Without You, There Is No Us | Suki Kim

Summary of: Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite
By: Suki Kim


Prepare to dive deep into the enthralling yet unnerving world of author Suki Kim as she uncovers the lives of North Korea’s elite in her captivating book, ‘Without You, There Is No Us’. This book summary will take you on an eye-opening journey through Suki Kim’s undercover investigation, where she disguises herself as a volunteer English teacher within a group of missionaries. Experience the restrictions, fears, and sacrifices the people of North Korea face – both foreigners and citizens alike – as you read about constant surveillance, government minders, and the cruel treatment of those who step out of line. Get ready to explore the complex notions of what life is truly like in a land where freedoms are few and far between.

Getting into North Korea

Suki Kim’s memoir Without You, There Is No Us sheds light on the difficulties of entering North Korea. With less than 2,000 Westerners granted access to the country per year, the visa process can be grueling and time-consuming. To obtain a visa, visitors must go through a North Korean embassy or consulate, which is not easily accessible for citizens of many countries. The approval process involves 35 North Korean government agencies, resulting in a visa that is typically issued just before the start of the trip. Kim was able to enter the country by posing as a volunteer English teacher with a missionary group, as North Korean authorities do not allow Western journalists into the country. Once inside, the challenges continue. By experiencing North Korea’s oppressive regime firsthand, Kim’s memoir offers a unique perspective into the secret and largely inaccessible country.

North Korea’s Watchful Eye

In North Korea, paranoia is a reality. Every move a person makes is being watched. Minders are assigned to keep track of foreigners by meeting them at the airport, taking their passports and phones. Even citizens live under similar surveillance, with a vast network of informants monitoring and reporting on each other. At the university, there is always a monitor during lessons, and some students secretly serve as vice monitors and secretaries to report on their teachers and classmates. The fear of being reported on is so intense that people rarely let their guard down, often avoiding any mention of their personal preferences. This state of constant monitoring creates an atmosphere of fear and mistrust, where everyone is suspicious of each other.

Living under Surveillance in North Korea

Discover the consequences of living under strict surveillance and how even the smallest actions in North Korea can land you in trouble.

Living under constant surveillance can be a nightmare, but in North Korea, it’s a way of life. The minders and informants in the country are not only there to protect citizens, but they are also on the lookout for any actions that could be classified as crimes. For instance, handling images of the Great Leader carelessly is considered a crime that could land you in prison. In North Korea, photographs are considered an extension of the people, and therefore, damaging their leader’s image is deemed disrespectful.

As a foreigner in the country, you are not exempt from these strict rules. Taking pictures is a serious crime, especially if you capture images of the military or photos that depict the country’s problems. Minders are always watching, and they can report you at any time for any perceived wrongdoing. Not even simple activities like jogging while off-duty or wearing clothes that don’t align with Korea’s modesty standards are allowed.

Kim’s experience at PUST demonstrates how strict the country’s rules are. She had to ensure that she gave equal chocolate bars to all students and faced consequences when her minder caught her jogging on campus. Even her clothing had to be carefully picked, with long skirts and high-necked blouses only being acceptable in muted colors.

Living under surveillance in North Korea is more than just a physical imprisonment; it’s the constant battle to exist without being noticed.

Restricted Freedom in North Korea

North Koreans and foreigners in North Korea live under severe restrictions that limit their ability to move and explore locations without permission.

North Korea’s residents and foreign visitors face strict restrictions on their freedom of movement. Residents of Pyongyang must obtain permission even to visit a nearby bowling alley or swimming pool, and university students are prohibited from visiting their families, even if they are close by and accessible by car. Even tourists are confined to official tours with predetermined itineraries and must pay for a guide, driver, and minder if they want to visit a restaurant.

Similarly, visitors from foreign countries must obtain permission before they can travel anywhere, including eating or buying something from their local shops. The rules are so severe that only a few privileged young men in the author’s class were allowed to visit the ancient capital of Kaesung.

The article highlights that North Korea’s residents are not allowed to explore the country without permission. They are not allowed to make personal trips or walks to relax, and the only way to move around the city is through the assistance of a minder. Pyongyang also follows an unofficial curfew, as noticed by the author’s experience, where the minders become very nervous when traveling around at night.

Overall, the article conveys that North Koreans and foreigners in North Korea live under severe restrictions that limit their ability to move and explore locations without permission.

The Dark Reality of North Korea

North Korea is infamous for its human rights offenses and censorship. The country has a history of abusing its citizens, with over one million executions, concentration camp fatalities or forced labor since 1948. Political prisoners are believed to be kept in gulags, with escape leading to certain death. Censorship is severe, with state-controlled media as the sole source of information. Those caught watching foreign channels may be punished through forced labor, prison, or even the death penalty. Internet access is limited to a censored intranet of state-sponsored websites, and foreigners are discouraged from speaking with DPRK journalists. The education system is strictly monitored to ensure that no negative information is presented to students. The reality of life in North Korea is a grim one, with limited access to information, personal freedoms, and human rights.

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