‘No tricks or shortcuts’ to resettlement process

first_imgDaily NK [DNK]: Please introduce yourself.Ms. Kim [Kim]: My name is Kim Jin Hyun (pictured left), and I am the owner of Chongjin RiceCake Workshop in Seoul. I fled North Korea in 1999.DNK: How were you making a living in North Korea?Kim: I graduated from university in 1989. It was around thattime that Kim Il Sung instructed the majority of students to go to theagricultural regions. In North Korea, when you are told to go somewhere, youjust have to go there. I was dispatched to the countryside in 1988 and workedin the youth labor division for the next 10 years. Our main task was to supplyvegetables to the shops by growing cabbages and other vegetables year-round.DNK: What did you find most difficult about settling in SouthKorea?Kim: Because I came by myself to South Korea, I felt lonely andoften thought about my hometown – especially on weekends. I first settled inGumi in Gyeongsan Province, and began working a month later.I urgently needed money to repay the broker (who arranged myescape from North Korea) and to bring my child, who was then in China, to theSouth. The South Korean government’s resettlement allowance is only providedfor six months, so I had to find work immediately. At first, I had a part-timejob assembling mobile phones at Samho Electronics. I was responsible formanaging three press machines. The work wasn’t too physically challenging butit was dangerous, because the machine could easily sever your hand while youwere trying to pick out defective parts. I was a little scared at the time andlacked confidence in general.I worked there for 6 months and was happy with the companyitself, as it had a track record of hiring refugees and my coworkers were kindto me. Plus, there were two other refugees working with me. The companypresident also took frequent business trips to China and had an interest inNorth Korean affairs.DNK: What other work did you do?Kim: Back in North Korea I was selected to work in a dining hall.There were 130 of us working there. I worked there for 5-6 years, which gave mesome of the experience I needed to eventually open my own rice cake shop herein South Korea.While I was working in Gumi, I saw a posting for cooks at arecruitment agency and applied for it. After I got that job, I quit my previousjob and enrolled in a cooking school. I later moved to Seoul in 2010 after afriend introduced me to a cold noodle restaurant that was run by refugees.DNK: What was the most difficult part of working in a restaurant?Kim: I worked as the head chef at a North Korean-style coldnoodle restaurant, but had to leave because business wasn’t very good. Thewages offered by other restaurants were too low, so I thought I may need tostop working as a cook. But then I found a posting at a raw fish restaurant.The manager asked me if I was from North Korea. It’s customary for refugees tosay that they are ethnic Koreans from China, but I told the truth. A shift was supposed to last for 11 hours, but I alwaysworked 12 hours. Because I was in such a hurry to find a new job at the time, Ididn’t know what the restaurant owner or the manager was like. I later foundout that the manager changed frequently.When you get paid a salary, you are entitled to paidvacation. However, this restaurant would instead cut my salary when I took aday off. I first thought that this was standard industry practice but laterfound out otherwise. Also, if you subscribe to employment insurance, you areentitled to paid vacation and paid holidays, but I also didn’t know about this.I worked there for 3 months, and when I left, the owner refused to pay all thatI was owed. DNK: You opened your shop in September 2015. Why do you includethe word “workshop” in its name?Kim: Chongjin is my hometown, and because I liked the meaning ofthat name, I named my shop Chongjin Rice Cake Workshop. I called it a workshopso as to distinguish it from a mill, and also as a venue where I can givelessons. It’s legally permissible to process food products in your own home,but not to sell it. Because I needed to sell my rice cakes, I opened up a shopand registered it with the city’s health inspection department.DNK: What particular know-how do you have for making deliciousrice cakes? And what makes it so difficult?Kim: Each rice cake has its own secrets and methods. But the mostimportant ingredient is effort. This may sound obvious, but food won’t tastegood unless some effort goes into it. Also, because rice cakes are produced on a daily basis,keeping a consistent mindset each day is very important. I think that myemotions are expressed in the rice cakes.DNK: Your business is now a year old. What is the most importantthing for keeping your business afloat? Kim: It’s obvious that the taste of the food and customer serviceare essential. However, it’s important to remember that actually running abusiness requires a lot more money than you initially plan for. The first 5months were especially difficult. Although the orders kept coming in,unexpected costs made it difficult to make ends meet. Fortunately, I had beenprocessing food for 3 months before opening up the business, so I already hadsome equipment ready. If I had opened a shop immediately, I would have had amuch harder time. Another essential thing is having a good partnership.Thankfully, my husband is able to help me with things like delivery, and thishas the added benefit of reducing costs.DNK: Do you have your own philosophy in regards to making ricecakes?Kim: I never go against my conscience. If the product tastes bad,then I accept that it tastes bad and don’t try to convince myself otherwise. Imake the rice cakes with the mindset that my family will be eating it.In particular, I don’t involve anyone else in making therice cakes. Honestly, it requires a lot of strength and fortitude. Nonetheless,I never take any shortcuts. In particular, I can’t hand this task to anyonebecause it’s essential to maintain the rice cakes’ distinct flavor.DNK: How much money did you put down to start the business?Kim: I needed 20 million KRW in total: 10 million KRW for thesecurity deposit and 10 million KRW for facilities and equipment. Since I workby myself, I don’t need to pay any employees.DNK: Are you happy with how your business is going?Kim: It’s not enough to make any significant savings, but it’sslowly improving. I hope that revenues will rise a bit more. July and Augustare lean months for rice cake shops.I make the rice cakes just the way that I did in NorthKorea, and as my mother taught me. However, South Korea doesn’t have the sameingredients that are used in the North. Also, some types of rice cakes, likefrozen potato rice cakes, are quite expensive to produce. But I am determinedto find a way to roll them out this year. DNK: You are also engaged in volunteer work. Could you talk aboutthat a little bit?Kim: One thing that surprised me in the South was the lack ofneighborliness. People don’t know their neighbors, and they stay in their homesall day and don’t even greet each other in the elevator.I saw a shocking report on the news about the elderly wholive alone and pass away without anyone noticing. I thought that the situationmust be even worse for the elderly who come from North Korea. So I began makingrice cakes for elderly North Korean refugees on their birthdays. I began doingso after I opened up my shop, and I think they appreciate it because it remindsthem of their hometowns. You can’t just donate your talent because you want to;there needs to be an opportunity for donation. I’m thankful to be able tocontribute something.DNK: What have been some of the most difficult things you haveencountered?Kim: Comments like “this rice cake is pretty ordinary,” or “thisis different to what I like” upset me because I put so much effort into makingit. Someone recently complained that the tofu rice cake is too large. Theoriginal rice cake in North Korea is actually much larger, while othercustomers have told me that it’s the perfect size.Obviously, it is disconcerting to hear such comments. Yourun into all sorts of people when running a business and pick up some scars.But my philosophy is that those in the service industry shouldn’t always be sosubmissive and passive to their customers; instead, when something needs to besaid, it should be said. Once, a hospital patient placed an order. The customerthen took a photo of the order with a faulty camera and claimed on Kakaostory [Korean social networking service] that I had cheated her and posted the distorted photo. I called the customer,who ended up apologizing and taking down the photo. There were other customers who falsely claimed that theirdelivery was late, or that I didn’t take their calls.But once I began having repeat customers, and not just NorthKorean defectors but South Koreans as well, my work became more enjoyable.Recently, I delivered a batch of rice cakes to a pregnant woman. Later, hermother-in-law called to say that her daughter-in-law enjoyed the rice cakes andhad an easy delivery. She also placed another order to celebrate the baby’sfirst 100 days, and remarked that the rice cakes were really soft and delicious.DNK: What do you do after work? Kim: If there’s no order for the following day, then I tend tofret about it. My husband tells me that one day without an order is okay, andnot to worry so much. But I can’t help but worry about the rent and othercosts. Thankfully, orders have been more consistent than before.DNK: Rice cakes are a part of Korean tradition. Is there aparticular rice cake you want to make after reunification?After reunification, I want to return to my hometown andintroduce South Korean rice cakes. Both Koreas have different styles of ricecake. I also want to make a fusion style rice cake by integrating the differentmethods. I think that things like this will help to bridge culturespost-reunification.DNK: What are your future plans?Kim: I plan to get an oven in the workshop to try making ricecakes with ingredients other than flour. With an oven, I can make sweetrice tart or cheese rice cakes. These have a longer expiration date, so I cansend them via parcel delivery. I also want to try online marketing. I’m goingto get some business advice very soon.I also want to open up a rice cake café, a place wherepeople can eat rice cakes and drink tea.DNK: What would you do if someone wanted to learn yourtechniques, or proposed to open up a franchise under your name?I don’t want to open up a franchise. However, if someonewith good work ethic and passion wants to learn, then I would be willing toteach them free of charge. But I won’t have anyone who may tarnish the image ofmy place as a workshop. That person would need to learn how to get the tasteconsistent. This is really difficult to do, and even if you follow the recipeexactly, the taste can still be inconsistent. That’s why the learner needs tobe hard-working and passionate. DNK: What advice do you have to recent newcomers to South Korea?In the North, despite the amount of knowledge and passionthat you have, you can’t do the work that you want to do. However, in theSouth, as long as you have the will, you can make a living through a widevariety of work. My advice is to try and get by with hard work and not resortto tricks and shortcuts. If you work hard and don’t get too greedy, you’lllikely succeed in South Korea. ‘No tricks or shortcuts’ to resettlement process News News There are signs that North Korea is running into serious difficulties with its corn harvest Entire border patrol unit in North Hamgyong Province placed into quarantine following “paratyphoid” outbreak Facebook Twitter RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHORcenter_img By Daily NK – 2016.10.05 10:42am AvatarDaily NKQuestions or comments about this article? Contact us at [email protected] News North Korea tries to accelerate building of walls and fences along border with China SHARE News last_img read more