Friday, November 22, 2013

North Korean Child Prisoners

On Monday evening I drove down to DC to meet with Margie for a very special evening. We had managed to get passes to listen to and meet Shin Dong-Hyuk, witness and survivor of Camp 14, the infamous political concentration camp; Suzanne Scholte, 2008 Seoul Peace Prize Laureate and chairman of the Defense Forum Foundation; and Pavel Klein, neurologist, at the Czech Embassy.
I never drive down to DC on week days because of the horrendous traffic but for this an exception had to be made. I got there early and was amazed to see how small the gathering would be. I counted only 100 seats.
Before long, our speakers arrived. Above is Shin, with a representative of the Czech Embassy. Shin has to be the most incredible person I have ever met. He is the only known person to be born in and escape from Camp 14, one of North Korea's most notorious camps. He escaped in 2005, aged 23, spent a month walking to China, was living in South Korea within two years, and then was in California four years after that. For the last two years he has been a senior human rights ambassador. My first impression of him was that he looked so young, far younger than his 32 years but when you get up close his friendly face has old eyes, rimmed with many lines, and you get a glimpse of the cruel hard life he has endured.
He had to watch many executions in the camp including those of his mother and older brother who had tried to escape. He and his father were tortured, held over a fire, as the guards tried to extract information from them. He had never known the emotion of love, or even the word, and never heard of God. He had been trained to regard his family as competition for food, never receiving any warmth from his mother or brother and only seeing his father five times a year, regarding him as a stranger.
It's mind numbing to try and comprehend what this man has been through, and I could only admire and respect him as I watched with awe at how he now interacted with people and talked of his past life. He looked so healthy yet from having started to read his book, I have learned that his growth is stunted through malnutrition, his arms are bowed from heavy labor, he has a finger tip missing, cut off by guards for damaging a sewing machine, he has scars and burns on his back from the fire he was held over with a hook piercing his skin to keep him in place, his lower legs have welt scars from shackles while hanging upside down in solitary confinement and burns from the electric fence as he escaped. His teeth have been cosmetically enhanced. It was a miracle that this young man had survived all this and was now standing before us bent on making us and the rest of the world understand what goes on in these North Korean camps.
He spoke through an interpreter, and when he suggested that we all went home afterwards and took some cold medicine because his interpreter had a cold. Everyone laughed and I was incredulous that he had a sense of humor, he was genuinely funny at times. All I could do was shake my head hardly believing what I was hearing.
Suzanne Scholte spoke for a while explaining what was being done to help and rescue the orphaned children from North Korea who make their way to China.
The photo above shows a group that were awaiting flights from China to the USA and South Korea where they would then lead free lives. They were all incredibly excited until guards suddenly swooped on them and the eight that don't have flags above their heads in the photo were grabbed and taken back to North Korea, where we can assume they ended up in the camps. Imagine their horror at tasting freedom for a fleeting moment and then having it so cruelly snatched away.
The above documents are examples of flyers that are sometimes dropped in North Korea. Money is often sent with them or DVDs or radios. They are attached to balloons and sent over the border.
 After everyone had spoken, we were allowed to go up to the front and meet the speakers. Most of us were at a loss what to say to Shim. He speaks some English but chooses not too, he's not really ready to come out of his shell fully yet, but he had plenty of smiles for everyone. He signed copies of his book for us and all I could do was gently squeeze his shoulder and say, "Thank God you're safe."

Some interesting websites here:
A brief history of Shin's life in the camp:
Free North Korean radio - click on the ENG button at the top:
Working for freedom and the human right of North Koreans:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Aspin Pet Cemetery, MD

A group of us went up to Maryland on Saturday to look at Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery. It was a dull damp day which lent a sad ambiance to the small gravestones with little animal figurines poking up from the long unkempt grass.
There used to be a schnauzer breeders kennel here that had a line of champions with the Aspin name. Some of the dogs were buried here as well as some of the neighbors' pets. The cemetery passed through many owners and is now run by Montgomery County Humane Society. Because of the recession and the lack of foundations, the land is badly neglected and needs volunteers to help maintain the grounds. Sadly there are quite a few beer cans littering the ground and towards the back of the grounds where the older graves are is quite difficult to access because it is so overgrown.
It seemed such a forlorn place as we wandered amongst the graves but obviously there have been many loved and revered family members laid to rest here. Some of the owners even chose to rest here with their pets, most of which we found to be dogs, with a lot of cats too. We came across a bird grave, a monkey, brave heroic animals and there's also supposedly a horse, but we didn't find that.
The majority of the graves, from the 20's and 30's were once adorned with these beautiful porcelain portraits. Many were missing, a lot suffering from the elements but probably from vandalism also.
This poodle statue was placed in what I could only think was supposed to represent a boat.
A mausoleum for what must have been a very pampered pooch, who now rests here with his owners.
The late newspaper correspondent Bascom N. Timmons, buried 129 stray animals at Aspin Hill, including 80 cats.
We marveled at this talented feline. I've never seen a cat in a dress before, especially standing upright.
A much loved monkey rests here..
...and who calls their favorite pooch this?
Beautiful sentiments from an adoring human struggling with his loss.
Someone had a sense of humor using this as a marker.
I absolutely adored this statue, a Lewis Caroll style cat.
A memorial for some incredibly brave dogs.
And this one speaks for itself, it was quite a shock coming across this, but really we should have expected some kind of memorial for all those poor animals killed for humans' vanity.
All below are iPhone photos.
I found out later that Aspin Hill is believed to be the second-oldest pet cemetery in the nation, so it's surprising that it's in such neglect. There are a lot of photos on the internet that reveal how badly this cemetery has deteriorated, many showing it in better times with the grass tended and weeds kept back. There are also a lot of comments from others who have photographed it recently, describing it as scary or creepy. I never thought this at all as I wandered about, I just felt sad that it had been abandoned. I also read that the graves won't be disturbed, unless by vandals, as building is not allowed here, so maybe soon funds will become available to restore the cemetery back to its former condition.. A great article is here, explaining some of the graves.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Truck Farm Revisited

Saturday was a brisk and breezy day and I met with friends to drive back down to the old truck farm. We were all hoping that the recent colder temperatures had been enough to eliminate the ticks. I had picked up quite a few on my last visit and had no intention of acting as host for a second time. I was fully prepared with plenty of bug repellant and also hand warmers for my wussy paws. Both cameras were fully charged and I was looking forward to seeing folks who I hadn't seen for a while. The only down side was that about 50 or so people had signed up for this event but we were relieved to discover that it was us and only a handful of others.
We arrived mid afternoon and were planning on staying through after dark to do some light painting. We all spread out and started clicking. 
As the sun started to set we raced to catch the wonderful reflections on windows and grills but the light was fading fast. The last rays disappeared and then we discussed how to start the light painting. I have a really cool set of 3 lights that change color but was really annoyed to find that the battery power was low in them so they were pretty much useless. I haven't done any light painting in a long time but was so fed up that I hadn't checked them beforehand.
This was Cindy waving my red light in the windscreen before it conked out completely. Some of the group decided to head to one of the garages but I wanted to paint one more old truck.
I also have a flashlight that changes into a few colors so I painted this truck red and blue, and placed a small light behind its headlight casing.
The others were behind the garage and were setting up tripods to paint this old dairy van. They didn't seem to like using color much so I only got the one shot of it when I painted it pink. We put a flashlight inside the cab too.
A red light in the cab and then it was painted with a regular flashlight. The photo above that is a Photoshop image that I played with to change the lighting.
We took some of cars in the garage and then I wandered off on my own, as did Jenn, to do our own thing.
I didn't take too many photos on my own as it got a bit creepy in the fields with the woods so close by and it being so dark. The silence was intimidating and I kept imagining shapes as my flash light lit up the edge of the woods. I came across Jenn painting an old fire engine but couldn't see the others so after looking around for them I eventually found them by our cars, ready to go. We all wanted food and beer so drove to a family restaurant where we all warmed up with a hot meal.
This place is such a draw and I know I'll be back again, but for me the best thing was that it got me in the mood for light painting again so I'll be buying new batteries and painting more things in the near future. And as a very welcome bonus, the only things I brought home were photos on my cameras, and no ticks!