Jenkins in Jakarta

The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, by Charles Robert Jenkins with Jim Frederick (U. California Press, 2008), pp. 163-165:

Once we touched down in Jakarta, my wife was there on the tarmac along with throngs of media…. The bus ride into the city took two hours. I had never seen such a bad traffic jam in my life. In Pyongyang there was rarely any traffic at all, even in the center of the city, but here the streets were jammed with cars. I did not wait long before getting down to business with my wife. I had already been waiting so long, I didn’t see any reason to delay the discussion any further. The bus was full of the Japanese delegation, so I still had to be a little discreet. We sat side by side, not looking at each other while we talked. “Why didn’t you want to have this meeting in China?” I asked. “If we met in China,” she said, “I may have been sent back to North Korea.” So I asked, “You don’t want to go back to North Korea?” “No,” she said quietly but firmly. “But I thought you did,” I said. “The [Korean Workers Party] Organization told me that you have been trying and wanting to come back this whole time.” “Gae-so-ri,” she said. (That is dog talk.) “Well,” I thought, “that’s it, then. The decision has been made. We are not going back.”

They put us up in a hotel downtown that was the nicest place I think I have ever stayed. We were in a suite on the fourteenth floor. It was larger than any house I had ever lived in. Brinda and Mika were in a state of shock. The television just blew them away. Actually, it blew me away, too. All those channels. The size of it. The brightness of all the colors. Some of the stuff that was shown, and the fact that it was on twenty-four hours a day. I think that was their very first whiff that there might be a lot more to the outside world than the North Koreans had ever told them. It didn’t take them long to sense that the rest of the world was much more free than North Korea had been. At the same time, there was only so much freedom for us: There was a guard on our door (officers from the Niigata police force, to be specific) twenty-four hours a day. Right across the hall from us was the Japanese delegation, including Saiki and Nakayama.

The next morning, my wife and I continued the discussion we had been having on the bus. To test her resolve on the matter, I said to her, “If you are not going back, then there is no point to me being here. The girls and I will go to China for a little while and then return to North Korea to pick up our new house. I don’t see what the problem is for you to come to North Korea. The Organization says you can go and come as you please. You can take the ferry back and forth. You can visit anytime you want.” She responded, “You know one big reason why I am not going back? It is not just because of me. It is because of you. Because of your family in the United States. If you go back to North Korea, you will never see your mother and sisters again.” “But I am not going to see them anyway, since I am going to go to jail for life!” I yelled. “You are not going to go to jail!” she yelled back. “How can you say that? ” I asked. “You can’t say that for sure.” I had realized by then that she and Koizumi were doing everything they could to appeal to the Americans for understanding and leniency in my case, but I also knew that my wife was in no position to offer me assurances about how the U.S. Army was going to choose to punish me. Whenever it was I had to face my accusers, I knew at least on that count, I would be doing it alone.

It was around that time I also realized that the power between my wife and me had changed. In North Korea, I was primarily responsible for protecting her and providing for her, and she would do what I thought was best for us almost without exception. She needed me. Now, however, the equation had changed. I would have to listen to her; she would be my guide. I now needed her more than she needed me. This change in our relationship has been one of the most noteworthy parts of our lives together since 2002, and, to be honest, sometimes one of the hardest for me to adjust to.

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Filed under Indonesia, Japan, Korea, military, U.S.

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