I met my husband, Oh-jooyean, in 1996, while working in a market near my hometown of Yonan, North Korea. I was 22 years old; he was 26. A year later, we went to the police station to get married. We stood before an officer and pledged to love each other, live peacefully together and forever love and respect our eternal leaders, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
We settled in the northern province of Yanggang-do, not far from Baekdu-san, a famous snow-topped mountain that’s mentioned in our national anthem. Like everybody in our town, we lived in a “harmonica” townhouse—a type of building consisting of a long line of attached one-room cells. We didn’t have a fridge in our room, and we rarely had wood for heat. My husband and I worked in a factory or farm field—wherever we were assigned—and we survived on rations and a measly wage that was barely enough to buy a kilo of rice. We grew whatever vegetables we could in a small plot in front of our house and foraged for plants in