One of the ten North Korean defectors whom I invited to the recent Google Illicit Networks Conference was especially captivating. “Paul,” who is just two months younger than I am, had a completely different upbringing than me, having been born and raised in North Korea before he recently defected. During the conference we snuck away to a quiet room where he opened up and told me his extraordinary story of survival and freedom.
At the young age of 17, he developed the sense to predict when somebody would die, based on their breathing patterns. Paul recalls thinking, “that man has about two more days left before he leaves this earth.” After a bedmate would pass, Paul would not report his/her death because he would be able to eat the corpse’s food ration. He would continue to sleep next to corpses and eat their food until nurses noticed the rotting bodies, after which patients would be tasked with carrying the stiff corpses out into a mass open grave. He left the hospital, and went back to his barracks, even more determined to survive and defect from this country.