Humor, tears on North Korean defector TV show

Thu Jun 21, 2012 9:43am EDT
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By Ju-min Park

GOYANG, Korea (Reuters) - Less than a decade ago, Han Seo-hee was a member of an elite, secret music troupe for Kim Jong-il, the iron-fisted late leader of North Korea.

These days, she struggles to make jokes on a South Korean television program, one of roughly a dozen North Korean women who fled their autocratic homeland and now appear on a weekly show that hopes to bring the two nations closer by showing what North Koreans are really thinking about.

"Now on My Way to Meet You," a hybrid talk and talent show shot in Goyang, a city northwest of Seoul, has grown in popularity thanks to its format of humor and tears, mingling serious discussions, such as how the women escaped, with lighter fare such as talk about which men make the best husbands.

"I still feel uncomfortable when I have to make people laugh, or perform. I am still wedded to North Korea's stiff style," said Han, 30, who for four years from 2002 played a stringed instrument as part of Kim Jong-il's troupe.

"I was worried that a lot of malicious comments might be posted (on the show's Internet site)... But when I actually look there, there are a lot of supportive messages, so I think I was right to appear on this show."

Though the program does not skirt heavy topics altogether, gossip and lighter fare dominate.

On one recent show, the women discussed how widespread plastic surgery is in the North - particularly double-eyelid surgery to make the eyes look rounder, often carried out by eye doctors or unlicensed people - and how Southern men really know how to sweet-talk a woman who has caught their eye, unlike their serious Northern counterparts.

A debate on the most desirable occupations for a prospective bridegroom concluded that cooks and barbers are most popular, because these are high-salary jobs. By contrast, women in the South generally favor doctors or lawyers.   Continued...

North Korean defector living in South Korea, Han Seo-hee, 30, poses during an interview with Reuters at a studio of a South Korean television talk show in Goyang, north of Seoul June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won