The next morning, Shin and Park wake up and set to work cutting wood for a fire. It is an extraordinary coincidence that they’re working so close to the fence that day—as a result of their assignment, they can run to the fence and then move on to tree cover. As they work, Park and Shin notice that the patrolmen around the camp take a long time to pass by. Furthermore, the foreman that day is a prisoner, too, meaning that he’s unarmed. However, instead of running for it in the morning, they have agreed to wait until dusk, when it will be harder for the guards to track their footsteps in the snow.
Shin and Park planned their escape very carefully, in order to maximize their chances of getting past the fence and minimizing their chances of being seen by a guard. They took advantage of the “perfect storm” of factors: few armed guards, proximity to the fence, a leisurely fence patrol, etc.
Around four pm, Shin and Park sneak towards the fence, which is about ten feet high and consists of strands of electrified barbed wire spaced about a foot apart. They decide that if they can squeeze through without touching the wire, they’d be fine. Shin is ready, but Park whispers, “I don’t know if I can do this.” Shin refuses to wait; he pulls Park toward the fence, and Park runs after him. Park tries to fit through the barbed wire, but electrocutes himself in the process. As Park’s body convulses from the currents, Shin crawls over Park, using his body as an “insulating pad.” He can still remember the smell of Park’s body—“like it was burning.”
As the passage presents the information, it’s odd that Park was the one reluctant to escape—one would imagine that Shin, who’d (supposedly) never been outside the camp, would have been far more frightened of leaving. In light of Shin’s recent testimony, however, it seems that Shin was eager to escape because he’d already tried to do so. Park’s untimely death seems to not have distracted Shin: he was so set on escaping that he crawled right over Park’s body, rather than stopping to mourn his friend and father figure. Indeed, Park’s death may have helped Shin get through the fence, so in a way Park was another harsh sacrifice necessary for Shin’s survival.
It’s unclear how Shin survived the electric fence, but it appears that Park’s body transmitted the electric current from the fence into the ground. Shin still experienced a high voltage as he crossed the fence, but not a lethal voltage (the fact that he was wearing extra clothing for the cold weather may have helped, too). As he runs away alone, Shin realizes that he is in trouble: he has no idea in what direction China is located.
Shin apparently survived the electric fence out of sheer dumb luck. Still, it’s likely that he’d never have had the opportunity to escape at all had he not snitched on his family years ago. Now, Shin had to find a way to survive in “free” North Korea—a place almost as dangerous as the prison camp.