:

You got there in August. You're scheduled to-

 

Charles:

Yep.

 

Benjamin:

To leave in October?

 

Charles:

Yep, in 2011, but what happened was, in 2011, in October, Kim Jong-Il died.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

What the hell? Why did he die like that time? Then, the security got twice much more secure so even the North Korean government's coming to China and looking for the escapers and bringing them back to North Korea.

 

Benjamin:

Hang on. Kim Jong-Il dies the same month you're supposed to escape?

 

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). To China.

 

Benjamin:

The North Korean government is very sensitive-

 

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Benjamin:

To people trying to escape-?

 

Charles:

Yes.

 

Benjamin:

And they bolster the security to the borders?

 

Charles:

Yes.

 

Benjamin:

But you're trying to go South Korea from China?

 

Charles:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

I don't know the geography all that well. You don't have to go through North Korea. Can't you just go through China to South Korea?

 

Charles:

We don't have to cross through North Korea again-

 

Benjamin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Charles:

But when I was in China, it was like really close to the border-

 

Benjamin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Charles:

North Korean government coming into China and looking for us, looking-

 

Benjamin:

Right.

 

Charles:

For the escapers and bringing them back to North Korea. It is really golden spot. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say this but there is three countries we escape. I can't even say this because it's a golden spot and if somehow North Korean governments find out, then-

 

Benjamin:

Don't get anybody in trouble. You're in this space where it's easy to get to the three countries where you can make your way to South Korea?

 

Charles:

Yeah. It took me twenty days, long journey because it was really dangerous and it was really hard.

 

Benjamin:

Tell me about the journey.

 

Charles:

We had to take the bus for a week and it was February 2012, February, and then we took the bus, right? We were there on the bus for a week with other North Korean persons and we met a broker and broker got us into a groups and then we're moving as a group, right?

 

 

Then we are on a bus for a week. The brokers know who we are, right? But we don't know who is the brokers. We are on the same bus with the broker but we don't know who they are because if we in trouble and like, "Hey, who got you there?" If you tell the broker, he's going to be in trouble so we don't know who they are but they know who we are. Then, every time, buses are stopping, my heart starting beating in my throat again. [inaudible 00:34:01] What if the military comes up like, "Show me your ID." I don't have ID or maybe I do have a fake ID but I don't know.

 

 

Anyways, we took the bus and we had so many stops, you know? Then, my heart was like beating in my throat but, somehow, we got passed through, a week. Then, we took a minivan again for twelve hours straight to China to Louse. In Louse, we took a motorcycle to cross Louse to Thailand, between the border. We took the minivan and then we walk, we have to cross the mountain which is fifty minutes hiking and this triangle is the most populated. They call this part for like [dropulars 00:34:42]. That's what I heard.

 

 

Then, I finally got into the Thailand refugee camp.

 

Benjamin:

You take this route from the bus trip to the minivan and then a motorcycle-

 

Charles:

Then, at the last two, the Thailand border, there's a river called [Mi-Kong 00:34:58] River so we had to take the boat which is like a really big tree, right? Really, really big tree. They cut it in half and just take out the inside part and they had just one engine. If you lose the balance, then we are going to flip. We're going to all die, the seven or six people are sitting and one guy at the front and then all of us in the middle and the one guy at the back.

 

Benjamin:

You're going through the [Mi-Kong 00:35:18] River in a hollowed out tree with one engine?

 

Charles:

Yeah. One engine.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

There's an alligator. It was February. If it was August, it's raining season, right? There's not really a lot of alligators and there's going to be more waters but we are lucky. Then, the one guy. We were trying so hard to make the balance. If I just moved to this side, boat's going to be like flip this side. I was so scared.

 

 

Anyways, then we got into Thailand side and then the brokers, when we got to Louse, the broker finally showed to us, "This is what we're going to do. As soon as we get to Thailand side, just go to the police station. Just tell them you're from North Korea. I want to go to South Korea. They're going to take us to process," and what they do, basically, is how they send us, North Korea ... We are North Korean, right? In Thailand they still think that North Korea and South Korea is the same part so we get to the Thailand end. If we're landing without any permissions, they're going to deport us back to South Korea. That's how we go because they think that North Korea and South Korea is the same. They're deporting us to South Korea.

 

 

Then, I was in the Thailand fail for like ... roughly seventeen days. I went through sentence. "You will never be back to Thailand in four years again. Get out of here!" I go to the judge and we did that. Then, finally, I got into refugee camp in Thailand. Then, I applied-

 

Benjamin:

Thailand or in South Korea?

 

Charles:

Thailand and then I finally applied asylum applications to South Korea Embassy. You know what they say? I got there risking my life. I put my whole life in there. What they say is, "Charles, your father is Chinese. Your blood is Chinese blood so we cannot accept you. But only thing we can do is send you back to China so you can live your life as Chinese person."

 

 

What? I'm telling you, I told them, "That doesn't make any sense. Even my father was Chinese. The Chinese government deported me back to North Korea and I went through all of that. It's like a CIA, that's the South Korean government. You can't send an Asian to China. I will tell you specific prison and I have a fingerprint in there. I have my pictures in there. You can see that. You can file it and you can search it, just see it." They said, "We really want to help you but we cannot help you."

 

 

This one, I knew it later, why they didn't want to accept me. Here's the reason: In 2009, when I got caught, there was three of the other girls, two girls and my father's third wife, they went to South Korea before me. My sisters, they have a Chinese passport and they're a Chinese citizen but they went into South Korea as North Koreans. They hide their identifications and then they fake their identifications and then went into South Korea and they get caught because the resemblance, they went in South Korea, they told them, "Maybe these guys are going to come. Just make it says don't come. They are Chinese and they are going to be doing some blah, blah, blah."

 

 

Then, my sister got caught from that and then deported back to China.

 

Benjamin:

Your sisters, your step-sisters, escaped from China to South Korea-

 

Charles:

But they're Chinese.

 

Benjamin:

But they're half-Chinese? They have Chinese passports and you don't-

 

Charles:

Chinese passport. I don't.

 

Benjamin:

They get caught being Chinese in South Korea.

 

Charles:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

And South Korea says what?

 

Charles:

Chinese people are not allowed as a refugee because it is also rich country-

 

Benjamin:

Right.

 

Charles:

Right, like Africa or even like Syria or North Korea accepts as a refugee but Chinese are rich so they don't accept refugees-

 

Benjamin:

Okay. They can't be refugees in South Korea because they come from a country that should be able to support them?

 

Charles:

Yeah. Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

They're saying, "Well, if your sisters are Chinese, you're Chinese," but you come from a different mother-

 

Charles:

It's a different mother and my father abandoned me long time ago. That's why my mother starved to death and that's why I don't even have a passport or something like that.

 

Benjamin:

Got it.

 

Charles:

Then, I can't even accept that, you know? I'm North Korean. I went to North Korean school, I have a North Korean citizenship and I get caught, I get punishment that's throwing in the jail and they're like, "Okay, your sister tried to come to South Korea as a North Korean but your sister is Chinese. They have the passport so we cannot accept you anymore. Get out of here!"

 

 

Then, I got sent back to International Refugee Camp so there is a different camp for the North Koreans and another country people but I sent back to the International Refugee Camp.

 

Benjamin:

You go to the North Korean refugee camp and they say, "We can't help you." Then, you go to the general population camp?

 

Charles:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

Which the North Korean Refugee Camp which is South Korea helped them, right? Just North Korean Refugee Camp is under the South Korean Embassy but South Korean Embassy says, "You don't belong here. You're not North Korean," even though I have North Korean citizenship and they threw me up to the general refugee camp and then I got there and then there was a few people that has same situation as me, right? They're Chinese.

 

 

They tried to go to South Korea but they didn't accept me so they stay in there for like two years. Some others stay like four or five years already. They listened to my situation and they told me, "Hey, Charles, why don't you apply for [inaudible 00:40:47]? They might help you, you know?"

 

Benjamin:

What do you mean "apply for UN"?

 

Charles:

[inaudible 00:40:52] asylum. I file for asylum to UN because in my situation, if I go back to China, I'll get caught and go back to North Korea. I'm going to die. They're like, "Yeah, Charles. Go ahead. Do that. It's going to be your only chance to live."

 

Benjamin:

Instead of filing for asylum with South Korea-?

 

Charles:

South Korea. Because they don't accept me-

 

Benjamin:

Right. You file for general asylum with the United Nations?

 

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

Then, because I have the obvious, obvious, residence, you know? I'm North Korean but father is Chinese but he abandoned me long time ago and I have North Korean citizenship. I have North Korean everything but, because of my sisters, did that, right?

 

Benjamin:

South Korea, right?

 

Charles:

Yeah. They faked their identification and got into South Korea and kicked out. That's the only reason I cannot get in. I told UN everything, what happened, everything, what happened all my life and they're like, "Okay. All right."

 

Benjamin:

Talk me through that process. You sit down with someone at the UN. I'm assuming it's an embassy?

 

Charles:

Yeah. Embassy. She was a Korean that worked for the UN.

 

Benjamin:

And you tell her your whole story?

 

Charles:

I told her specific like exact times and everything else.

 

Benjamin:

And so she believes you and says, "Okay. We'd like to help you."

 

Charles:

She didn't say that. She's like, "Okay. I'm just a translator. Then, you are going to [work 00:42:10] for interviews." They didn't say, "Okay. You're either in or out. Nothing, just [wait 00:42:16] for the interview."

 

 

Most people in the prison, in the refugee camp, they're going to wait for at least three years or one year. One year, two year, three years, get the interview but I got the interview in a month.

 

Benjamin:

Why did you get the interview so quickly?

 

Charles:

The only reason I can think of is because I was a minor and I think it's different.

 

Benjamin:

You were still under eighteen?

 

Charles:

Under eighteen. Yes. I was like seventeen and a half.

 

Benjamin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Charles:

Then, I got the interview and they're like, "What? Charles? You got an interview?" They were so jealous because they're waiting there for like so long.

 

Benjamin:

The other people that you're talking to are looking for asylum as well and you're in a refugee camp. Is that a good place to be or is it like a prison? What's life like in a refugee camp?

 

Charles:

It depends on the person. Let's say, American people got to Thailand and did something wrong and they get there, right? They say it's a prison, life like hell, right? But, for me, I've been through worse. They feed us with chicken and egg and white rice every day. I gained a lot of weight there. I was happy. For me, it was like heaven because they don't even let us work, you know? They don't even wake me up. For me, life was, in refugee camp, was great.

 

Benjamin:

You got to rest and you got to eat?

 

Charles:

Yeah. Yeah. I get to eat. I don't even worry. Only thing I worry about is what I'm going to do if I go to China? I can't go to China. That was the only thing that would wake me up in the middle of the night. "Oh my god. What am I going to do?"

 

 

But UN just came out and, "Charles, we got the interview." Because my story's really clear because, if you go there, my father is Chinese but, no, he abandoned me a long time ago and my mom is dead. I attempted first escape in North Korea and I got caught and I sent back to North Korea-

 

Benjamin:

You have documentation of China deporting you?

 

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Benjamin:

To North Korea?

 

Charles:

Yes.

 

Benjamin:

Which proves that you're not Chinese.

 

Charles:

Yeah, yeah. I have fingerprints like pictures and everything else which is clear but some people waiting there so long because they don't have the proof, right?

 

Benjamin:

Essentially, you getting deported the first time saved your life?

 

Charles:

It has. Thank you. I think that was the reason. That was so clear and then, in a second week, after a month, which is month and second week, I got a second interview and third interview and then, arriving two months, I got to check on my body in a hospital. Nobody can do that that fast. Two months? No way. [inaudible 00:44:50] come out and we're going to check out if you go to United States, you got to be healthy. You can't have any disease. They went to hospital like a shot and I got everything else and then, I think, two months and a half, I got the tickets.

 

Benjamin:

Did you get to choose the United States or did the UN just say, "We're going to send you to the United States."?

 

Charles:

There was a Japan, too. There was a few options so ... There was a England, there's a Japan. I think those three countries but they said they don't accept refugees anymore and the option was only United States-

 

Benjamin:

Okay. It was basically your only option?

 

Charles:

Yeah, it was my only option.

 

Benjamin:

What do they tell you when you're in a refugee camp? You say they hand you the tickets but do you know who you're staying with or what you're doing?

 

Charles:

Yeah. My parents, remember the foster parents I mentioned earlier? They working at the Catholic Church which is the Catholic organization, which is called Catholic Churches. They are rescuing the fosters, so youth, right? The kids.

 

 

Then, they sign the paperwork, everything at the Catholic churches and then they send the paper to my parents' house and then they say, "Okay. We're going to accept this child. We are responsible for this kid until he turns eighteen."

 

Benjamin:

Did you have to have any sense of religion to be accepted by the Catholic charities?

 

Charles:

I was already a Christian.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

No, no. You don't have to have any but it's just that organization named as a Catholic church, just an organization that helps the people-

 

Benjamin:

It wasn't because you were a Christian that a Christian family was willing to adopt you. They adopt anyone that comes out of North Korea respective of their religion?

 

Charles:

Yeah. The family that I got accepted, was there already helping all their people. They already adopted four or five kids already so, when I got there, there was like five other kids in there, too.

 

Benjamin:

Your family has adopted five foster children that are refugees?

 

Charles:

Yes. That's correct.

 

Benjamin:

They all live in the same house?

 

Charles:

All living in the same house.

 

Benjamin:

They're like your refugee brothers-?

 

Charles:

Brothers.

 

Benjamin:

And sisters?

 

Charles:

Yeah. I have a friend in San Francisco that I saw ... I live with him for three months, like six months. Yeah. Then, since they said, "Okay. I'm going to accept this kid as my foster child. I'm going to take care of him till he turns eighteen." Then, they signed the papers and then, since they signed the paper, I got the tickets.

 

 

If they didn't sign it, then I don't know when I'm going to be coming to United States but they signed it so thank God.

 

Benjamin:

Yeah. There was somebody that was willing to accept responsibility-?

 

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Benjamin:

For you?

 

Charles:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

Since you were a minor?

 

Charles:

Yeah, yeah. Then, they got me the tickets.

 

Benjamin:

Let's take one last break to recap what Charles just said. After Charles and his father made amends, Charles was informed of his family's plan to sneak Charles' mother-in-law, who was also a North Korean citizen, into South Korea.

 

 

During the month Charles and his mother-in-law had planned to leave China, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-Il, died and security was bolstered throughout the region. Despite the tightened security, Charles and his mother-in-law took a twenty day journey shepherded by an unidentified broker from China through Louse into a refugee camp in Thailand.

 

 

In Thailand, North and South Korea are recognized as one nation which allows North Korean refugees to be asked to be deported to South Korea. When Charles attempted to seek asylum to South Korea, he was denied because he was considered to be a Chinese citizen because of his father's current residence.

 

 

Charles was then sent to another refugee camp where he was instructed to seek asylum through the United Nations. As he was still a minor, Charles' case was expedited, which allowed him to get an asylum interview within months. As context, this process usually takes between two to three years. After a multiple interview process, Charles' request for asylum was improved in part because his first failed escape attempt provided the documentation he needed to prove that he was not a Chinese citizen. Within less than three months after his arrival to Thailand, Charles was granted a green card and was allowed to move to the United States where he was taken in by a family in Northern California.

 

 

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What was it like coming to the United States for the first time? You landed at SFO, right?

 

Charles:

Yeah. I landed at San Jose Airport.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. That's less traumatic.

 

Charles:

Less traumatic? That's right. I couldn't sleep at the airport. It took me a day, like two days, so ... Leaving Thailand to South Korea took me like fourteen or fifteen hours or something like that. I don't remember but I couldn't sleep one single hour. I was just like, "Oh my God. I think I'm dreaming."

 

 

Then, I got to South Korea side and, "Oh my God. I'm dreaming." And I had to wait ten hours for transport in the airport.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. You were in Thailand at the South Korean Embassy and you fly from Thailand to South Korea, South Korea to the United States?

 

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I forgot to mention something. The South Korean Embassy, the Asian came out, the very last day, they moved me up to the International Refugee Camp. He said to me, "We'd like to help you but we cannot change the law. As a person, I think of you as my brother but I can't help because we cannot change the law because, since your father is Chinese, I cannot accept you but South Korea isn't only country that accepts refugees."

 

 

He said it to me like this and then, "If you think this is the biggest wall in your life that you have to climb and if you climb this wall, you're going to be fine." He told me like that.

 

 

I didn't know. What does that mean, right? Then, he got me into the International Refugee Camp and then, from there, somebody told me, "You [inaudible 00:51:09]."

 

 

Anyways, yep. If I come to Thailand to SFO, I think it was going to be expensive, right? It's really expensive so if I go to Thailand through South Korea and South Korea to LA, LAX to SFO.

 

Benjamin:

You'd never been on an airplane?

 

Charles:

I've never been on an airplane.

 

Benjamin:

And you don't speak any English?

 

Charles:

I don't speak any English.

 

Benjamin:

No one's there with you.

 

Charles:

No one but I still kept the sign because that was the first moment that I'm truly a person because when I was North Korean, I got treated as an animal or a bug but, from that moment that I got the signs, it's like, "I need help," I got a UN sign on it and an adult and a kid holding hands, you know?

 

 

That moment was truly ... I got accepted as a human being.

 

Benjamin:

People helped you get through the airport?

 

Charles:

Yeah, yeah. Yes.

 

Benjamin:

I mean, people have been lost for long times in LAX. Just kidding.

 

Charles:

Yeah. Then, as long as I arrived, there's always an agent that came out like, "Okay. Are you Charles? Are you Charles Yu? Let's go," holding my hand and then through the airport and they helped me out. Through the entire journey, I couldn't sleep at all, on the plane or either in a airport because I thought I was dreaming, right?

 

Benjamin:

I can't sleep on airplanes either.

 

Charles:

No. I was too excited.

 

Benjamin:

Yeah.

 

Charles:

As soon as I got into Catholic Church, which is the organization that has North Korean refugees, they have a hundred and twenty refugees in their organization. They help Africa, Mexico, Syria, North Koreans, a lot of them. As soon as I got there, I don't even understand, right? "You understand English? You understand English? Charles, welcome, welcome!" But at that time, I couldn't speak English. I don't know. What does that mean? I said, "Okay. Okay. Okay."

 

 

Then they sent me to the foster parents' house. "Charles, this is your room," and showed me my room and, "Okay, this is where you're going to live." Oh my God.

 

Benjamin:

Were you scared?

 

Charles:

I was truly scared. What if someday I get caught again? What if I get sent back to North Korea? What if the police see me and then, "Okay, you're from North Korea? Let's go!" You know?

 

 

For two weeks or three weeks I cannot even go out because I was too afraid to go out but I had a social worker and she's coming to my house with a book and with a translator. I used to communicate with them with Google translate because I didn't even speak English, right? So Google Translate, "How are you? Have you eaten yet?" And translating. Yeah.

 

 

Then, I went to high school because I never had a chance to graduate high school in North Korea because my mom so during the time when I was nine through eleven, my mom was in hospital so I always nourish her, you know? Then, my mom passed away and I couldn't go to school so I really wanted to start from the bottom so I can have the education that I need to be able to be successful. Even though I was seventeen and ten months older, I got into high school as a Freshman in Concord High School. I skipped Junior year and I studied hard and I got my diploma.

 

Benjamin:

You graduated high school in three years?

 

Charles:

Yes.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. When you were done with high school, then what did you do?

 

Charles:

After I was done with high school, I tried to serve military and then, I don't have the country [inaudible 00:54:29] because I'm the only one. I'm the first one joining the military who is not Korean. There's a lot of South Koreans applying to military but I'm the first one in North Korea. I don't have a country code. I keep failing, failing, failing, you know?

 

 

Then, last time, I got accepted. "Okay. We have a country code for you now because we manually put me in a [inaudible 00:54:51]."

 

Benjamin:

You're the first person to ever apply to be part of the United States Military from-?

 

Charles:

North Korea.

 

Benjamin:

North Korea.

 

Charles:

Yes. That was the truly ... history-changing isn't it?

 

Benjamin:

Yeah. Your moment in history.

 

Charles:

Yeah but I failed the ASVAB test.

 

Benjamin:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Coal mine-

 

Charles:

Coal mine?

 

Benjamin:

You had asthma because you were in the coal mine?

 

Charles:

No, no, no. ASVAB test. It's like nine subject test.

 

Benjamin:

Oh! I thought you said you had asthma, breathing problems.

 

Charles:

No. I don't have any problem with that. I'm healthy. I'm ready to go but only thing is my brain, you know?

 

Benjamin:

Your brain is just fine.

 

Charles:

Only thing is, I failed the test so I'm going to retake it. After high school I did that and I failed and then, after that, I got scholarship at the [inaudible 00:55:40], through North Korea-

 

Benjamin:

What's the organization called? Livery?

 

Charles:

Liberty in North Korea.

 

Benjamin:

Liberty in North Korea?

 

Charles:

Yes.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

As a short link and then they gave me a scholarship at the [inaudible 00:55:52] because I really wanted to learn computer and I really wanted to help North Koreans to learn computers, too. Every time a new refugee come, they don't even know what is the internet. They don't even know what is website. I can help them, too.

 

 

Then, I got a scholarship from [inaudible 00:56:09] and I graduated Korean [inaudible 00:56:11] and I graduated Korean [inaudible 00:56:12] in three months and I'm working for Lyft right now. Going to school part time and now, I'm applying for a second job which is driving instructor at the Santa Clara Driving School.

 

Benjamin:

Great.

 

Charles:

Yes, sir. Yay!

 

Benjamin:

Tell me, what are you studying now?

 

Charles:

I'm majoring in Software Engineering and Computer Science but my major goal is to be a professional web security. I have a really big dream. I don't know if it's possible. I really want to hack North Korea website, North Korea and then, spill every single secret to all of the North Koreans and someday I'm going to create a network that everybody can access it in North Korea and then they go online.

 

 

They see the truth. The biggest lie is Kim Jung Il was born in the mountain, the greatest mountain which is Paektu. What the hell? He was born in Russia! I want everyone to know that but North Korean people still don't know. Kim Jung Il is a god. Okay, he was born in pure mountain in North Korea and that's why he's a star and when he born in the mountain, the one big star has been [lighted 00:57:26] up. What the hell? He was born in Russia! I just want everyone to know, you know?

 

 

Then, someday, we can rise up all together, as a unit, one unit and take down the government. Now, North Korean people are really scary and afraid of the government. They have the power, right? North Korean people doesn't have power to change themselves at all but, if they know the truth, and if they are united and working as a unit, they can take out the government and, someday, hopefully, South Korea and North Korea combine together and live like one family again.

 

Benjamin:

That's great. I don't know how to thank you enough for sharing this story.

 

Charles:

No problem. Thanks for inviting me and one thing I really appreciate about America is United States accept me as who am I and accept me and gave me a chance to spread my wings or give me a chance to live my life, right? Freedom and everything. I really thank you for that and there is a lot of North Korean people still risking their life in China, waiting for our help and I really want to help them to find their freedom and happiness as I found mine.

 

Benjamin:

I think that we're equally luckily to have you here and, as much as you feel grateful, you sharing your story reminds me of how fortunate we are and all the things that I personally take for granted that you weren't born into. Hopefully, we can share this story and it will mean as much to other people as it means to me.

 

 

Thank you for telling us the story in detail and I think that, at the end of the day, when people hear this and, if they want to help your cause or the cause of the North Korean people, what are the ways that you think that they can contribute? How can they help people in North Korea? How can people like me help people that are going through what you went through?

 

Charles:

A lot of North Koreans in China, they're still struggling, waiting the brokers and, if we gave them a shelter or food or clothing and either a spare penny, cents, they can have their shelter and food and the bus tickets. They can buy the bus tickets and come to the freedom.

 

Benjamin:

Is there a service that helps do that?

 

Charles:

Yes. The Liberty in North Korea, they go to China and they rescue North Koreans.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. Liberty in North Korea?

 

Charles:

Yeah.

 

Benjamin:

I'll make sure that we add some of their contact information at the end of this and, hopefully, anybody that listens to this podcast all the way through will know that they exist and we'll put their website. I'm guessing it's Liberty in North Korea.org?

 

 

Outside of Liberty in North Korea.org, one of the things that I feel strongly about is being able to help you continue your education so you can help the people in North Korea. You mentioned that you're going to school. Where are you going to school?

 

Charles:

[De Anza 01:00:24] College.

 

Benjamin:

De Anza College?

 

Charles:

Community college. Yes.

 

Benjamin:

Okay.

 

Charles:

Hoping that in one and a half years, I'll be able to transfer to Berkeley. I'm really hoping to transfer to Berkeley.

 

Benjamin:

Great. Okay. What I'd like to do is we'll set up a Gofundme page so anybody that would like to help you get through your schooling can make a contribution and one of the things that you've mentioned to me before is that some of the contributions that you received you'd also like to give to some of the organizations that have helped you. What are the other organizations that you think are important to highlight? Who has helped you along the way?

 

Charles:

The main organization that helped me was Catholic Churches of Santa Clara County and that's the main organization that I want to highlight and, secondly, it is an organization called Liberty in North Korea which is the organization that specifically helped North Koreans who are in great danger in China.

 

Benjamin:

Okay. That just about wraps up the first season of A Long Road Home. Before we say goodbye for now, I have a few favors to ask of you, our listeners. If you're feeling inspired by Charles' story and have the means, we've set up a Gofundme page to help pay for Charles' education. This can be found at Gofundme.com slash "a long road home" dash "Charles".

 

 

The first five thousand dollars of the Gofundme campaign will go directly to Charles' schooling and any additional funds that we collect will be donated to the Liberty in North Korea charity. If you're not in a place to give, we understand and we would still love your help sharing Charles' story. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please leave us a review in iTunes and share the podcast on Facebook.

 

 

Lastly, there are a few people that I'd personally like to thank who helped create and promote this podcast. Thank you specifically to our PR guru, [Arian Tallma 01:02:15], our editor, [Pano Stupis 01:02:17], our friends at Lyft, Inc. [My-Hear Gandhi 01:02:19] and Gwen Bellamy, Joel [Engardio 01:02:21] of the San Francisco Examiner, Susan Santiago of K-W-M-R and, most of all, a heartfelt thank you to my wife, Katie Shapiro, who didn't throw me out of the house when I told her that I was starting a podcast about North Korea when she was eight months pregnant.

 

 

That pretty much wraps it up for this season of A Long Road Home but don't worry. We'll be back next season to tell another story of survival from the road. Until then, thank you for listening, safe travels and take care of each other.

 

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