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"We Overcame Pain to Achieve Hope"

Posted December. 30, 2004 22:35,   


“The trouble I went through is nothing compared to the pain I experienced while in North Korea. However, as we have finally opened the possibility, I will work hard to make our dream come true.”

2004 has been a lousy year. Among the sighs of common people due to the dramatic domestic economic stagnation, there are those who made 2004 a year of hope by standing strong in their tasks.

The workers of Baekdoo Food Co. are an example. A company established by ex-North Koreans, it threw away the settlement money received from the government, but has made its first profit this year due to endless effort.

On the morning of December 24, they were at their small food factory in Kimpo.

The cold wind could not blow away the sweat of the workers who were delivering food boxes.

Shin Dong-hyeok (39 years old), who drives the coolie rack, said, “This is the first time that we made a profit since the firm opened. However, this is no problem at all. If every year is like this, I will sing all the time.”

Baekdoo Food is a company established by seven ex-North Koreans including Shin, Jun Young-il (38 years old) and Lee Song-nam (46 years old). These seven, who fled to the South between 1995 and 1997, met each other at a defector’s meeting and decided to open this firm in September 2000 with the will to “succeed in capitalism.”

The seven, not having any special skills, came up with the idea of food made from the leaves of elm trees. Elm leaves are served in North Korea only during days when special guests come to visit. They started to make noodles and frying powder out of elm leaves and sent them to restaurants and superstores.

However, due to the leaves’ high price, their product was 2-3 times more expensive than that of others, leaving them ignored. There were even those who criticized, “How can a defector do business?” and did not believe in the product’s quality.

Um Young-soo (33 years old) of a social volunteering group, Call of Love, which has been looking out for Baekdoo, said, “At first, they did not know how to use a bank. They did not know the first thing of starting a business, let alone promotion. There were no workers who could give his paycheck to his family until last month.”

Their pain reached a zenith last year. A South Korean manager employed to jump start the business embezzled the firm’s capital. On top of this, a defector was caught while trying to hand over the operation rights to another firm behind the other six’s back.

“Fortunately, we won the trial, however, we felt sad being in court against a person who we thought was a friend. We cried saying let’s all jump from the 63 Building. What kept us going was the faith that we were a community without any ranking.”

They start working at 7:00 a.m. and end at 10:00 p.m. They even gave up their holidays to work. South Korean workers sublimed to their logic of communism, which allows them to discuss every tiny detail together. The result is a 1.2 billion won profit.

Promotion team Yoon Sung-chul (39 years old) said, “There were hard times, but I am happy to make the saying ‘If you keep faith, then everyone can succeed’ come true. We will become a firm that makes money by selling healthy food. We will accomplish this by investing in product research development in 2005.”

Yang-Hwan Jung ray@donga.com