Archive for February, 2012


With all the cult-hero worship of Steve Jobs, I thought it was interesting that the Chinese are building his ipads in glorified sweat shops for 60 hours a week making $2 an hour. They live in on-site dorms, or whole families in one room garages built by the factory for their workers. I’m sure the Chinese who look over the balconies of those living quarters are comforted by the suicide nets the company has installed there. Is this the way we want another country to bring us down economically? Ipads…how very touching.

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My name is Dae-Jung Lee. Food is my religion, my stomach is the temple, and if there is a god, hunger is his spirit. I can practice my religion now, I bow three times a day before the offerings, and sometime, I am ashamed to say, I indulge in something sweet. Like cake or ice cream. I sit on a park bench and after I have ice cream I put my elbow up on the bench casually. But it makes me feel arrogant so I put it once more to my side.

My new world is like my old world, except that now I can eat when I am hungry. That is the only difference. Here there are so many kinds of people but in my other life, there were two kinds of people: guards, and prisoners. If you did everything right, you were a guard; if you did wrong things, you were a prisoner.  I must have done many things wrong, because I was a prisoner.

I had a mother whom I saw from midnight to five in the morning. She beat me and I blamed her for my suffering. I had a brother too, she told me, but I never saw him till the day he was shot for trying to escape. My mother they hanged. They beat me for not knowing about their escape attempt.

I thought the whole world was a prison camp, and that there was nothing else. I didn’t know I lived in a country, or that I had someone called a Great Leader.  One day I learned about my country and my Great Leader. I escaped through electric fence into the real North Korea and I thought it was a heavenly place. People had different clothes and they had food to eat. They had families and they could walk along rivers and under trees, things I had never seen or heard of.

When I escaped North Korea and crossed the river into China, I saw strange things that sparkled. People told me about televisions and cellphones. I saw colorful lights in a massive city, but none of these things interested me. I only wanted to eat.

Today, I live in South Korea, among people whose lives are very complex. They are driven to be successful, they dress beautifully, and they do activities together with their friends, then go home to comfortable beds and soothing music.

But, my world is different. I see the lights, the shining things. I hear the music and the laughter. None of this matters to me. Only one thing matters to me – food. I am consumed by the same religion I’ve known all my life.

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A used hat sits on a shelf

Whose head was it on?

Someone who grew weary of that hat

With its felt circle of restriction

and wide brim

and sweat stains.

It blocked the light

and the heat of the sun

and  hid someone’s unkempt hair

I suppose it will keep sitting there

until he comes back for it –

if he does come back

Maybe he traded it in for a better one

A crown of thorns sits on a shelf

Whose head was it on?

Someone who was forced to wear that hat

with its twisted circle of branches

and sharp points

and blood stains

It wasn’t worn for shade

or to block out the sun

It couldn’t hide his unkempt hair

I suppose it will keep sitting there

because he would never come back for it,

when he does come back

I’ll bet he traded it in for a better one.

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