New Malden, London is home to the biggest North Korean community in Europe. There are currently about 600 North Korean men, women, and children living in the area. And although Joong-wha Choi, a former soldier in North Korea, is grateful for the freedom he and his family can now enjoy, he won’t deny that it has been quite a painful journey.
He arrived to the UK in December 2007 and was immediately confused by the houses with chimneys. He had expected to find the large, magnificent buildings that he had always imagined growing up. He now helps North Korean defectors to settle into their new life in the UK and he counsels them as they sort out the different problems they face.
This soft-spoken man still holds the desire to return to his land, though. He has been away for 15 years and he misses what he calls his ‘true home’. During the film Joong-wha reflects on the various reasons why he left North Korea and how different his day-to-day life now is in London. As he reminisces he shares his stories of loss, longing, and the difficulties of healing from trauma.
One of the feelings that overwhelms him most is guilt. The guilt of being a young boy in a home where there was never enough food and having to decide whether he should eat a bowl of rice or feed it to his disabled brother. Then there’s the guilt of escaping to China and leaving his parents and brothers behind. Add to that the guilt of living in a sort of freedom that those who stayed behind might never experience back home in North Korea.
There’s more guilt. His children know very little about their real roots. Because they grew up in London, Joong-wha feels like there is a language barrier that separates him from them. He made them promise to go back to his hometown some day even if he is no longer alive and able to go with them. His hope is to be a good parent and to give them all the love and affection that he did not receive.
Joong-wha believes that the North Korean political system is unsustainable and will change one of these days, especially if the international community finds out what is really happening there.