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Friend of Late NK Defector Recollects Time Together

Posted October. 12, 2010 09:11,   


“When I met him, he looked like a soldier but turned out to be a witty person after I got to know him.”

This is what Joo Seon-ae, professor emeritus at Presbyterian College and Theological Seminary in Seoul, remembered about the late Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean to defect to South Korea.

Joo paid her respects to Hwang at a memorial altar in Seoul Asan Hospital around 11 p.m. Sunday.

Born in 1924, Joo was born a year after Hwang and hailed from the same hometown of Pyongyang. “We instantly became close friends since meeting for the first time in 2002 because we shared an emotional background given that we grew up in the same place,” she said.

The professor said she talked with Hwang on the phone every morning. “I dialed him around 8:30 a.m. Sunday (the day he died) but he didn’t pick up. So I felt something strange,” Joo said.

“I didn’t check directly because I was busy with other things, and never expected that he had passed away.”

She said she could not accurately guess when he would wake up, but he would sound completely sober when he picked up the phone with a clear voice around 8:30 a.m. daily.

“When I first met (Hwang), I felt afraid,” Joo said, recalling their first meeting in 2002. Because he was wary of his surroundings, he rarely greeted strangers.

She said he began opening up after she began calling him every morning, saw him frequently, and talked about diverse topics.

Several weeks later, Joo and Hwang became friends who even exchanged jokes. Hwang felt a big burden on long trips due to security issues, but liked visiting Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, so much that he went there three to four times.

“Hwang liked meat so much that he would eat more meat than boiled rice, and especially enjoyed chicken dishes,” Joo said. “I had planned to buy him an indigenous Korean chicken dish at a Presbyterian church nursery in Yangpyeong this month, but he passed away.”