Lex Fridman Podcast - #196 - Yeonmi Park: North Korea

The following is a conversation with Yeonmi Park, a North Korean defector, human rights activist,

and author of the book, In Order to Live. Quick mention of our sponsors, Belcampo, Gala Games,

Batter Help, and Aid Sleep. Check them out in the description to support this podcast.

Let me say a few words about North Korea. From 1994 to 1998, North Korea went through a famine.

Mass starvation, caused primarily by King Jong Il, who at the time was the new leader of North

Korea after his father’s death in 1994. Somewhere between 600,000 and 3 million people died due to

starvation. From all the stories of famine in history, including my own family history, I’ve

come to understand that hunger tortures the human mind in a way that can break everything we stand

for. In North Korea, during the 90s famine, many were driven to cannibalism. Imagine more than 10

million people suffering starvation for months and years, always on the brink of death. We don’t know

the exact numbers of people who died because the suffering was done in silence, in darkness. Very

little information in or out. Most people had to survive without electricity, without clean water,

medical supplies, sanitation, and food. The North Korean propaganda machine called this

the Arduous March, or the March of Suffering, and words such as famine and hunger were banned

because they implied government failure. And once again, now, in 2021, King Jong Un,

the current leader of North Korea, is calling for his country to prepare for another Arduous March,

or March of Suffering. Another period of mass starvation as the country closes its borders.

Looking at atrocities of the past decades and the encroaching atrocity there now, I think about the

quiet suffering of millions of North Koreans. I think about the torture of the human spirit.

I think about a North Korean child who could be a scientist, an artist, a writer, but who instead

grows impossibly thin without food, their bodies slowly rotting away as their parents watch

helplessly. I got emotional in this conversation with you and me, in part because I remembered my

grandmother, who survived Khaldamur, the famine in Ukraine, intentionally created by Stalin,

where 4 to 10 million people died and many, many more suffered. Imagine knowing that if you don’t

engage in cannibalism, you will die before your children did, and then they will be eaten.

Imagine, because of this, deciding to murder and eat your own children,

as many people did. Imagine the kind of desperation, torture, that leads up to a decision

like that. I’m not smart enough to know what evil is, nor where to draw the line between good and

evil. But Stalin, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un, are men who in the name of power are willing to make

millions of people, of children, suffer and die from starvation. I rarely have hate in my heart,

but I hate these men. I hate that such men exist in this world. I hate that the beauty I love about

this life exists amidst such unimaginable cruelty. I have been haunted by this conversation,

by memories of my grandmother’s pain. But I’ve also been warmed by memories of her love.

Love gives me hope. Hope for the perseverance of the human spirit, even in the face of evil.

This is the Lex Friedman Podcast, and here is my conversation with you and me, Park.

Park. Can you tell your story from North Korea to today as you describe in your 2015 book,

and with the extra perspective on life, love and freedom you’ve gained since then?

Wow, that’s a long story. So I was born in the northern part of North Korea initially.

And my father was a party member. And my mom was housewife. I had one older sister.

And I remember born in that country. I never thought I was in an unusual country. Now I’m

thinking of what is literally called the Hermit Kingdom. But I thought I believed that I was

living in the best country on earth. It was a socialist paradise. And everybody in the rest

of the world worshiped my ideal leader. And there was nothing to envy for me. So I had this

enormous pride in my heart. And grateful to be in that country.

So it was love for the leader, not fear?

For me at least, it was love. Yeah, it was all the moderation and gratitude.

It changed lately, but for me was pure, pure like love.

Was there any, like looking back with the perspective you have now,

would you describe some of those moments growing up as full of happiness? Or was that

delusion at the time? So not knowing the alternative, will you still be able to be happy?

The fact that I did not know, like in North Korea, this is the only country in this 21st century

has no internet. And they don’t even know the existence of internet. Not only that,

we don’t even have this 24 hour electricity. So not knowing definitely helped, I think,

to be sane. So as a human being, you’re still able to find moments of happiness?

I think my happiness was from family, nothing else. Even though those days keep telling me

that they were our source of meaning and happiness, I don’t think I ever got happy by that.

Maybe they’re here and they’re in schools. And like when I was learning propaganda,

like, you know, the proud feeling, right? I mean, the greatest nation here and there,

but like actually true happiness came from laughing with my family, my friends.

Are there any childhood memories, pleasant or painful ones that stand out to you now?

I mean, like, you know, whenever I think about my North Korea, the interesting is

there’s no color. I mean, one is because North Korean country has no color, right? Most of

things are unpaved and trees all cut down. We have no fear. So people cut down trees to

make food. So but only that, like, even what we are wearing was like no color. So it’s an

interesting memory to look back.

What about fashion? I’ve noticed from sort of you now, you have quite an incredible sense of

fashion. So contrast that with your time in North Korea. How do you remember fashion? Just

ways that people could express themselves visually. Was it all bland?

There was no word for fashion in North Korea. We didn’t even know. It was not even in our

dictionary. So of course, I did not know what Victoria’s Secret models were. I didn’t even

know what models were. So when I came out, I learned the model was a job. And like, what

is that? And I’m still confused. So there’s so many jobs that we have here doesn’t exist

in North Korea.

What was life like in North Korea as compared to the rest of the world? So maybe you said

there’s no internet. 24 hour electricity is a luxury you do not have. What about food?

What about water? What about basic human rights?

I think that’s a thing like when people were asking me, can you tell me about like life

in North Korea? And in the past, I was like, I cannot describe it to you. And initially

I thought, oh, because of my English that I cannot find the words. It’s not that it’s

a different planet. The common sense that we have doesn’t exist there. Like people literally

do not know the concept of romantic love, or human rights or liberty. So when I’m thinking

back to my country, it’s, you know, like, as you cannot imagine your life on Mars right

now. It’s like that kind of difference. I grew up never seen the map of the world. I

never knew that I was Asian. Like the regime told me that I was Kim Il Sung, the first

Kim race. And then our calendar doesn’t begin when Jesus Christ was born. Our calendar begins

where Kim was born. So we, and history was forgotten to us. They didn’t teach us about

of course, Christianity or like the Big Bang. Like our history began when Kim was born.

So everything was forgotten to us. And it was a different meaning. I mean, feeling of

existence, you know, it’s not even like same life. I literally think that was almost like

my past life. And this is like a new life that I began.

You’re almost like a different human being now.

Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

So you’ve, I have to say, I often say that my favorite book is Animal Farm by George

Orwell. I’ve read it, I don’t know how many times. And so I was really happy to hear that

that was of the many books, excellent books that we’ll hopefully talk about. You’ve mentioned

that Animal Farm had a big impact on you. It was the book that kind of led to a kind

of awakening for you. Maybe can you describe what impact it had?

So after going through what I went through, and I arrived in South Korea after many years

of journey, they were saying, so Kims were dictators, and South Korea is not colonized

by American bastards. And Americans, first of all, not bastards, they’re good people.

And then they say everything that you believe in North Korea was a lie. It was a propaganda.

Then at 15, I was thinking, so if everything that I believe was a lie, how do I know what

I believe is not a lie? That was so hard. How do I trust ever again? And I just, it

was chaos in belief. I did not know what was true anymore. And that’s the moment, a few

years later, I read this book, like Animal Farm, just by mistake. It was a very short

book in the library. I was like, okay, I can finish that quickly. And when they’re ending

that, like last chapter, they could not see between the pigs and humans anymore. That

sentence, I just understood everything that happened. It made every sense to me, what

happened to me, my people, and to my country.

Yeah, there’s so many things I could say about that book. Yeah, there’s a haunting nature

to the end. And I guess spoiler alert, but you should have read this already. If you’re

listening to this. At the end, the animals were looking to the humans and to the pigs

and they couldn’t see the difference. And then there’s this kind of gradual transition

from the initial revolutionary steps of animals fighting for their freedom to slowly the pigs

gaining control, went from four legs good, two legs bad, to four legs good, two legs

better, I believe. Two legs even better, I think, something like that. So like gradually

transitioning the ideology under which the farm operates. And I think the gradual nature

of that, where basically you have generations born not knowing how things were in the past.

And that’s what makes the most kind of, for me, haunting transition from freedom to slavery

to suffering to injustice, all those things. And the animals don’t know they’re part of

that. And also for me personally, I always kind of found a kinship with Boxer the horse

because I just, I’m kind of an idiot, I just work really hard. And I just love the idea

of working hard for an ideal. And the tragic nature of, to the end, that horse, Boxer,

working his ass off for the pride for others. But yeah, for the pride of the farm, you know.

And then the pigs giving him, sort of using that, but then just sending him to the slaughterhouse

anyway, when he was no longer useful. I mean, there’s so many tragic elements that echo

everything I’ve seen in the Soviet Union. And many of the elements that you see in even

harsher, more drastic way in North Korea. If there’s something hopeful you pull from

that book, like within the suffering, within the gradual decline, the taking away the freedom,

there were still moments of beauty, it seemed like.

It can be. But I think for me was when I was ending the last page of the book. Until that

point, I was angry towards the dictator. Why do you do this as a human being? I was so

angry, dreaming of killing him, right? Revenge on my father, the people that he killed.

But when I was ending the last chapter, actually everybody was responsible to create this dystopia

in my country. The initial animals, when they’re scared, when they see the first execution,

and then they were not doing their job, speaking out and keep questioning. They had a question

and then as soon as they see a fear, they silence. Because of that, that’s when I was

like, my grandma knew life could be different. I think the one thing about North Koreans

are unique is that they don’t know they’re oppressed. They don’t know that they are slaves

to the dictator. And the fact that other people know they’re oppressed, like in America, a

lot of people think they are oppressed, like you are not oppressed. You don’t even know

the definition of oppression. And that’s like when the new animals came, the new animals

didn’t even know what the life could be like. There’s no alternative for them to compare

even. And I was like, my grandmother knew. Why didn’t they not do anything about it?

And they were just scared. They kept silent. And everybody was responsible.

So the people who knew were too afraid to say. And then there’s people that just didn’t

even know. And I don’t know what’s more terrifying about human nature, looking at this group

of people who are afraid to say that things could be otherwise, and then the group of

people that don’t even know it could be better.


It’s, I don’t know, that’s the reason I return to that book often, because it’s such, maybe

because it’s interesting using animals to represent ideas that were very human. It almost

allows you to explore the darkness of human nature without sort of being broken by it.

So you mentioned anger. When I watch your interviews, you’re really calm and collected.

Not just your interviews, you know, Instagram, the way you present yourself. You, I don’t

know, it seems like you’re almost at peace with the world. Is there in private times

when you’re just angry? Do you feel fear? Do you go to dark places, depression, all

those kinds of things? Are you, are you able to put that world that you were in behind


It’s a joke because I talk about North Korea every single day and I still rescue people

like from China and Russia and other countries, right? And sometimes I’ll rescue mission

figures and they get captured and sent back. I still have people in North Korea report

to me. So like when I talked to my sister who chose to not be in this life, activist

life, she forgot most of things. And like for the other hand, I like to remember everything.

So sometimes it’s a blessing to keep reminded of how, because it’s, you know, they say happiness

is a relative thing. It is sometimes. I mean, I think it’s also people say because nobody

was foreign when you’re growing up, everybody was suffering. You should have been okay,

right? But no, like if you are suffering in that degree, no matter, even if there’s no

comparison, like if you’re in Nazi Germany, in the Holocaust, right? In the concentration

camp, I’m sure nobody was better than them. I’m sure they were suffering. It’s the same

thing. I suffered. But now because I’m in this place, I can compare easily, right? Getting

that perspective. But it is true, like I still have days that I cannot get out of bed. And

I really hoping like that when it was Elon Musk talking about downloading your brain,

blah, blah, blah. Maybe technology develops that I can download some part of my memory

and then I can erase it or delete it. And that’d be so much better.

What I, this is a, sorry for the tough question, but if I came to you, if Elon came to you

and said, we can erase that part of your memory, would you do it?

Some days I would do it for sure. And my mom would do 100%. My sister would do it. All

other defectors know they do 100%. For me, I hesitated because I’m a witness. So if I

delete that part, I don’t know how real that can be. But it is painful. After I talk, give

a speech, right? I mean, I’m fine. But somehow I’m depressed. Sometimes if the talk was very

intense, I’m like depressed for three weeks. It takes a while for me to be recharged. But

I don’t know why it is. I just don’t know.

Well, there’s also the, and there’s a guy named Victor Franco who wrote the book, Man

Search for Meaning. And there’s some aspect where, so he talks about the Holocaust and

that you can, in those moments of suffering, still discover meaning, still discover happiness

in the simplest of joys. Like while starving, a little piece of bread could be a source

of incredible joy. And there’s some aspect in which that experience gives you a clarity

about the world. Like somehow experiencing suffering allows you to deeply experience

joy and love, and also empathize with the suffering of others. And it’s almost like

brings you closer to other humans. This double edged sword that the highest of joys sometimes

are catalyzed by suffering. And it’s hard to know what to do with that. You see that

with World War II, the stories of soldiers that have suffered, but some of the closest

bonds of brotherhood, of just pure love was experienced by them. And it sucks that our

brains are like this. Love requires hardship. I don’t know why that is.

Yeah, that’s like that thing. Of course, in my journey, I learned how to survive, right?

When to not trust and when to run. But I think most of us keep learning what it means to

be a human being. I think that was like the ultimate thing I was keep learning. And I

still don’t know fully what it means. But I do think it seems like suffering is necessary

for people to be grateful and even be joyful too sometimes.

So I talk about love quite a bit. And you mentioned that romantic love. I’m fascinated

about love in many aspects. But you mentioned romantic love was forbidden in North Korea.

What do you think about love now that you’ve kind of discovered it? What’s the role of

love in life? So why do you think it was forbidden in North Korea?

So the tragic thing about North Korea is not only just banning Shakespeare, like we don’t

even know what Romeo and Juliet is, right? Our movies is never about love stories. But

then also they banned the love between mother and daughter, wife and husband, and between

your friends. They deny you being a human. So only love that I knew was when I described

my feeling towards the leader and in a written form. That was the only love that people know

in North Korea. And now I’m like, there are many loves you can experience. I think you

definitely love science, right? But imagine that if you’re being denied that. So there

are so many loves in life. But in North Korea, all of those things are denied. And I think

for me, love is what makes you tick. Like, you know, love for your child, love for your

parents, love for your friends, love for even yourself. That is denied. So I mean, many

people say like, love is an option. But like, then why do you live? I think we live to love.

And it doesn’t have to be romantic love. It can be anything. But finding love in any person

or in any subject, I think that’s a goal. I think that’s when people find meaning in


Yeah, I think romantic love is just one sort of, one echo of some core thing. Yeah, science,

I love science, I love robots, all of those things. And it sounds like deliberately or

not, the North Korean regime wants to channel that very deep aspect of the human spirit

all towards the leader.

Yeah, that’s it. That’s the only thing they allow us to fear and know about. So I remember,

I mean, you read 1984 by George Orwell, it talks about double think and double speak,

who controls the language, who controls thoughts. And why he does talk about as they go, they

eliminate a lot of words, right? Now, later one word can represent 10 different things.

And what fascinates me is how many vocabulary meaning people can have. And when I literally

came out, I remember I went to San Francisco, and someone came to me and hugged me. And

then he was a guy like, oh, baby, don’t worry, I’m gay. I was like, what the heck is gay?

And then I literally had to go to a hotel room and Google the gay. And it’s like, oh,

that’s what you meant. And like that, like, they deny what that is. I’m sure there are

gays in North Korea. I’m sure there is. But you don’t know what it is. And like that,

they eliminate words. So the fact that you know the concept, that stays much better than

and that’s the thing a lot of people like when you’re born, you somehow know what justice

is, what liberty is. And it’s all somebody taught you that. And like, that’s the thing

why people say, oh, humans are inherently know what is right, what is wrong, what is

oppression. And like, no, that’s like BS. You got to learn.

That’s fascinating that words give rise to ideas. So like, as a child, one of the ways

to learn about justice and freedom is to first learn the word, and then to ask, well, what

is it? Yeah, the concept. Yeah. And if you don’t have the word for it, then you never

have the kind of first spark that leads to you trying to be curious about it. That’s

interesting and controlling the words. And then, yeah, I mean, your thoughts, you control

the thoughts. There’s so many echoes. I mean, I have, it’s a very different, but perhaps

a very similar experience, which is the journey of my family through the Soviet Union. Because

there is a love of country. There is a pride of the people. Like you are proud of your

family in general. But I wonder how much of that is polluted by the propaganda.

I think a lot. For sure. Yeah. It is to this day, I’m like, my father who died in China

and he was tortured and then he died. He wanted to go back before his death, right? And then

it’s like, dad, if you go back, you’re going to be executed. And it’s like, I want to be

executed. He wanted to go back to North Korea. To be executed. So he can be buried in his

own land. And then his last wish was, if I die, criminate me and then bring my ashes

back to my country. When I’m dead, I still want to be in my country. And this is nationalism.

This is a propaganda, right? But now it’s the same thing. It’s the same thing. If I

die, I somehow buried in my land and I still feel like I’m the outsider. I’m always longing

for my home. It’s a horrible home. People say, what’s your dream? Do you want to be

a president? Do you want to run for office? I just want to go home. That’s my dream.

And people here don’t get it ever. I don’t know what to do with that. I love my country.

And I think for me, my country is the United States. And perhaps it will be for you too

one day. It is. I think it’s becoming. US has been a very special place in my heart.

I think this is the first place I felt like I feel like home. And I mean, I was in South

Korea longer and I didn’t feel that way. So I think we have very different life stories,

but I think it’s almost two different people. For me, it’s the person that was in the Soviet

Union and the person that’s here. Those are two different people. That previous person’s

home in the Soviet Union and he’s part of me. And I suppose in that same way, your first

maybe two decades of life are somehow longing for the home that is North Korea. And your

next two decades of life might be finding a home in the United States. Your dad, can

you tell the story of his struggle, of his death? I mean, first, do you miss him? Do

you think about it? Oh man, all the time. I had a son when I was 22 and I had IVF three

times. And as you see, I’m like 80 pounds, but back then I was like 75 pounds. And because

of my severe malnutrition, somehow my body’s very different. And so after three times of

IVF after 23, I was still wanting family. And the reason I wanted him is because I felt

so guilty for my father that he never seen this world. I somehow, when you’re so desperate,

you become illogical. Like I want to believe in the, like Buddhist idea, right? You come

back to life. And I prayed, please come to me, like as my son, so I will take care of

you. Like come back. And when I was pregnant with my son, even though I planned to get

pregnant with a girl, doctor made a mistake. It became a boy. So I made his middle name,

like my father’s name Jin Sik. I think he’s the only American got North Korean name. It

is. So he’s a part of your father’s and your son. Yeah. That’s how I, that’s how I make

a sense of it. And that’s how I move forward. Like if I, like as a logical human being,

you, you know, when you’re dead, you’re done. Maybe that’s what I at least used to think,

but then life’s become too unbearable. And somehow that’s the thing, like we tell ourselves

stories in order to live. And that’s how I came with my title of the book in order to

live. I had to tell myself a lot of stories to overcome a lot of things. I think I was

a part of it. Can you tell the story of you escaping North Korea to China? Yeah, I think

it’s, it’s a thing. It’s amazing. Even though I was like 13, my like life outside of North

Korea is almost like went by like one second and my life till that point was like eternity.

I remember being in China. I arrived there at the end of March at 13. And by October,

it was six months past. And I literally felt like I lived eternity. And one day living

in China felt like living one year. One day was a war like surviving through one day was

so hard. Every night I was like, I cannot believe I got done one day today. That was

a thing I was grateful for before I went to bed. Okay, I survived. I didn’t get captured.

And I made it another day on earth. So the experience of the minutes is what fear, fear

of being captured, fear, loss, everything. Because I mean, I saw my own mom in China

to survive to. So it was more than that. And it’s not feeling I think that’s a thing in

China. I learned not to fear. And after my escape was a challenging, I didn’t feel anything.

And it was hard. Not feeling anything is a torture. It’s the biggest torture you can

ever feel like even you fear sadness. That’s better than not feeling anything. And I felt

something when I had my son. That’s when I started healing. So he was a miracle to save

me. But yeah, in China, it wasn’t even fear like it was numb.

You were numb. It was like paralysis. Yeah. Just overwhelming on the uncertainty of your

future. Did you have a sense what your future held at the time?

Like what do you even even feature? I don’t even know that word. Right? Like, a lot of

times I was looking at myself like I left my body and like just looking at me. And just

not feeling it. It’s not like I’m scared for her. I’m like sad for her just looking at

me like, huh, that’s interesting. Wow. Not feeling anything. And me like being raped,

going through every emotion of life to survive, right? But like, somehow, I don’t know if

you say so or something like looking at it just like, you feel nothing. You don’t feel

anything for that person. So even with your mom, like what was, was there some, I don’t

know, some warmth that you were able to extract from the connection with your mom? Yeah, of

course. I think that made me survive. I had a very strong connection with my family. And

I think that’s what kept me going to do all of that. I think, as you said, I escaped at

  1. My sister at the age of 16 escaped with her friend first. And I was going to escape

with her. But one day I got like really bad stomach ache. And my parents took me to hospital.

And in North Korean hospital, they don’t have like X ray machines. They don’t even have

electricity. They literally using one needle to inject everybody. And people don’t die

from cancer in North Korea. You die from infection and fever and hunger, right? So most likely

you’re going to die more by being treated by doctor than not being treated. I think

I was lucky. Even though they thought I had appendix, they operated on me without any

painkiller. And I didn’t get infection. I survived. So that’s how I got delayed to escape

with my sister. And she left me a note in my bedside saying like, follow this lady.

And this is like another trick about human trafficking, right? She sold me to China as

a sexual slave. And she executed for it later. She was executed for that later. She had five

daughters and she sold all her children to China. And we can now sitting here judging

on like how heartless you are selling your own children to China. And as a sexual slave,

they were like her children were seven, 10 years old. But that was the only way for her

to save her children. And if she didn’t sell me that day, I would be dead right now. So

I’m grateful that she sold me. And I think that’s the thing is like, life is so crazy.

You cannot judge. It is so complex. And yeah, that’s how she changed my life by selling

me. She sold my mom and myself in 2007 to China.

So you’re grateful for that. You’re grateful for that suffering.

Of course I am grateful.

Because the alternative is worse.

I would not be here with you. You would never knew I existed.

What do you make of the others suffering in the world today? The people there in North

Korea. So that is part of your life’s work is helping those people. What do you think

about them? What should people know about them?

I think that’s when I get angry. Whenever I think about them.

Who’s your anger directed at?

At the heartlessness of people, the ignorance of people. So when I got out of North Korea,

I went through all of that. And I went to South Korea one day. I was watching television

and there’s like famous Korean Kpop stars crying and doing some fundraising concert.

And I literally thought, oh my God, something is horribly going wrong in this country. Why

are these people crying? It was a cheery campaign. And then later it was showing that it was

an animal rights campaign to helping out cats and puppies in the shelters.

Do you know anybody sheds their tears like that to another human being right now? No,

right? People rather give millions of dollars to save some dolphins than saving these children

right now being raped in China. And I think I love Elon Musk. I love his voice. I love

these people want to go to the moon, Mars. And then people told him like, yeah, we went

to the moon like I did not know in North Korea.

But I think that’s what upsets me. Why there is not even one single human with that kind

of brilliance in their brain. They can save so much suffering, but nobody does anything.

I think that’s when I feel like hard to find hope in humanity. And that’s when I get so

upset. Because think about like even Biden or Trump or Obama. They know what’s happening

in North Korea exactly, right? I mean, we see satellite photos. There’s public executions.

I mean, the UN says this is a Holocaust happening again. And it’s happening. If the Holocaust

is happening again, how, why, how are you okay doing nothing about it? But somehow humans

are able to okay nothing, anything. And this is like, this is hard. Like when people say

I’m going to change the world. I want to make a difference. Like it’s hard to believe it,

you know?

Yeah, that we can turn our back to human suffering at scale when it’s right in front of us. I

mean, that makes you think about the Holocaust. This is just, everybody was looking the other

way because it was almost too hard to look at it.

No, it’s not. It’s an easier thing. Like that’s the thing. I was like here to speak at the

South by Southwest a few years ago. And like they’re, everybody’s talking about like Elon

Musk project going to the moon, right? We’re going to be multi, like species. I was like

back then I didn’t even know who he was. So if you guys are trying to go out to this earth,

you haven’t even explored our earth yet. You cannot go to North Korea right now. You haven’t

explored that part of our, our like planet. Can we do that first and then move on?

Explore the landscape of human suffering, like alleviate suffering in the world. There’s

a lot of suffering happening in Africa that has to do with disease. And for some reason

it’s, even though we turn our back to that kind of suffering too, we still can try to

do something about it. And there’s still efforts in terms of healthcare, in terms of medicine,

in terms of bioengineering, in terms of like all these efforts to help people from disease.

But like, that’s almost like converting it into an engineering problem and trying to

solve it. That somehow is easier for us humans. But when there’s obvious sort of non disease

related torture of humans, we look the other way. Whether it’s China or it’s North Korea.

Yeah. I mean, that has to be changed somehow. We have to change that somehow.

It’s the thing right now, like the China, like they bring the Xinjiang riggers, right?

They say, oh, this is a vitamin, take it. And then it kills their sperm and make them

not reproduce. Their birth rate gone down something 47 to something 50% in the one year

time. It’s a genocide in 21st century. And they get those people and get their like organs

out. Imagine if there’s some people who do that with the cutie puppies and cats. There’s

going to be insane amount of product. They’re going to destroy everything. And this is like

a human nature that I don’t get. Why there’s so much anti human sentiment in this modern

world? We don’t have to. The fact that I was saying like, the fact that you care about

animals rights is beautiful because you care about something who cannot speak for themselves.

The fact that we care about animals is because they cannot speak for themselves, right? They

don’t have that ability. And there are many people who cannot speak for themselves right

now. And why do you refuse to be the voice for them? Because they are simply being a

human. And maybe it connects to us not being proud of who we are. Like, I don’t know what

it is. Why do they deny humans this way? Maybe they don’t like themselves.

Yeah, it’s almost, we would have to acknowledge some dark things about ourselves in order

to start helping. What’s the solution? So, you know, I see two solutions. One is in the

military side. It’s assassination or the full on invasion. And then on the activism side,

which is figuring out ways to, like you said, sort of let people in North Korea understand

their situation, sort of from within try to reform. Or maybe there’s others, obviously,

there could be activism from the outside to build up momentum for the entirety of the

world, especially the world that is not just the United States or Europe, but also is Russia

and China and so on. What are your ideas here? What we can do as individuals and as countries?

I think the first thing that we can do is speak about Chinese role in this sponsoring

dictatorship in North Korea. Like, I happen to have so much struggle talking about North

Korea, right? They say, how North Korea is possible? Why is it like the way like this

is 99% accountability going to CCP? Kim Jong Un cannot last without Chinese help even one

week. This is completely funded. This Holocaust is funded by CCP. But if you talk about in

the mainstream, of course, they don’t buy it. And I think it’s in a way North Korea

is a lot easier to solve than even in the Middle East. There’s nothing conflict like

between people. There’s no ideology, no religion, nothing. People are peaceful, right? There’s

not even one civil, like any discontent among the people. Our problem is there’s a dictator

funded by the second economic power in the world. And even any military, they know if

they kill Kim Jong Un, they’re going to get killed by Chinese. Nobody can dare to stand

up against Kim Jong Un because China is backing it. So somehow here in the West, we collectively

acknowledging that China is the responsible person for these crimes against humanity in

North Korea. Then we can somehow, I don’t know, talk to them.

Stand up to China.


We’re failing to do that in a way, in all kinds of avenues of life, of public life,

because for many reasons, they’re probably primarily financial. But it also, I’m against,

I don’t know, maybe you can correct me. I’m against sort of making China this evil enemy

because I’ve seen this with Russia as well. And I don’t think that leads to progress.

I think you want to highlight, you basically want to help the Chinese people become the

best version of themselves. So speak to the Chinese people and not making the leaders

of China into these caricatures of devils. I feel like the Cold War, the way it was done

in Russia, both sides, they were caricaturing each other through propaganda and the result

was not productive at all. It did not help Russia become the best country it could be.

It did not help America become the best country it could be. And the same thing with China.

I feel like making them into this enemy, like being afraid of China, making them into the

thing that’s going to spy on us, that’s going to destroy the rest of the world, that’s not

going to help China reform themselves. They’re going to plant their feet. The dictators,

the evil people will become more evil. The power hungry will become more, like they will

centralize the power more. It feels like, maybe naive, but it feels like it should be

like, again, love, not violence that solves this thing. Now, of course, in North Korea,

it’s like long gone. 80 years, almost 80 years. Love is not going to solve that problem.

I mean, I don’t, it’s very difficult.

They have tried that because of the sunshine policy, which is there’s two people walking

down the street and the sun and the wind made a battle. So who can take off that man, take

off jacket? So wind tried to blow as much air as he could. And then that man was like

putting more like his jacket on, right? Not taking off, but sunshine came. Okay, I’m going

to give him a lot of warmth. And then he took his jacket out and came out. So that was the

theory. Let’s give North Korea as much love as they want. Let’s give them a lot of money,

whatever they want, let’s give to them so they know that we are not here to attack them.

And North Korea, what they did was the guy who did the sunshine policy in South Korea

named Kim Dae Sung won the Nobel Peace Prize for that. And Kim Jong Il used the money to

build nuclear weapons. So that’s how they came with the nukes. So I think that’s the

thing. I hope that love solves problems.

But there’s got to be a way and the hope is with the 21st century is you can directly

speak to the people somehow. When there’s no internet, when there’s nothing like that,

it’s hopeless. I think China, there’s a hope that China is still connected to the internet.

I love your optimism. I have seen the actual dark side of China on the underground. I hope,

I think that’s the thing. People in the West, right? They say, oh, how can it be that bad?

They ask me like, I walking passing this young teenager man and later the war with my sister.

He’s like intestine coming out through his back, right? And even in that moment, what

he wanted was, please give me food. He was hungry.

His intestine is hanging out of his body and he’s asking for food.

Do you know what humans demand when they die in North Korea? All they want is eating, right?


And people say, oh, nothing can be that bad. But people just here haven’t seen an actual

true evil.

Would you say that the evil comes from a tiny minority of people or is it permeate much

larger parts of the population? Like if we look at sex trafficking, how many people,

like is it 99.9% of the people are longing to do good in the world? Or is there, is it,

or do we all have the capacity for evil in certain kinds of environments, certain kinds

of governmental structures inspire a large percent of the population to do bad things?

I think humans are capable of anything. There’s no exception. I don’t think there’s any saint

who born with that morality. I think in North Korea, you can say initially that there’s

few guys in the top wanted the power and then doing this, but eventually made a society

where people don’t even know what compassion is. We don’t know the concept of, we don’t

know that you need to feel bad for another human being when they’re suffering. The fact

that you know compassion is in your knowledge. That’s why you do that. Humans need to learn.

It’s not anything bad about human nature. It’s just saying humans are capable of everything.

We are the most adaptable species on the planet. That’s why we created the internet, like

talking this way, right? No other animals have done it because we are so adaptable.

That is a good thing and that’s a bad thing. So in the adaptive situation, they all can

be, I mean during the Holocaust, right? Those people, they could have been capable of good

too if they were exposed to different system. That’s why when people underestimate evil,

that’s what scares me. Evil is evil. It’s a different thing. It’s a completely different

thing. Of course, I get your idea. We don’t want to isolate 1.3 billion human beings on

Earth by Chinese, but the thing is we are talking about this regime, not the people.

I love Chinese people. I speak Chinese. I love all about the country, but this system

does promote evil. Well, that’s an optimistic view actually because we can fix systems.

Yeah. It’s harder to fix people. So if we fix systems, then the people are adaptable,

as you said. Absolutely. I mean that, and then the question is, first of all, you have

to talk about it just as you’re doing. You’re right now like this little flame that burns

bright, and it’s really important for North Korea, but just keep talking about it until

hopefully it leads to at the highest levels of power, revolutionizing the systems in the

world. And then in China and in North Korea, do you see North Korea being a potential instigator

in nuclear war? They will not start a nuclear war as long as they can do whatever they want

right now, right? North Korea’s army is not designed to fight the enemy. They’re designed

to prevent their own people, the coup d’tetre and the revolution with their own citizens.

That is 1.6 million North Korea with a tiny country, the fourth largest armies in the

world. So this country is designed to fight with their own citizens. And the army, the

fourth largest in the world, is designed to basically fight its own people. Oppress their

own people. That’s what North Korean military is about. Okay. Let me ask you some aspects

about North Korean life. Can you describe the songbun system of ascribed status used

in North Korea? Yeah. So that’s a very interesting thing, right? Right now there are a lot of

people playing with this ideology of like democratic socialism, socialism, communism,

whatever you call it, Marxism, Leninism, right? They have all like these similar features

where we give collective power to a certain entity and they will make the decision for

bigger good, right? And North Korea came up with the idea, the Kim Il Sung. He was the

Leninist. He was a Marxist saying, I’m going to create the most equal society on human

face. So it was communist North Korea. And then they came up with this songbun system.

It’s like family caste system. Three big categories, warrior, wavering, and hostile. And that in

between three classes, they divide into 50 different classes. So a lot of people don’t

even know which exact class you belong to. That’s a secret government document. And that’s

how they decide your future. So in a way, North Korea, before you’re born, your life

is determined for you. And this is a joke, right? They dreamed of creating the most equal

society. They ended up with became most unequal society in the face of humanity. So there

are 50 different classes and where the one guy on the top became a god. So when this

animal farm, as we keep saying, like there’s so many, all the animals are equal and some

of the animals are more equal than others. Exactly. But it’s not only, it’s just more

equal. One guy in North Korea became a god. So North Korea was born out of a Marxist ideals.

Yeah. From Stalin. Can you comment on Juche ideology, which seems to be its own kind of

socialism, but with unique aspects here, it really does ideologically says the importance

of having a great leader. Is there some interesting similarities or differences that you can comment

on between other implementations of communism throughout history, the Soviet Union, China,

elsewhere? So Juche is very unique. It came on around the 90s after Soviet Union collapsed.

So before that, North Korea was very still loyal to the Marxism and Leninism, which is

state takes care of you. We are going to give you the right education, healthcare, your

livelihood, everybody is going to be equal. You’re going to have in the working collective

farm, collective worker place. Everybody collectively do things together and let’s work for the

paradise. But 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. And until then, North Korea was heavily subsidized

by Soviet Union’s aid. And then Soviet Union didn’t give them anything. So not 3 million

people dying on the streets. The regime then came up with the idea, okay, our goal is what

is successful ruling for us is keeping the 10% of population alive, which is in the capital

Pyongyang. So they designed the hunger games. There is a capital, 13 other districts, everybody

on the countryside on purpose being starved. So those people who are starving cannot thinking

about meaning of life, cannot thinking about shooting to the moon, right? They’re not going

to think about anything or they’re going to think it’s like finding next meal. All on

purpose. All on purpose is manmade famine. International community was begging to give

North Korea food. Why not? Still at the UN, they beg to give North Korea formula, medicine

and food. They are begging, can you please feed your people? And Kim Jong Un said, no,

thank you. Last year, like when North Korea had a horrible, horrible flooding, South Korean

president begging, can you get, can I give you please some medicines? Like, no, because

he wants to be the one provider. He doesn’t want people to think other people giving him

the thing. So on purpose, other people are starving. And that Juche idea is that’s when

it’s coming from. So until that communism was about like state is being a father figure,

takes care of all your needs, right? Give the power to us and you’re all good. But North

Korea regime says, okay, now we cannot give people’s ration. So which means Juche means

self reliance. You need to take care of yourself while you’re giving every right to us. So

now in the 90s, the regime told us, okay, we are not going to give you ration. You cannot

trade. That’s illegal, but you find your own way to survive. So be self reliant. That’s

what Juche is. But when you’re a guy, you can do whatever you want. You don’t need to

make a sense. That’s the difference being a God and being a leader. When it is religion,

it’s not for survival. You cannot challenge it. God’s way is suspicious. God works in

a mysterious way. So when you’re a God, people are not going to say, oh, this doesn’t make

sense, right? You’re going to, okay, whatever God says, as a human being, we can never change

his thought. It’s unbelievable what regimes can do.

There’s something about famine that is another level of evil to me. What Stalin did in Ukraine

in the thirties, fuck them. This is what torture is. Cannibalism.

North Korea too, they eat humans right now in 21st century. 7 billion people on this

earth right now. You make enough food for 10 billion people. Nobody should be starving

right now. It’s worrisome to me. The humanity is moving forward with the technological advance,

blah, blah, blah. We are going so fast in advancement. And we are leaving this like

25 million human beings in the cage, completely leaving them behind. And North Korea is living

like 16 centuries. This morning I was taking shower, beautiful shower. One never knew what

shower was. I was bathing a few times a year, going to the river. How do they even know

what shampoo is? And this is how human beings in 21st century are living. And it doesn’t

bother us. And rather, most people are obsessed being a vegan. How do you reconcile this?

I think we get used to stuff very quickly. We get used to comforts. That’s just the way

of human life. You take the beautiful things for granted. So I try to appreciate everything

I have. So whether it’s like the food I have now or like the luxury to have a diet and

be struggling with that. Or just the basic simple moments of being alive with the people

I love. Or actually I get like, I think I’m on drugs all the time because I feel like

just even like this mug, everything on this table just brings me joy. But it’s like filling

your life with joy in the full capitalistic American way, you can still at the same time

not feel too bad about yourself and still focus on the suffering in the world. And I

think there’s some way that in trying to build a better world in America, it has ripple effects

elsewhere. Sort of like, so I’m a fan of rockets in space. It sounds perhaps counterintuitive

but sending rockets to space will help solve the North Korea problem because it lets people

dream and build cool stuff. So it’s not the rocket, it’s the other people that are inspired

by the rocket and then look to other problems in the world. I mean, that’s what Elon did

is like he saw problems in the world and thought like, what can I do to help it? And I think

the North Korea one is a tough one though, because that ultimately has to do with revolutionizing

government. We got to change China. That’s what it takes. Changing China’s Communist

Party is impossible. That’s why we couldn’t solve North Korea for that many decades. For

now it’s China, but it’s China, it’s Russia, it’s certain aspects of the United States

and struggling with that. There’s a bunch of technologies that are striving at this.

For example, I don’t know what your thoughts about cryptocurrencies. I love it. So like

there’s a idea that money could be a way to destroy or to challenge the power centers

of the world. Yeah. So if you take away the power from fiat currency and give it to this

thing that can’t be controlled by government, this cryptocurrency, whether it’s Bitcoin,

Ethereum, all those kinds of things, that’s a way to get money into the hands of people

to where the government can’t take that money away. But North Koreans don’t have electricity,

no internet. So we can do that with China. We can do it with a lot of African dictatorship

countries, right? I do think big cryptocurrency is such a fascinating technology, right? I

think this is an amazing experiment when that power is in our hands. I’m a huge out of

game believer, but I think North Korea is too behind. I think that’s what is unique

about North Korea is that most of the things that we talk about, it’s a different planet

literally. The common law that we have is not applicable. What about Kim Jong Un?

Kim Jong Un, yeah. Is he intentionally evil or is he mindlessly propagating an evil system

created by his ancestors? What’s your sense of the man?

So with Kim Il Sung, I can give him more benefit of that. He was a initial true believer of

communism. But then as later he gained the power, he realizing, I guess back then he

thought most of people are dumb, right? Individuals dumb. So therefore I need to make a decision

for all of you. That pure arrogance came from out of him. Even that I can tolerate. Okay,

fine. And Kim Jong Il, who never like, yeah, fine. He grew up in that system too. But Kim

Jong Un is very unique. This guy was educated in Switzerland in the heart of democracy.

He knew how human beings should be treated. As a child, he went, when you’re a child,

your brain is very susceptible, right? It will change anybody. Like why the mall was

off, that’s like changing young people’s minds. Like that’s every revolutionary they do, right?

They go change young people’s minds first. This guy was so obsessed with power, him being

a God. Even starting in Switzerland didn’t change him. And that’s why I think that’s

a pure evil. I can give him more benefit of that to his grandfather and father. But when

it comes to Kim Jong Un, this is like what pure evil looks like. Pure selfish being.

That’s what it looks like.

Is there some sense where he’s justifying everything he’s doing to himself? Or do you

think there’s a psychopathic aspect to where he enjoys the suffering?

I think in his life, right, I read a lot about like North Korea, a lot of CIA documents,

a lot of intelligence people worked there. And even like worked in North Korean type

elites and escaped. I could hear about them. So Kim Jong Un, when they are born, they treat

like gods. So they never have a sense of them being a human. They’re like equal with the

others. For them, like we are just any kind of tool. Like that what Napoleon like thing

does, right? Anybody is a tool. Like once boxer dies, get him slaughtered for my cause.

And they do not even feel guilty about it because they don’t view us that you deserve

your worthy of it. Yeah, that’s right. So it’s not like he even feels, he doesn’t even

recognize that’s a suffering. Like of course this is what you do serving me. Because I

am, I am this. So I think that’s like beyond that. It’s not like suffering enters his

mind. He doesn’t even think what we go through. So he thinks of himself as a god. And then

everybody else is just tools that they’re disposable. Right. There was rumors several

times of him dying. Yeah. Do you think he is, obviously his health is not good. Do you

think he will die soon? What happens if Kim Jong Un dies? Well, when it comes to North

Korea, anybody knows what they’re going, what Kim Jong Un does is lie, right? Nobody knows.

I’m sure CIA knows, but they may never reveal that. CIA has enough intelligence to can tell

where Kim Jong Un is, what he’s doing. They just don’t assassinate him because they don’t

see the means of it right now. Do you think they can assassinate him? They can. They do

have ability to get assassinated. Why the hell did they not assassinate him? Because

they don’t care. They don’t care about the suffering of 25 million people. They got to

pay the price. If they assassinate Kim Jong Un, they got to pay the price afterwards.

There’ll be financial, there’ll be political price to pay. It’ll anger China. Absolutely.

That is a huge piece for them. And then they’ll have to deal, obviously there’ll be financial

and military consequences of having to deal with the turmoil, the uncertainty, the revolutions

that will spring up. Yeah. That’s the thing. That’s why they don’t want to take that risk.

They don’t want to do anything. The US now became very passive when they pursue these

moral values to the rest of the world. They did the same thing with the Holocaust in the

early days, actually. Yeah. They didn’t care. And that’s what their policy has been. They

don’t care. So if Kim Jong Un dies, it’s going to be very hard for North Korea to replace

anybody in his position because Kim’s is a brand. It’s not just a leader for us, right?

Whenever we think of Kim, who came with my mind, who’s almost a God figure. North Korea

is the number 10 religion in the world. They copied the Bible. So if you believe that,

if there are people who believe in God and Jesus Christ, how do you not believe that

North Koreans believe in the same thing? So Kim Il Sung’s grandfather and his parents

were devout Christians. So Kim Il Sung grew up this Christian like verses. So when he

finding his country, he said, I love my people so much that I’m giving you my son Kim Jong

Il. His body dies, but his spirit is with us forever. Who can know how many here I have,

what I think. And when we suffer, we go to paradise with him. And when you block every

single information going to country, of course, people are going to believe it. So who would

be the successor if he dies? He has a son, first son born 2009 and not not old enough

if he dies now. So either his sister might rule for a short amount of time as not like

a leader, but like we like temporary placement. And then when the son is older enough, he

might take it off because it’s a kingdom. That’s most likely and China will do everything

they can to maintain that status quo for the North Korean regime. So North Korean people

have no option here. We just need some leader to courageously come up and do the right thing.

So we can’t just wait this out. No, we can’t. It’s not something that takes its course

and then change. Like we not even know that economic freedom does not bring political

freedom. We know in China, it doesn’t. That’s the unique thing about freedom. You got to

fight for it. Otherwise, you don’t ever get it. Freedom is something that has to be fought.

And if nobody fighting for freedom, it’s not going to be there.

Can we talk a little bit about freedom? What does it mean to you? Having had, we talked

about love in that same way about freedom, having sort of discovered it later in life.

What does it mean to you?

I think every day I get a new definition of freedom. It is a never ending journey, having

this relationship with being free and what it means to be free, right? I think you definitely

can live life without being free and also happy life too. I saw a lot of North Korean

elites who are fat and have power, but didn’t have freedom, were very happy. In a way, happier

than the people that I found in New York were like investment bankers and consultants in

Manhattan and 70% of them go like talk therapist. I was very confused. I remember writing my

book in New York. My editor was saying, Yami, you know you’re traumatized. You need to go

talk to a therapist. I was like, what is therapy? What is trauma? Because in North Korea, they

don’t have word for stress or trauma because how can you be stressed in a socialist paradise?

They don’t let you be knowing what that is. Then they were like, yeah, hearing people

having problems, go talk to therapist. I was like, how much is it? $200 per hour and it’s

a discounted rate too. I was like, no, thank you. We know that freedom comes with responsibility

and in a way, it’s not that easy to be free, thinking for yourself constantly. In a way,

I understand. Let’s give government every power we have. Let them decide what education

that I get. Let them decide where I live. Let someone figure that out for me. That’s

how North Korea began, hoping the government is going to represent my own interests, believing

that they were good. With that benefit of doubt and good faith, it began the nightmare.

Freedom is not like a gateway to be happy at all. In a way, it can make life a lot more

complex, but then it’s fun, isn’t it? You start thinking for yourself. You start making

mistakes. It’s so fun to be free, even though you can be suffering way more than the people

who are not free.

The thing about freedom is when you have freedom, you also have the responsibility for your

actions. That could be a huge burden because if you succeed, it’s you, but if you fail,

it’s you. If you do horrible things, it’s you. If you don’t do something, for example,

if you don’t help people in North Korea, it’s you. That’s a huge burden. Living with that

burden is a kind of suffering. There’s some aspect in which freedom is suffering.

It is suffering.

Because life is suffering, and then freedom is you as an individual fully living through

that. See, you talked, you’re friends with Michael Malice. He believes, and so I want

to kind of ask you about government. He believes, he’s an anarchist, and he believes kind of

in freedom fully implemented in human societies, meaning that humans should all be free to

choose how they, you know, transact with each other, how they live together. There shouldn’t

be a centralized force that tells you what to do. Do you think there’s some role for

government in a healthy society?


If we look at North Korea, there’s the most horrible implementation of government, but

then if we look at what the United States strives to be, at least in principle, there’s

an ideal of a government that represents the people and helps the people. Is there a place

for that kind of ideal, or is government always going to get us into trouble?

I am not, I mean, I spoke to Michael Malice. I kept asking why he’s an anarchist, right?

And he doesn’t even believe in military, none of that thing. And I was like, I don’t think

I want to be in that world you’re describing. That’s pretty scary. I want the law enforcement.

I want like, I don’t, in a way that, so why equality makes no sense is that the fact that

when you and I were born, we were born in a very different capability of thinking, different

intelligence, different capability in our physics, right? So equality is nonsense. You

can never achieve that, right? So to me, that’s been, it’s very scary in America.

When the government tries to enforce.

To make equality on everybody, that is impossible.

Specifically equality of outcome. So like, so given that we all started different places,

enforce, like measure in some kind of way where people stand, and if they’re an equal,

enforce equality. And that’s what leads to the kind of things that you mentioned with

the class system in North Korea.

Yeah. So I think that’s why government can be bad. They can be very dumb. And another

thing is that they cannot know what you want. A lot of times people don’t even know what

they want as an individual. Like how the heck do you assume government is going to know

what is best for you? Nobody knows. We just all do our best. I do think though some governments

like in Switzerland, you know, have more power, give power to the different state can be good.

I think I’m more, you know, like giving power to the state and let individual decide where

they want to go in within states. Like, I mean, why did you choose Texas, right? There’s

no income tax, right? Like there’s a lot of things people find Texas, like, you know,

charming and they come here. So in a way that I don’t want to be in a one strong government

that makes every single thing the same way. In a way, I want to kind of experiment to

everything. We can have anarchy state. There’s no police, nothing going on. You can be whatever

you want. And you can go to a state where it’s like abortion is bad, blah, blah, this

is bad. All this like conservative values. And let the ideas compete and let them how

they’re being practiced in real life. But I think it’s very scary when the US government

is getting bigger and bigger and then they try to make every state under one big government.

And that’s like when I get really alarmed.

Are there things that you see in the United States in the current culture that’s kind

of has echoes of the same things you saw in North Korea that worry you?

Absolutely. It’s in America now the meritocracy doesn’t matter, right? It’s evil. The white

man’s idea of talking about if you’re competent enough, they say, oh, if you’re coming from

rich white family, you are going to be competent. So other people don’t have a chance. But look

at Asians who came from nothing as competent and go to Harvard Law School and medical school.

So it doesn’t almost is like there’s no incentive for you to work hard anymore in the system

right now. That is North Korea. There’s no incentive because you are born with your class

already. So no matter what you do, you can never. So the horrible thing about North Korean

system is that there’s nothing holding Mary up. So if you’re coming from other cultures

that like Meghan Markle joined the royal family and she became a lawyer, you go up by North

Korea. If someone from high class going to marry somebody down, you only go down with

them. That’s how they prevent class mix.

Right. That kind of enforces the separation because there’s a huge disincentives to go

to marry to integrate between classes. What do you do about this kind of, you know, especially

universities, but in companies, I’m thinking about starting a company. So I’m looking at

this very carefully. There’s these ideas of diversity and meritocracy. That’s a tension.

So I think there’s a big way in which diversity broadly defined is not at all in a tension

with meritocracy. So having a variety of people, backgrounds, way of thinking, all those kinds

of things is a huge benefit to any group. But the way diversity is often defined is

by sort of very crude classes of people, whether it’s by skin color or gender or some very

kind of large group way. And that actually does two things in my mind. One, it drowns

out real diversity or not real, but the full spectrum of diversity, which is like within

class diversity of like, are you somebody who is exceptionally good at mathematics?

Are you somebody who’s exceptionally good at psychology? Are you good with people? Are

you good with numbers? All that kind of stuff that I think spans or intersects in fascinating

ways with these kinds of groups. So that’s diversity. And then meritocracy is this thing

that probably the reason I wanted to move to Silicon Valley and the reason I didn’t

is like having a fire to change the world within you. Like meritocracy is like, I want

to be the best in the world at this and I will strive and work hard, not stepping on

others, but like purely within yourself, be the best version of yourself. That idea is

in some ways being not celebrated or demonized. It’s literally meritocracy is being demonized

right now in America. Working hard is a symbol of you coming from some established family.

The fact that you celebrate accomplishment, hard work is a sign of your patriarchal,

whatever thing they call it. And they want to abolish that. They want to like stop giving

kids grades. That’s what they’re already doing, right? They want to stop. They want to like

we should abolish like SAT in America they take to go to college, right? They won’t even

abolish that. Yeah, some kids have no ability to do math. So why do we have to force them

to learn math? And that’s what comes with humans overcome challenges. That’s what makes

us special. But then like, because it’s kids coming from this family, let’s find a reason

why they cannot, and then they don’t have to do that thing. But they still deserve the

same job. They need to be a lawyer and doctors. And that’s like what in North Korea was like

not, there was not even meritocracy beginning with, right? Did you born in the same family,

the family, the blood, right? Like if one person does something wrong, it’s like collective

guilt. Because I spoke out, three generations of my family got punished, who I left behind.

And then in America, I see the same thing. Like if you’re somehow great, great grandfather

on the slave, now you are privileged and you’re guilty because you are white and guilt. But

how do you change your ancestor? How did you have a saying on it? And that is where there’s

no way out. There’s no forgiving, there’s no moving forwards. And this current culture

in America now, like I remember at Columbia, like before class, everybody had to go around

saying, tell us what your pronoun is. And my English, my third language, I learned as

an adult. Even saying he and she, I’m confused. It’s a pure mistake. And they say, call me

they, because I’m gender fluid. Basically, I can be a girl, but next hour you talk to

me, I’m a boy, right? And if you don’t do it right, they like look at you, why are you

doing it? Right? It makes me so nervous. And this is where I come to, this is a regression

of civilization. We are regressing as a humanity here. Like the enlightenment, all of those

things made us so much brighter and looking forward. And now we are going backwards.

Well, I think there’s a pendulum aspect to it because it’s my hope in terms of backwards.

So pendulum goes backwards too, but it just goes back and forth, I think. And then in

the long arc of history, we’re making progress. I think all of the discussions of diversity

and inclusion and all those kinds of things, I always thought that they’re healthy in moderation.

They should be a small part of the conversation amongst other things. The natural aspect,

it seems that they kind of have this way of just consuming all conversations. It’s like

the meetings, like diversity and inclusion meetings multiply somehow, where it’s like

the only thing that you’re talking about. And it’s very kind of absurd. And when I look

at, even at MIT, it’s a strangely disproportionate amount of discussions about that. And also

to me as an engineer, those discussions are very frustrating because they don’t seem to

actually do anything. So they want to bully people instead of creating systems that fix

definitive problems. And that in itself, that kind of bullying, that’s the same kind of

thing you saw in terms of McCarthyism in America against the communists. You certainly saw

that in Soviet Union against everybody who’s not communist. It creates hate, not progress.

When you talked to Jordan Peterson recently, and people should listen to that conversation,

it was a fascinating one. I think he almost got emotional on the discussion about universities

and your experience with Columbia because he, like myself, for perhaps different reasons,

have a hope for our academic institutions. Some of the most incredible people, some of

the most incredible engineering and idea development, innovation happens in universities. And so

we both deeply care about them. Is there something, so the reason he got emotional, the reason

he was kind of hurt is the fact that you did not, you were not deeply inspired by your

experience at Columbia.

It made me dumber. It made me scared. It made me terrified that I had to censor myself in

America. Are you seriously telling me that you don’t ever censor yourself? Can you truly

say whatever you want about race, about anything, gender? We all censor ourselves. Let’s be

honest, right? We are all doing that. And that’s what I learned. I thought I was coming

to a country where never needed, like first thing my mom taught me growing up in North

Korea was, don’t even whisper because the birds and mice could hear you. And I thought,

okay, now America is truly the land of the free, home of the brave. You can say anything

you want, and then you have freedom to change your mind and evolve. But the people now demand

you to be the perfect version they demand you to be. You cannot change your mind. And

then what is the meaning of life if you cannot grow? You should feel safe to talk about anything,

and then later, okay, I was wrong. But now if you do that, you got to get penalized

for it.

I mean, censorship is a funny thing because you probably should not say dumb things. You

should try to say things you want to say in the most eloquent, the most effective way

you can. So, I mean, that’s what editing is, right? So there’s some level of like being

careful with what you say, not because you’re afraid of some overarching kind of group of

bullies, but you want to be the best version of yourself when you express stuff. But there’s

some sense where in the university setting, you can put that self censorship like level

down more and say stupid stuff and explain and play because you should be forgiven for

that kind of play, especially when you’re discussing difficult aspects of human history,

whether that include racism, that include atrocities. I’m still nevertheless sort of

hopeful, but at the same time, I’m surrounded by engineers. So I don’t get to interact with

people in humanities much. And it seems like there’s getting worse.

It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing.

Yeah, I don’t know. Well, I do sort of interact with psychologists, but they haven’t touched

on those kinds of topics yet. I still, sort of in defense of psychology, I still, I wish

I had more numbers.


But I still feel like most psychology people don’t partake in this kind of stuff either.

They’re just doing excellent research. We’re just highlighting, this is what America does

well. You’re kind of highlighting anecdotal experiences and making a big deal out of them.

But that’s good because like it’s a slippery slope. If those things start to overtake all

of academia, it starts becoming a big problem, even in the engineering field. So we should

be concerned. But it is truly tragic that somebody who’s exceptionally well read like

you, whose fire was stoked first with Orwell, that fire should burn bright. Like this should

not be, you should be writing many books. You know what I mean? Like, and you’ll be,

you talk to Jordan, you know, it’s very possible depending what you want to do with your life

that you’ll be a future Jordan Peterson, right? So like that, and Columbia should be a place

that enriches your mind. And the fact that it didn’t is tragic.

I mean, I did the same. It’s like I was there four years. It wasn’t like I had a one class

that was bad in a one semester. That was the thing. When Dr. Piro was asking, is there

any one class that had no sentiment of this virtue, signoring, politically right? There

was none. Entire course, I think I took 126 credits total. Not even one class. Doesn’t

matter we were talking about classic art. And that’s the thing. I literally thought,

okay, I pushed the last semester to call like the art and music, right? So I thought this

is going to be the least politically correct class I can take. And then it begins with

who has problem with calling this course the Western civilization of art and music. And

everyone’s like raising their hands. Because like, why do we have to learning about this

Beethoven, Mozart, the bigots, and all the people, like, you know, everything ruined

by white men. And it’s even music, even these paintings. And as I didn’t raise my hand,

everyone was looking at me. How do you not have the problem with this? Like you should

hate this, you’re Asian. So I think that’s the thing is I think the problems are way

deeper than what people think. And that’s what when I learned is like, it’s not that

safe in America, we can go complete to the south. And looking at even Europe, that is

like, I used to be way more optimistic. But now I actually see, wow, this country can

go to south. And we might, if US forced them, right, this is the only country left to battle

with the Communist Party in China. We may lose the opportunity to be free ever again

as a humanity.

Wow. So I mean, that puts a lot of value on having these kinds of conversations. It

is, I mean, I’m troubled. I’m troubled by a lot of things. But like censorship on YouTube,

for example. Yeah, it was very annoying to have to listen to Donald Trump all the time.

Just like create drama, like news cycle was completely drowned out by Donald Trump. But

like banning him from Twitter, it was like, that was scary for me, because it’s like,

that’s a step towards a direction where you’re going to, like, where does that take us? You’re

going to silence people, then it’s like Jordan Peterson is next.

That’s why we need to promote freedom of thinking and speech, right? And the one thing that

I love about Dr. Peterson is, he’s a psychologist, right? He talks about we think by talking.

That’s why when you go to therapy, you talk and then you hear yourself and then you think

and you come up to the answer. It’s so important for humans to talk so we can think. So when

they say you cannot talk means you cannot think. And they don’t know the consequences

of that. And this is why I promote, I want the freedom of speech, even though it hurts,

ridiculous, you know, sometimes it can be dangerous. But the price, the alternative

is so bad that we should take the, you know, make this trade off. Everything has a trade

off in this world. And it comes with a sacrifice, right? So I think that’s what I want to say.

That’s what I want to see in America. But it’s unfortunately like the people like you

say, who decides what is hate speech? What is dangerous? That’s what I’ve been getting

scared. Because everybody’s imperfect. How do we want to give that power to them? And

they’re going to decide, today they might agree with me, say, okay, your speech is good,

promotes good, and then they might come back next year and say your speech is bad. What

are you going to do when that happens to you? We have to almost like get ideas out and then

play with them. I think what’s a really important component of that is forgiving each other

for like realizing that we’re a different person day by day and certainly years later.

And I think some of that is both cultural mechanisms of saying like we forgive each

other for wrong ideas or not wrong ideas, but for who we are, the full evolution of

the human being, for the steps we’ve taken on that evolution, and also creating mechanisms

that allow you to allow us to forgive each other. Like, for example, on Twitter is like

horrible with this because one of the main viral ways that people create drama on Twitter

is like pulling up an old tweet that somebody said, right? And then saying, oh, this is

the guy that thinks that. But that’s like the opposite of the mechanisms we need to

forgive ourselves, forgive each other for the things we’ve said in the past. And so

part of that is the cultural, part of this is the technological mechanisms. You mentioned

Jordan Peterson. You had a great conversation with him. What was chatting with him like?

I’m just curious because he’s deeply passionate, especially on the Soviet Union side about

the atrocities of these kinds of systems. What was it like? What did you agree with

him on? What did you disagree? What were some things you both kind of learned from each

other through that conversation, do you think? So here, so my story, the Jordan

Peterson, a very long one. So one day I was walking down in Chicago, and they were like

huge theater was sold out. It says a big letter, Jordan Peterson sold out. And then it was

a huge theater in the middle of Chicago, right? Like, this is my comedian, like who can be

selling this entire thing out at like 7pm? And then with my ex husband, we were walking

the street. And then we saw people were like selling this like tickets, like for a very

higher price, right? And then do you want to take it? And then he was like, yeah, sure.

We went in, it’s packed. And then I was just happy birth or like, but I wasn’t able to

understand his English that much. My English was still bad. And you didn’t know who he

was really? No, no. You were just curious? Yeah, it was like 2018. Who’s the guy that

sells out a thing? A theater? Yeah. Yes, I saw Dave Rubin came out before him and make

jokes. I still don’t know who Dave Rubin is. Afterwards, I met them all. But back then

I had no clue what that is. And then he was giving lessons. But what I got from that night

was not what Jordan said, but what people did on the audience. These people like I don’t

know, thousands of people in this big theater, crying like babies. And that was like, whatever

that guy is doing is very special, right? He wasn’t like making any jokes. He had no

slides, just a one simple person standing in the huge, giant theater talk. And long

time too. And people cry as like, wow, okay, whatever that is, I gotta check it out. And

then I got home. And then later, many years later, I got a book. And I will start reading

his book. And it talks about, it explains so much, right? Like now at Columbia, I learned

like everything gender is like made up concept, construct, like the hierarchy is my man’s

idea of making the hierarchy. And then he begins with the number one, the laughsers

had the hierarchies, evolution of history that is within us, that we want a hierarchy,

right? And then chapter five about socialization of child, you know, how do you raise them?

And all of it, and then what’s why telling the truth is matters, right? And there’s a

white, like in his entire 12 lessons, I read it and it’s like, I was so grateful that I’m

alive with this. There’s people always say, if Socrates is alive, how much would you pay

to have lunch with him? That kind of thing, right? So for me it was like, okay, I’m like

alive in the same contemporary world as one of the greatest thinkers of my entire generation.

And then like, how much money would I pay? No limit amount. And I like reached out to

Michaela on her podcast on Twitter and connected. And then one day she said, do you want to

be on Michaela’s podcast? I was like, what? I was like, of course. And I was very nervous,

but I didn’t expect him to be like that connected. Cause I thought he was a psychologist, like

he saw so much suffering in the world. He studied Soviet Union, his hobbies collecting

those things to remind him of the suffering of a human being. So sometimes some people

hear so much atrocity, they become like very, you know, not engaged.

Yeah, desensitized.


He felt, he was feeling, he was, it’s almost like he was living through the experiences

with you as you were talking about it. It was an amazing conversation. So Jordan is

one of the great thinkers of our time, but I would say the greatest thinkers of our time

is Michael Malus. So you’ve also got a chance to talk to him. So he wrote a book on North

Korea. It’s an interesting style book. I learned a lot from it. I learned a lot from Michael

about it. And it’s interesting that he chose North Korea as a thing to study. That he,

of all people, this fascinating human being that is Michael, chose this darkest of aspects

of humanity to study. What do you think of Michael? What do you think of his book on

North Korea called Dear Reader that people should definitely check out?

Absolutely. So back then, when I reached out to Michael through mutual friends in South

Korea, my English wasn’t good. So I got a copy in my hand. I tried to read and a lot

of them I didn’t understand. So, but I thought it was very fascinating how he explained North

Korea through the Dear Leader’s perspective, right? Nobody has ever done that. And you

can reveal so much about the state and absurdity of the entire situation. And also through

humor. And that’s what’s amazing about Michael. He knows the full gravity of tragedy. He knows

the full suffering. He’s not just like people here in America on the BuzzFeed making fun

of Kim Jong Un’s haircut. They don’t care what people go through. Michael cares.

Deeply cares. And then he still does ridiculous jokes. So that kind of reveals in a dark way

the absurdity of evil. And he does that masterfully. Do you?

He’s a genius. He is definitely a genius.

All right. If he watches this, let’s not make his head too big here. But is there some

aspect to, I mean, there is an absurdity to the whole thing. Kim Jong Un is this, I mean,

he’s almost like a caricature of evil.

It’s a joke.

A lot of people think it’s a joke. They just think like, this is too, too absurd. They

just, they laugh. Like, can you imagine you laugh at Holocaust? This is that ridiculous.

Can you maybe psychoanalyze that a little bit? Because that’s where my mind goes to.

Like, he’s so ridiculous that you can’t, it’s almost like hard to believe this is real.

Is that just, is that just my kind of and people’s desire to escape the cruelty of reality

by just kind of making a joke out of it?

I think it is a few things, right? Like, so North Korea as a nation, number one or number

two smartest IQ people in the world, despite their malnutrition. So…

So there is, I mean, that’s an interesting point. So in your sense, the people…

Are not dumb.

Still carry the sort of the brilliance. There’s a culture there that’s like hungry to become

realized. Like the people that are silenced by the electricity, by the actually having

no food, all those kinds of things. Like, if you add the electricity, if you add the

food, you’re going to have a cultural center of the world.

Like South Korea. That’s what they exactly did, right? The exact same Korea. One became

like 11th largest economy. One became the world’s most like poorest nation, right? And

this is a perfect example. Like if, I don’t know if you read that book, Why Nation Fails.

The system. It’s not about a culture. It is not about people. It is not about IQ. What

makes us too different is a system. South Korea, North Korea is a perfect example of

that. One is exact same capability. We are a homogeneous country, same language, tradition,

all of that. We gave them different system. One is free democracy, one is dictatorship

and came up with the biggest different result. And I think North Korea reveals that to us.

It’s not because we are great that we are living in this prosperity. Free market. The

ideas gave us to this. The system we built, our ancestors built, gave us this privilege.

It’s not us. Nothing is about us being special here, right? The system that we have is quite

special. And North Korea proves that to us. It doesn’t matter even if you’re smart. That’s

all irrelevant. And I think that’s why people just keep denying that they want to feel special.

Because I’m awesome, I got all of this. No, it’s not you, you got this. And when people

say, I hate capitalism. I was like, without capitalism, how do you came up with this thing?

Literally, how did you come up with this?

The systems matter. And they matter way more than this individualistic society would like

to imagine. It is the most important thing you can have in life. Choosing the right system.

Do you have advice for young people today? You’ve lived an incredible life and you have,

I hope, an incredible life ahead of you. What advice would you give to young people today,

high schoolers, college students, how to be successful in their career or maybe successful

in life?

Last thing I want them to feel is guilty. It doesn’t do anything, right? So I hate when

people talk about, oh, why guilt? It’s like, that doesn’t make even any sense, right? I

think the fact that they are born with freedom is a blessing for all of us. It’s not like

I want them to want to do something because they are guilty. I want them to do something

because they are grateful. It is true. Like we are sitting here, the fact why I have children

is suffering, having kids you don’t sleep, costly, like so much work. Like any like logical

rational mind, you should never want children, right? Why would you do that to yourself?

Especially as a woman, right? You don’t want to do that to yourself. But think about like

we are sitting here today, two of us in this amazing technology, this country, because

somebody in Savannah hundreds of thousands of years ago, they’re hunting berries and

surviving cold. Every suffering they can imagine, they fall for us. That’s why we ended up here.

So life is ultimately bigger than us. And I think that’s what I want them. It’s not

like I want them to do the right thing and be the best version of themselves. It’s like,

I want them to feel grateful. And we should be grateful for the freedom and then take

full advantage of that. I mean, it starts with the freedom to experience everything

in life. And for your life, literally, like how my father, like, you know, working, dying

is a lot easier than living. Dying takes like few minutes, right? Maximum. And living takes

forever. So when I was facing this unbelievable challenge, I thought, okay, this most rational

thing I can do is killing myself right now. But the hardest thing I can choose is choose

to live. And my father did that. Even in the concentration camp, even no matter why he

said, life is a gift. You need to fight for it. And I think that’s what’s missing here,

that we don’t think life as a gift. It’s a gift. Like, how many people had to fight

for me to be here today? Think about the sacrifice they made for many, many, many generations.

I don’t even know what they went through. I can’t even fathom what they went through.

They fought for life. Yeah. And that is my responsibility enough. So it doesn’t make

them, their fight was not meaningless, right? It meant something because now I’m carrying

on that fight. You mentioned considering suicide. Do you think about your mortality now? Now

that you’re perhaps in a slightly more comfortable place, do you still think about death? I do

because I was informed actually when I was 21 that I was on the killing list of Kim Jong

Un by South Korean intelligence. And then I had to live with that, right? But now I

actually feel more because, I don’t know, you follow Jamal Khashoggi’s story, the Saudi

journalist who got chopped off in Turkey embassy, right? His reason why he got killed was he

became very prominent on Twitter. He had a huge voice and Saudis followed him. Now I

became very first North Korean to have this many social media followings. And recently

North Korea started an investigation team to analyze whatever I do, even though it’s

first time for them. So they don’t even know what to do at this point. They’re like, this

is so new. What do we do? We do Kim Jong Nam. Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of Kim

Jong Un got killed in Malaysia. That is another tragedy that I feel so sorry for the US government

is that Kim Jong Nam was giving information to the CIA for the past like 10 years. That

trip, when he got killed in Malaysian airport, he was meeting up with the CIA agent for two

days on the Northern Ireland. CIA could have protected him. They didn’t. They let him die.

Who killed him?

North Korean Kim Jong Un killed him. Do you know the Malaysian, the ladies, the VX, the

nerve agent. North Koreans killed him in Malaysian airport, in the international land. So I mean

North Korea, who was a US resident and the Washington Post journalist, when he got killed

in Saudi like a lamb, they chopped him into pieces. In that most inhumane death, what

was the consequences for the Saudis? Nothing. The word is we think we live in a country

where there’s no justice. There is no accountability for killing any dissent, no matter how big

their names are.

So you don’t think your vast and quickly growing social media presence protects you?

No, it does the opposite. Because Kim Jong Un, initially when I spoke out, I don’t know

if you went through it, they did everything they could to character assassinate me, saying

I’m a liar, I’m a CIA spy, I get paid. And then they reached out to Penguin saying,

we’re going to blow up. You cannot write this book. And they did it with Sony. They

had a Sony studio for making that stupid movie interview. And then Penguin did their

investigation. They met every survivor that I went through in the desert. They got the

voice recordings of them because they don’t want them to change their mind later. People

remember differently. So they got the voice recordings, the Penguin Regal team got all

the audios, and now we are ready for the lawsuit. We are going to publish this book because

we checked, verified every single thing that was going in the book. And North Korea couldn’t

do anything anymore.

But that’s character assassination. Which by the way, that’s a whole other conversation

that you were able to survive that. I appreciate the kind of strength it requires to survive

that because you don’t know. And your character being assassinated is in some ways can be

as painful as actual assassination.

It’s worse. It’s worse. Everybody think you’re a liar. Everybody think you’re a liar. And

now everybody, like you said, this nature of internet is that as long as something is

written in the internet, they think that’s a fact. Any stupid person can start a blog

and write about you. But they think, oh, because it’s written on the internet, it’s legit.

Especially negative stuff. That’s the thing I was kind of trying to elaborate on. There’s

a viral aspect to calling somebody a fraud or a liar that nobody questions whether it’s

true or not. It just spreads. And it’s a dark side of our human nature that we want to destroy

the people who are rising.

We cannot stand it. Any change maker in this world who wasn’t controversial, right? Martin

Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, he was called as a terrorist. So I just did not know.

The character assassination is the thing. It’ll probably continue with you.

It will continue with me forever.

So you have to get stronger and stronger, I think, in the face of that. But actual assassination,

perhaps it’s me being hopeful because I have a situation with Russia that I hope I’m not

under. Well, I don’t care actually. But there’s some aspect in which social media presence,

I thought, protects you a little bit. Because just imagine the outrage from an attempted

assassination of you.

But what was the outrage when Jamal Khashoggi got killed like that?

Was the social media presence large?

Over one million people. I don’t have that following. He was 1.6 million Twitter followers.

And the outrage wasn’t there?

No. Because Saudis spoke to Amazon, to Prime Studio, Netflix. There were people who made

a documentary about him but told everybody cannot get that deal. So there was a huge

censorship on that. And people, of course, I mean, they can talk about it one day. Some

dissent from Saudi got killed. Horrible.

But it just dissipates.

They move on to the next cute puppy, right? The next cute cat. That’s what the nature

of this new generation does. They desensitize. It doesn’t affect them. They keep following

the instant pleasure, instant high. That’s what Instagram does to you. It changes your

brain. That’s what I was reading. We spoke about shallows. We became shallow and shallow

and our brain changed permanently. So this new generation, we can get them angry for

like 10 minutes, create hashtags for one day. But then as quick as that was, it goes down

like instantly. And I think that’s the…

Well, that means that… Okay. So that means that there is… It’s an effective way to

get rid of opposition is by murdering them. And that means United States, if it stands

for freedom, if it stands for the freedom of exchange of ideas, should be protecting

people like you.

But they don’t because they don’t want to be involved. They didn’t even protect Kim

Jong Nam who was giving information 10 years risking his life. That’s what is so… I

mean, working for CIA is not bad. The thing is that he was giving information to bring

down the regime. That is valuable. That is something noble about him. But then you just

don’t go extra miles to that. That’s when I lost my faith in the US system as well.

Like this country just cares about saving face. What is most the minimum cost they pay

for anything? And when I was in South Korea, constantly, every single day intelligence

calling me. The North Korean agent going this place, where are you going? The US system

came to US, nobody. That’s when people said, are you a CIA agent? I wish they called me.

I wish they called me. I really truly do. But nobody, nobody does here. I’m sure they

know what’s going on. But the South Korean agent is more like, oh my gosh, we don’t want

you to get killed as a South Korean citizen, right? Yeah. And now I’m trying to become

your citizen. So it’s in a way, it’s, I don’t know what’s worse. Are you afraid for your

life? I was afraid. For the several, three, four years, I was afraid. But I had to come

to terms with it. Like my enemy is not some crazy psychopath. It’s a state with nuclear

power to attack the most powerful country. If Kim Jong Un decides if I die, I’m going

to die. It’s not up to me, right? So in a way, also it’s liberating that you, it’s like

if you are like afraid of some mobs or some like gangsters on the street, it’s almost

like you have power over a little bit. You got to be like thinking that’s my fault. I

went that way, right? But when it comes to Kim Jong Un, I know like my enemy is so much

bigger than me. It’s in a ways of liberation. And also, you know, I just, I live a lot.

So I have seen a lot. I seen everything. I don’t have that much regret left here. Like,

okay, I’m going too soon. You know, it’s like, okay, maybe it’s time. Like death is a part

of life. So. In some sense, you’re willing to accept death to keep fighting for freedom

in your, in at least in part a place you call home. Yeah, it is. Do you hope that one day

you can return to North Korea? I hope so. I hope I bring my son and tell him this is

like where your ancestors from too. It would look very different than the place you came

from in your, as you hope. Do you hope that there’s a democracy one day that North Korea

looks like South Korea? Well, that would be in paradise, right? But I’m a rational optimist.

I’m not like just optimistic because I have to be. I think as long as there are people

who have changed the world, right? Like who believed in something and worked for it. And

like, I don’t know, like there’s like Alice Shroves, a few people holding entire this

world, right? I really believe in that. I think as long as that continues, that can

happen in my country. As long as people like you someday want to decide to do something

with North Korea and working for it, using your brainpower to solve this puzzle, how

fascinating would that be? That’s why I continue to speak, continue to recruit. To inspire

millions to do something. The books you like are all the books I love. I have to mention

this. You mentioned briefly on the, with Jordan, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is an incredible

book. I mean, I don’t know exactly what I want to ask here, but there’s some, I think

the book kind of, through telling a story, reveals that life is suffering and yet there’s

beauty in it. The beauty in every moment that uses kind of a river to paint a metaphor.

Is there something that you could say, speak to like how that book impacted your life and

the way you live life, maybe the way you see life, whether it’s on the life of suffering

side or that life is beautiful side.

I mean, he goes the entire journey, right? He goes in this state of, I’m so enlightened

that I cannot deal with the people who are there in love and quiet about it. Right? They’re

like, that’s so like primitive. Once he has his own son, he actually being attached. He

actually cares. He actually really does whole thing, right? That’s a thing that he used

to think not. Once his son comes find him, he looks at life differently. I think that’s

the thing. I did have that kind of journey where, oh, nothing matters, right? So bitter.

So so like, so cynical. And after I met so many incredible people, I was talking about

that person who told me he was gay. He told me, I love you. And I was like, why do you

love me? In the past, people when they wanted me was because they want to rape me. Everybody

wanted something from me. That’s why they wanted me. And I never understood. You can

love somebody unconditionally. And this gay guy, the last one was want to sleep with me,

right? And he loves me. And I think I had a blessing after my journey, meeting people

who loved me unconditionally because I was just being a human. And I think that’s what

it is now for me that like him. I live for love now. I live for love. Any kinds of love.

Love for knowledge. I like, I read so many books because I love books, right? I love

what I do. I love my people. I love humanity. You know, even it sometimes annoys me. I love


And that’s beautiful too. The annoying parts are beautiful too. What do you, let me ask

the ridiculous question. What do you think is the meaning of this whole thing? Of what’s

the meaning of life?

Well, I think at this point I stop questioning why I’m here, right? Like it doesn’t matter

someone put the atom there or a big bang. I’m here. That’s truth, right? I’m going to

accept that fully. So what, instead of me keep asking the impossible question, why I’m

here. I’m going to let you do that. Let the science do that, right? You guys go out in

the space and look for the evidence. I’m conducting.

You accept that you’re here and you’re just going to enjoy it. Like you’re here for love,

as you said.

That’s the thing. I think I’m here for the process of pursuing something bigger than

me. Process of doing something. It’s not like a model. It’s not a virtue signal or anything.

It just makes me happy that I fight for something bigger. Like than me, right? How boring is

that? Every day you get up like, Oh my God, I’m going to buy myself this. I’m going to

get this for myself. It’s so boring, isn’t it? So in a way, I think that’s what it is.

I’m grateful that I’m in a state. I don’t have to fight for myself anymore. But morning

people have to do that. And that’s sometimes more than enough they have to do. And I salute

them. They are doing fighting, saving themselves every day. But now I’m not there. I’m very

blessed. That’s why I’m very grateful.

Still fighting for something much bigger than you. But do you still believe that you can

change the world? That you can be a thing that, at least in part, helps North Korea

or even broader helps alleviate some suffering in the world?

So that’s the thing. I was reading this book before by randomness, right?


I was like, oh my God, you’re so courageous. You’re amazing. I was like, no, I’m not. I’m

horrible. I know myself. You don’t want to tell me that. It’s random why I ended up here.

Like, why did I pick up English so quickly? Why do I love books? Right? I don’t know why.

It’s random.

Don’t ask why. Just enjoy it.

Yeah, it’s just random. I think I don’t know how the history will remember me. I think

only thing I have to at this point to make sure is that the people after I consulting

a lot of security teams, like now North Korea became a lot smarter. Like you said, they

make it more disguised as a, like a suicide and a car accident. So when I die, they don’t

even know I got killed. I think that’s a higher chance. So I think that’s a thing like people

are suffering, take it or not, it’s your choice. And at least it’s my responsibility for them

to know what’s going on. I think if you did not know and didn’t do anything, you’re not

even guilty of a thing. But once you know, then you are not doing it. Then you, something’s

like not right. So that’s what I’m doing. Like I want people to know. And then what

they want to do is not my problem afterwards. Right? So my role is very small in that regards.

And I just hope that we’re humanized North Koreans for the first time, because we have

been so dehumanized, right? Like we are like looking like robots. If you look at us marching

and cry, like when your leader dies, almost seems like we don’t even have the same emotions.

People cannot connect us in the same level. And I think that’s something is, that’s something

media have done it to us.

And you’re, you’re shining a small light on this dark part of the world that I think,

and you make it, you’re so modest, but I think, I think you will have that little light just

might be a big thing that changes that incredible amount of suffering that’s happening on that

part of the world. You know what I mean? You’re, you’re an amazing person. I’m so fortunate

to get a chance to talk with you. I can’t wait what you do in the future. You’re, I

hope you write many more books. I do hope you continue making videos, continue having

conversations. You’re an inspiration to me and millions of others. I really appreciate

you talking with me today.

I’m so honored. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you for listening to this conversation with Yeonmi Park. And thank you

to Belcampo, Gala Games, BetterHelp, and 8th Sleep. Check them out in the description to

support this podcast. And now let me leave you with some words from Bob Marley. Better

to die fighting for freedom than be a prisoner all the days of your life. Thank you for listening

and hope to see you next time.

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