How This North Korean Defector Became a Reality TV Star

Once arrested for dying her hair in her home country, Eunhee Park has shot to fame in South Korea.

September 2, 2017 5:00 am

A glam North Korean defector turned reality TV star has told of her courageous escape from the totalitarian state after “being held captive for dying her hair.”

Eunhee Park, 26, fled the world’s most repressive dictatorship in 2012 after she claims she was repeatedly detained by police for clothing choices such as wearing shorts in summer.

The then-22-year-old risked execution by traveling with human smugglers from her North Korean home town of Wonsan through China, Laos, Thailand and, finally, to South Korea. She has since found fame on reality television in Seoul.

Now Eunhee is speaking out as rising tensions in the region take the world stage. She said she fears the possibility of nuclear war after Kim Jong-un this week fired a ballistic missile over Japan.

Eunhee, who has racked up legions of fans for her brave escape, said: “I was arrested about 15 times for things like my clothes or for changing the color of my hair to a lighter shade of brown.

“They held me in a police station and forced to stand on my feet for 12 hours at a time,” she recalled. “One day I decided, ‘That’s enough, I can’t do it anymore, I have no human rights here.’ I’m happy now because I have freedom and a proper education. I can wear clothes I want and I am not under anyone’s control.”

Amid the rising tensions between North Korea and the U.S., Eunhee offers a unique perspective on both country’s leaders. “Trump is erratic, but so is Kim Jong-un. I do wonder what could the future holds. I don’t want war to happen, but of course it’s a possibility,” she said.

Eunhee, who lost both parents to cancer in her teenage years, was living with her grandparents when she began plotting to escape to a brighter future. The 26-year-old is one of more than 30,000 North Koreans who have defected since famine rocked the Hermit Kingdom in the 1990s.

Eunhee paid a human trafficker $7,000 to make the perilous journey to China by boat. The rest was done by foot through the rugged mountains of Laos and Thailand. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she recalled. “There was almost no food, we were being hunted by police. It was horrible, but I knew it was the price for freedom.”

Eunhee claims the threat of surveillance followed her to Seoul, where she suspects she was under the eye of Pyongyang spies while she began adjusting to life in the capitalist society.

The 26-year-old was taught English and also had to relearn history after being taught historical propaganda back home, like the falsehood that the South started the Korean war.

Eunhee Park
(Eunhee Park/Caters News)
Caters News Agency

She has now shot to stardom on South Korean reality TV shows featuring North Korean defectors in the hope of promoting reunification. But Eunhee still laments the loss of her family. She left behind her grandmother and her grandfather passed away after she left, which she admits still weighs heavily upon her.

“It’s three years since I last spoke to my grandmother. I paid a broker to speak with her on the phone,” Eunhee said. “She said: ‘Don’t worry about me. If you’re happy, I’m happy. Enjoy your life, enjoy your freedom.’ I still dream about her all the time. I miss her so much.”

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