Shin has just arrived in China. He walks away from the frozen river, toward a nearby village. He remembers what the migrant workers told him: there are lots of ethnic Koreans living near the border, some of whom might be able to give Shin a job. Shin eventually finds Koreans living near the border, but when he asks them for help, they yell at him and tell him to keep moving. He spends his first night in China asleep outside.
After he crossed into China, Shin’s journey was far from over. He’d escaped from his police state, but he still had to find a way to survive in China and avoid being arrested and shipped back to his country. Though there were other North Korean defectors living in China at the time, clearly not all of them helped him.
The next day, Shin continues to beg Korean locals for food or help; one man gives him two apples. Shin begins walking farther from the border, until eventually he reaches a Chinese pig farmer. The farmer offers Shin a hot meal and some rice. He explains that he’s employed North Korean defectors in the past, and offers Shin a job and a bed. In the coming weeks, Shin lives more luxuriously than he ever has before: he eats roasted pork three times a day, he sleeps for as long as he likes, and the farmer treats his burns with antibiotics. When police officers come to the farm, the farmer vouches for him.
Many of the North Korean defectors living in the area helped Shin, perhaps because they’d once been helped by others. By many people’s standards, Shin’s living conditions were Spartan, but, because he’d been living in far worse conditions for much longer, he accepted and even enjoyed his new life on the farm.
North Koreans have been migrating into China for hundreds of years, to the point where China’s culture near the North Korean border is heavily Korean. North Koreans living in China are also largely responsible for the influx of foreign culture back into North Korea. In particular, they’re responsible for smuggling South Korean DVDs into the country. These DVDs portray a wealthy, happy country—undoing decades of North Korean propaganda that suggested that South Korea was poor and repressed.
The passage emphasizes why the North Korean government has tried so hard to limit contact with foreign cultures: even something as a simple as a South Korean DVD can undo huge expenditures of North Korean propaganda.
Since the 1980s, China has been legally obligated to send North Korean defectors back to North Korea. Both China and North Korea have significant interest in keeping their populations separate: China doesn’t want poor immigrants, and North Korea doesn’t want defectors bringing foreign culture back home.
China’s relationship with North Korea has always been shaky; however, it funded Kim Il Sung during the Korean War, and still works with North Korea to police the borders.
Shin’s relationship with the pig farmer quickly sours. Shin finds two other North Korean defectors, and he asks the pig farmer to take care of them. The pig farmer obliges, but resents having to employ so many extra people. The farmer tells Shin that Shin will have to leave, and he offers to drive him to another job in the mountains. The farmer leaves Shin near a cattle ranch, but Shin quickly discovers that nobody on the ranch speaks Korean.
Notice that Shin goes out of his way to help the other North Korean defectors, even though his decision to do so ultimately hurts his own interests and results in his being banished from the farm. This might suggest that Shin has learned to act more magnanimously, empathetically looking out for people other than himself.