By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Greetings! You are tuned to the "Casey Lartigue Show with YeonMi Park," a new TV talk show online at JKJ TV. I am delighted to welcome you to our lovely bi-weekly show that will focus on North Korea and North Korean refugee issues.
My name is Casey Lartigue and I am the main host of the show, but the success of the show will depend on my co-host, YeonMi Park, a North Korean refugee who has lived in South Korea for five years.
As far as we know, this is the first regular podcast or talk show featuring a North Korean refugee speaking English.
YeonMi, a junior concentrating in Criminal Justice at Dongguk University, will be our guide. When she isn't studying like her life depends on it, she is doing everything else like her life depends on it.
She is a regular guest on a weekly Korean cable TV show that features female North Korean refugees. She is ambassador of the Teach North Korean Refugees project that I launched early last year along with my co-director, Lee Eunkoo.
Additionally, YeonMi recently joined me as the Media Fellow at Freedom Factory.
We are both busy people, but we will find the time to do this show. Hours after we recorded the first show on March 17, YeonMi flew to Sydney to be a featured guest on a TV show in Australia. Three days later, I flew to America to do a mini-speaking tour across New Orleans, New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
To begin our first show, I ignored YeonMi, announcing that I was the sole host of the show. YeonMi interrupted quickly, asking, "Am I invisible?" It set the proper tone for the show." She will be no shrinking violet.
I then joked that I had done a worldwide search to find the perfect co-host, but that I failed to find one. Of course, that wasn't true. I chose YeonMi and was delighted when she accepted.
It will take an enthusiastic, energetic and brave lady like her to co-host such a show. Some North Korean experts will scoff at us because we won't be solving geopolitical problems related to North Korea. There are sure to be the usual internet jokes about the hosts of a show.
As you can imagine, YeonMi was really nervous ― she was physically shaking as we prepared to record the first show. Once the cameras were pointing at us and we were recording, we both stumbled a bit.
My stumbles will be less excusable to viewers. I was formerly host of the Casey Lartigue Show on XM 169 in America; I have been a guest on numerous TV and radio shows; given speeches around the world; oh, and the show is in English.
Yeon-Mi is seven years removed from living in North Korea; the show is in English, a language she has been learning for just a few years; and she is dealing with a co-host who loves to improvise, even when he promises he won't. Her stumbles will be excusable to most people ― but not to herself.
After a bit of banter on our first show, we got to a serious topic: "Juche dies, markets rise."
I outlined the way the North Korean economy stagnated starting from the 1970s, then careened into famines during 1995-96 after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991.
The spontaneous order arose as North Koreans began to feed themselves. The North Korean regime fluctuates between tolerating and cracking down on markets.
We looked at photos of North Koreans engaged in market activity in North Korea, with YeonMi discussing the things she saw and had experienced.
YeonMi will use her English ability to speak for those refugees who can't do so and for those still trapped in North Korea. She wants to talk about the "real North Korea," not the caricatures in newspaper headlines.
As we debriefed a week later, I told her that our main problem is that we were in charge but not in control. We looked too much to our producer for guidance. We will take charge and be in control from the second show.
We concluded the first show with what I hope will be a fun segment: "Ask YeonMi." Friends and colleagues know that I am a wanna-be-rap star. Naturally, my first question was: "Do they have karaoke in North Korea?"
After this, it will be up to the viewers to send in sensible and/or fun questions for YeonMi to answer about North Korea.
Despite some serious topics, we will have fun, borrowing a line attributed to socialist activist Emma Goldman: "If I can't dance then I don't want to join your revolution."
The writer is the director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.