By Clive Lindley-Jones | July 31, 2015 10:44 am
Long-term readers of these occasional blogs will know that early in 2013 I was in Korea examining and Lecturing to an impressive group of doctors keen on my specialist subject of Professional Applied Kinesiology.
So when they volunteered to host the 2015 international conference I was happy to return and work in Seoul for another week doing more examining and attending and lecturing at the conference.
Most of us enjoy talking shop to anyone who shares our interest and expertise and although a mixture of long hours and jet lag took their toll, the week in Korea was immensely rewarding and enjoyable, made doubly so by the intelligence and hospitality of our hosts. Good friendships have opened up despite the language barrier.
For those health professionals who are still, even today occasionally distrusted, dismissed or ignored by the narrow myopia of the prevailing orthodoxy at home, it is always rewarding and encouraging to move to another culture where clinicians of every strip from surgeons, dentists to Doctors of Traditional Korean Medicine, chiropractors and Osteopaths are well versed in and respectful of, the skills and clinical interests we all share. It is immensely refreshing and encouraging, as well as clinically stimulating, to hear of their application of high-powered research into our field of Applied Kinesiology. I was happy to be able to present findings from some of the research done on the work of The Sunflower Trust and enjoy the company along with me of its founder, my friend and colleague, Mark Mathews.
We all need to have time to mix with our peers, learn and inspire each other and indulge in plenty of 'shop talk' that others would find impenetrable and/or boring, but we who are still enthusiasts for our chosen profession gain insights and just as important, inspiration from each other's work and curiosity about the ever-present mysteries of human health and disease.
South Koreans have not pulled their country out of the aftermath of a terrible civil war so successfully without a fearsome work ethic which is impressive to see. However they also know how to unbend.
So while on an evening boat trip down the river in Seoul to celebrate the start of the conference it fell to me, who knew the karaoke traditions of Koreans from my last visit, not to mention my years in Japan as a young man, to step up and be the first foreigner to do my stint and make a little bit of a fool of myself at the karaoke! Altogether it was a memorable week.
South Korea, once the poorer of the two divided Koreas, is now a thriving and impressively wealthy democracy, while just a few miles away, over the highly militarised demilitarised Zone which I visited two years ago, is a totally different country; the truly awful state of North Korea.
Sadly North Korea is in the grip of a personality-cult based around the ruling family Kim Jun Un, Kim Jong-Il his dead father and the founder of the present state grandfather, Kim Il sung,. Juche usually translated as "self reliance" sometimes refered to as Kimilsungism, after the grandfather, is the official ideology/religion.
This is a ludicrous and insanely barbarous confection of the old communist personality-cult mixed with a Korean self-sufficiency twist, that would be hilarious, in an absurdist way, were it not murderous nonsense. As it stands it is another gross regime that is an enormous blot on all our consciences as one of the worlds greatest rejections of human rights and the rule of law and love.
As this was my fourth visit to South Korea, this time I was interested to read a little about the strange, isolated state of North Korea that I had previously only glimpsed over the wire, on my visit to the Demilitarised Zone, in January 2013.
It is hard to get a factual account of the country, such is the paranoid control of the Kim regime over all propaganda. Few foreigners are able to do more than visit selected areas around the show capital, under intense government supervision. So I read two excellent books about, or by, defectors, who had managed to escape North Korea, something that under Kim Jong-un is becoming more and more difficult .
During Kim Jong-Il’s 17-year rule, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans fled the country. But, leaving the country without official permission is considered a serious crime, and many of those who were caught faced abuse, torture, and forced labor in prison camps. Kim Jong-un has greatly heightened surveillance and control on the border with China and enforced harsher punishments for those trying to go to South Korea and those aiding them.
As Human Rights Watch. noted earlier this year, Kim Jong-il, the father of the present young dictator, Kim Jong-un, should be remembered for presiding over one of the world’s most brutal and repressive governments. Things don't seem to be changing much under the son.
These accounts of North Koreans who have made the perilous journey to escape the north make fascinating, but tragic, reading. Reading these accounts once again makes one marvel at the insight of George Orwell, whose special gift was to see so accurately into the heart of all such reclusive, totalitarian states, now so long ago, in his seminal and still, sadly, prescient books Animal Farm and 1984. One cannot but remember his wise dissection of this particular brand of cruel, inhumanity when reading about the monstrosities and cruelty of the suitably miss-named Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.
While, no doubt some visitors to Pyongyang may be fooled by the recent building boom, the stories told in the following two factual accounts lay bear the truth. The first is by a North Korean government insider. Dear Leader, by Jan Jin-Sung a leading North Korean propagandist. He escaped to South Korea after a tense and dangerous journey, through China, and has written an impressive account, from the inside of the life both for those at the top in Pyongyang and those far from the centre of power who go hungry. The second, Nothing to Envy: Real lives in North Korea, is by BBC Samuel Johnson prize-winning American journalist, Barbara Demick . In this painstaking piece of journalism Demick has interviewed many North Koreans in Seoul and through extensive interviews she as pieced together several individuals stories both of life in famine crushed North Korea and in their often difficult lives once they had managed to leave this regime.
Recently in the the Times (22/6/15) hyeonseo_lee was interviewed about her own new book The Girl with Seven Names, published on July 2nd, which I have yet to read. She too defected from North Korea in 1997, and tells of seeing her first execution, regular mandatory public events in North Korea, at the age of seven years old. But such daring publishing by defectors is unusual. Demick ends her book saying that she has found that,
"Over time the North Korean defectors I know in South Korea become more reticent. They worry about spies within the defector community who might try to blackmail them. They fear that speaking on the human rights circuit or giving interviews to journalists will result in retaliation. One can leave, but one can never completely escape the terror that is North Korea".
At a time when hundreds of thousands of desperate people are criss crossing the world, fleeing terror and hardship at home, the plight of North Koreans, both at home and those making the agonising and very dangerous journey to freedom through hostile states like China, should not be forgotten, and we, who have so much, should not forget our brothers and sisters around the world, in states like these, who suffer still.
Sorry to end on a rather depressing note. Coming soon, some reflections on my visit to China, and later in the autumn my ten months experience with the 5:2 Fast Diet, plus later still, journeys into the Human microbiota. Watch this space.
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