I told Min-Jin that Iain and I met at a concert while in college. I couldn’t figure out how to describe the sounds of the Chemical Brothers. Just then, Min-Jin started singing some Western songs, beginning with “My Heart Will Go On,” by Celine Dion. It seemed that everyone, no matter how isolated their society is, knows the movie Titanic and the song that goes with it.

“Do you know what hip-hop is?” I asked. She looked confused. “It’s like rap music,” I continued.

“Oh, yes!” she replied and jumped up from the couch where she was sprawled out. “Is this rap music?” she asked and began to bounce up and down with her arms spread out. “Yo, yo, yo!” she chanted before keeling over laughing.

We were two young women from opposite worlds sharing a moment of levity. It was the first time I had felt anything other than fear and sadness during my captivity.


The “I” in the above quote is Laura Ling, the U.S. reporter who briefly was on the North Korean side of the Tumen River, which separates China and North Korea, and was chased to the Chinese side by North Korean soldiers and captured. Min-Jin is one of her guards while she was in captivity for over 4 months.

I found that passage particularly moving: humans being joyful humans in ugly circumstances. I thought Laura Ling did it right: always reaching for the humanity in her captors. The book this is from, Somewhere Inside, by Laura Ling and her sister, Lisa Ling, is the first one I’ve read and finished at my cottage in Canada.