Letters to My Hometown

Letters to My Hometown Playlist

Doh Kuk Kim

Doh Kuk Kim was born on May 10th, 1941 in Sariwon, Hwanghae Province, North Korea. Growing up in Sariwon, he recollects a childhood filled with fond memories of friends, with whom he’d often climb nearby Jeongban Mountain to pick and eat azaleas, which grew in abundance up and down the mountainside. In first grade, he was designated the class president after dragging his neighborhood friends to school, encouraging them to register for classes; they’d start the days off by counting off in Russian. He’d come home from school to a loving father from whom he feels as though he received a “lifetime of love,” being the youngest child in the family. During the January Fourth Retreat, Kim, with his mother and a few siblings, left Sariwon for Seoul with the intent to return after a week, but as fighting continued, the separated family found itself living in the South with no hope of return. Kim, who realizes that by now the siblings he left in North Korea would have had children and families of their own, wishes for nothing but for them to remain healthy so that he might see them one day, on the soil of his hometown.”

This interview was filmed on July 30th, 2023 in Suwanee, GA.

Hyo Sun Yang

Hyo Sun Yang was born in 1945 in Manwol, Kaesong City. Her father, a surgeon at Kaesong Provincial Hospital, continued his work there until the Korean War escalated. Hyo Sun recalls the hospital being a refuge for many during the war. At the war’s peak, her father was captured by the North Korean army, and she never saw him again. His fate remains unknown, leaving her hopeful yet uncertain, wishing for both his well-being and eternal peace. In response to growing political tensions, Hyo Sun, along with her mother and brother, relocated to South Korea. They eventually made their way to the U.S., where she and her brother now reside. This interview was filmed on July 19th, 2023 in Glendale, CA.

Hung Kyu Bang

Hung Kyu Bang, a 95-year-old born in 1929 in Bangchon-dong, Pyongyang, carries vivid memories of his childhood and family despite the years. He fondly recalls his older sister, who cared for him during a severe illness at age 14. Although they were separated, with his sister remaining in North Korea, Bang visited Pyongyang in 2014, hoping to reunite. Tragically, he discovered that she had passed away. He reminisces about their walks to school, a one-hour journey during their elementary years. With deep historical awareness of the hardships during the Japanese occupation post-WWI, Bang advocates for the reunification of separated families and yearns for improved relations, including direct flights between the U.S. and Pyongyang, to strengthen family bonds across borders. This interview was filmed on July 14th, 2023 in Millbrae, CA.

Seung Suk Byun

Seung Suk Byun, born in 1929 in Hwanghae Province, North Korea, grew up in a poor farming family. Despite a strong desire for education, economic hardships forced him to leave school after the third year of middle school. He only continued his studies thanks to his uncle’s financial support, which included paying for his school fees and gifting him a bicycle.

The outbreak of the Korean War dramatically altered Mr. Byun’s life during his 6th-grade year. Faced with the chaos and danger of the conflict, Mr. Byun and his family had to make a desperate escape. Initially hiding in mountains and forests due to the lack of space on escape boats, Mr. Byun vividly recalls the perilous moments of hiding in manure to avoid detection. His eventual escape was fraught with danger; only by the aid of friends was he pulled to safety onto a boat after nearly being left behind, resulting in the loss of the only provisions he had, two packs of rice, due to the hasty departure.

Mr. Byun’s connection to North Korea remained strong through his family ties. He was in an arranged marriage with a woman who, during the war, became pregnant with another man’s child and gave birth to a daughter. While Mr. Byun escaped, his wife, pregnant at the time, stayed behind in North Korea. Tragically, she passed away at the age of 28. In 2005, Mr. Byun had the opportunity to return to North Korea, where he brought 2000 antibiotic pills and suitcases filled with gifts for his family, leaving behind everything but his clothes and a toothbrush for his return journey. His daughter remains in North Korea, maintaining the familial link to his homeland despite the geographical and political divide.

This interview was filmed on July 18th, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA

Ki Shin Lee

Ki Shin Lee, born July 5, 1934, in Haeju, Hwanghae-do, lived a life marked by the Korean War’s division. Fleeing during the 1951 January-Fourth Retreat, he left behind his parents and siblings, believing he’d never see them again. Risking return, he was captured by the Chinese army, last hearing from his father to escape southward. Decades later, in 1992, Lee discovered his parents were alive through a classmate who visited North Korea, overturning years of mourning. Emigrating to the US, he sought reunion, and in 1997, he met his sister and brother but couldn’t visit his hometown or his parents’ graves. Their thin, aged appearances at the reunion brought him to tears, highlighting North Korea’s harsh realities. This encounter in 1997 would be the last time Lee saw his family, maintaining a fragile connection through one or two letters a year, with each letter taking six months to reach him. Despite the pain and separation, Lee’s story is a plea for understanding and empathy towards the people of North Korea. His life, marked by loss, separation, and eventual partial reunion, underscores the human cost of geopolitical conflict and the deep-seated desire for family and homeland connection amidst adversity. Lee’s narrative is a powerful reminder of the personal stories behind historical events, urging a compassionate view of those on both sides of the Korean divide.

This interview was filmed on July 25th, 2023 in Philadelphia, PA.

Marn J. Cha

Marn J. Cha, born in 1937 in Gangdeok, North Korea, spent his childhood in South Korea before moving to the United States in 1957 to study political science and public administration. In 1969, he became a professor of Political Science at California State University, notable as one of the few professors of Korean descent in the U.S. at the time. Invited by North Korea to give a lecture, he seized a unique opportunity to visit his hometown, rekindling connections with relatives who vividly recalled their shared past.

During his visit, he experienced a heartfelt reunion, marked by a special meal prepared by his relatives at an unusual hour, highlighting the depth of their familial bond. For about two decades, he maintained sporadic communication with his relatives in North Korea, often wondering if the financial aid he sent was received amid suspicions of governmental interference. Despite losing contact, Cha remains passionate about his family’s well-being and is committed to teaching his children about their North Korean heritage, holding onto the hope of one day reuniting with them.

Hung Kyu Bang

Hung Kyu Bang, a 95-year-old born in 1929 in Bangchon-dong, Pyongyang, carries vivid memories of his childhood and family despite the years. He fondly recalls his older sister, who cared for him during a severe illness at age 14. Although they were separated, with his sister remaining in North Korea, Bang visited Pyongyang in 2014, hoping to reunite. Tragically, he discovered that she had passed away. He reminisces about their walks to school, a one-hour journey during their elementary years. With deep historical awareness of the hardships during the Japanese occupation post-WWI, Bang advocates for the reunification of separated families and yearns for improved relations, including direct flights between the U.S. and Pyongyang, to strengthen family bonds across borders. This interview was filmed on July 14th, 2023 in Millbrae, CA.

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