Author Interview: Human Rights Violations in North Korea, Part 1

In 2011, I interviewed my friend Dr. Sandra Fahy on her first book, Marching through Suffering: Loss and Survival in North Korea, (Link) which was based on the testimony she’d gathered from North Korean famine victims who’d defected to Korea or Japan. Her second book is now with the editors at Columbia University Press and will be out soon.

This interview took place just after the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, when  Sandra was at home in Japan and I was in the Philippines. The next interview, which will appear on December 1, deals with the history of Read More

Author Interview on Krys Lee’s “How I Became a North Korean”

Krys Lee is a Korean-American writer living in Seoul and teaching at Underwood College at Yonsei University. Three years ago we talked about her short story collection, Drifting House. (Link) Recently we discussed her novel, which centers on three major characters who are kept in a safe house in China on the North Korean border—where exactly, she doesn’t say. Since much of the novel is inspired by Krys’s activism for human rights, I asked her to talk about her activism and the North Koreans who asked her to tell their story. We spoke over Skype when she was Read More

Moving On, Part 3

I was finishing up my first year of teaching English as a Second Language and studying linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh when a job offer came from a company whose task it was to supply foreign experts in developing countries—mostly for building bridges or drainage ditches with the occasional gunfire overhead. The year before, when I was unemployed, I’d applied for an opening teaching German at a university in Nigeria. Now, in the summer of 1984, the company was offering me a gig teaching English at a university in China. I saw it as an opportunity to find out … Read More

Caught in the Middle

In 1986 Hong Kong was reported to have more McDonald’s outlets per square mile than any other place in the world. In one of them Mary, a quiet woman in her thirties, talked about the two years she spent on the mainland working for two different companies. Thirty years after her arrival in China, we can still learn from her attempts to straddle the cultural divide, as well as the effect living in a different culture had on her. She has a great sense of humor.

Mary’s story

In 1983, after I finished my Chinese course in Hong Kong, I … Read More

Four Chinese Cities, Part 3

Jerri’s story

Parts one and two deal with Jerri’s experiences in Shenyang, Zhengzhou and Shanghai. Jerri kindly provided all the photos.


In Shenzhen I did very little teaching. Interestingly enough, I had one semester at a Korean international high school. It was a boarding school for Koreans whose parents wanted them to learn Chinese and develop Chinese relationships—or just wanted to send them somewhere else. So I went from being surrounded by Chinese to this little Korean enclave right in the heart of Shenzhen. The attitude of the Koreans in China—and I think in a lot of places—was that … Read More