Perhaps the most striking Conservative candidate in next week’s election was spent Wednesday afternoon campaigning in Moorside Ward, in the town of Bury, eight miles north of Manchester.
Jihyun Park twice escaped totalitarian tyranny in North Korea and after many horrible adventures also escaped China. His harrowing experiences of life under communism have provided him with a burning love for freedom and a delight even in the wettest aspects of a democratic competition.
We found ourselves on Walmersley Road, the busy road that runs north to downtown Bury and at the same time became a quiet side street of two-story townhouses.
The first voter to be found in Park was a vigorous old woman who scraped the paint from under the window so that it could be repainted. Neither she nor anyone else mentioned the fierce exchanges between Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer, which had taken place a couple of hours earlier in the PMQ, and which were topping the news.
The old woman threw herself into a furious story about the terrible amounts of rubbish being thrown on the road behind her house:
“I am tired of reporting them to the council. It’s disgusting. It is an absolute shame. Garbage piles up like a tip. I watched as some threw 19 black bags out the window.
“I’ve lived here since 1981. Back then it wasn’t as dirty as it is now.”
She voted Conservative in the 2019 general election, when James Daly won Bury North (which includes the entire city of Bury) for Labor Conservatives by 106 votes, making her the most marginal seat in the country.
The Bury Council is still controlled by the workers, as is Moorside Ward. If Park and his fellow Conservative candidate, Sohail Raja, are chosen to represent Moorside, the old lady, who seems willing to support them, will judge them according to whether or not they get the council to take care of the rubbish.
Some of the streets in the Moorside area no doubt feature views of abandoned refrigerators, overflowing bins, wet piles of garbage, black plastic bags throwing away their contents.
With Paul Goodman reported yesterday to ConHome, local issues, rather than accusations of mocking the prime minister, are what matter to voters in local elections. On the streets of Bury, Westminster felt like a distant irrelevance.
Park was there to hear what the voters had to say, and if they were out to put a short pamphlet through the mailbox. Some, as they opened the door and saw who he was, said only three words, “No, thank you.”
Every time he received this message, Park smiled with pleasure: he said he showed that in this election people have a choice: he can say “No” and “Yes.”
In the North Korean election, the “no” was not an option and he recalled that everyone had to show their respect for the regime and their willingness to vote “yes”: “Election days began at four o’clock. in the morning, a lot of people at three am ”
Authorities were able to see how you voted, and by 11 a.m., the regime had already garnered 98% support.
Bury has a mixed population and in some houses his fellow candidate Raja, who was born in Pakistani Kashmir, held lively conversations in Punjabi. He arrived in Bury almost 40 years ago, runs a taxi company and seems to know half the city.
In one house, a smiling young man said in what seemed like a pretty good Englishman that he could not speak English and would prefer to converse in Arabic.
This was a language that neither of the two Conservative candidates could offer, but they established that it was from Libya and that he had not yet registered to vote, so they advised him how to register.
Park was born in 1968. The only home image of his parents was that of Kim Il-sung, who ruled North Korea from 1948 to 1994: “We have always said thank you, thank you to him. We have never thanked him. to our parents ”.
His mother had been born in South Korea, which meant the whole family was considered hostile by the regime. Jihyan became a professor of mathematics: –
“There was ideology on all issues. The first ten minutes of each lesson would be devoted to Kim Il-sung’s last speech. In math, there would be problems like, ‘There were ten American soldiers. We killed eight. How many were left? »
In the 1990s, North Korea starved:
“Three million people died of starvation. You saw corpses on the street. My father’s brother starved to death in front of me. That was heartbreaking. “
Park quit his job, for which he was paid no salary or food, to take care of his father, who was also ill.
His younger brother had problems because he could no longer pay loyalty money to the government and was accused of desertion from the army.
One night at midnight he knocked on the door: “Two commanders had come to look for my brother and found him. Everything was bloody. They continued to beat him until dawn. We didn’t say anything. “
They took his brother, but the train he was on stopped because there was no electricity and he managed to run and hide.
Their father, who was already extremely ill, told them both to leave North Korea, so in the middle of a February night they crossed an icy river into China. When they were halfway there, the Korean soldiers called them and fired.
Arriving in China, they fell into the hands of human traffickers, who sold it to a Chinese man and sent his brother to North Korea: “I still don’t know if he’s dead or alive.”
The buyer did not accept it from his family, but used it to have sex and work in the field. She became pregnant, was told to have the baby aborted, and instead gave birth to her son in her room after 12 hours of childbirth:
“No one cared about me. Finally, an old woman who lived on the street came to me and helped me.
“I finally have my son. I take it, I’m very happy, but I miss my whole family “.
She worked with her son in plain sight, but when she was five, her nightmare came true: a paid informant betrayed her to Chinese authorities, who threw her in jail and returned her to North Korea. , where she was beaten, tortured and put in a labor camp.
At the camp, she was confined to 40 other women in a small room with no toilet, except for a bucket, no windows, no washing, body lice, head lice, no vintage pads: “It was indescribable. It was a 21st century holocaust. “
He had no shoes, and after six months a wound on his foot inflamed and turned yellow, the flies laid eggs in it, his skin turned black, and his dark hair turned yellow.
Park showed me the wound scar, running to the top of my foot.
The field guards told her, “You can’t die here” and kicked her out so she could die somewhere else.
“I was lucky,” he said, because a lot of people died in the camp. Once outside, she recovered enough to find a human trafficker who would take her back to the Chinese border.
He was reunited with his son, who had not been attended to:
“He looked like a street child. The family hates me and hated me. I thought that maybe when I found my son again, this would be a happy time. But this is not happy. It’s really sad. “
He decided to try to leave China, so he went with his son to Beijing, hoping to get to the South Korean embassy, a very dangerous plan.
In Beijing, he met nine other North Korean refugees and decided to try to leave for Mongolia. They had to go through a two-meter fence, in which they cut a hole. Chinese police chased them. He was walking with his son.
A North Korean man named Kwang came back to help her and brought her son. They ran into the desert and escaped. She fell in love with the man who had helped her: “The first person I loved.”
For three days they wandered through the Gobi Desert, but found nothing to eat or drink. His son was shot to death. To get water, they crossed the border back to China, where they returned to Beijing.
Here the three lived for two years, Kwang making pots that he sold in the market. In 2007 they met a Korean pastor who told them that the United Nations could take them out of China.
In 2008 they arrived in Liverpool as asylum seekers, were quickly given the right to stay five years in the UK and were sent to Bury, where they initially stayed in a hostel, receiving daily an English breakfast, but without lunch or dinner, after which they were given a town hall.
The final stages of this interview took place while we were having tea in a tent that Kwang has erected in the back garden of the council house.
The front garden is dedicated to the cultivation of Korean vegetables, which are now beginning to become suitable plants in very well-kept beds.
Next to the house, Kwang has erected a flagpole, from where the Union Jack flies, while a stick protruding from the building carries the St. George flag.
Ji, as she is generally known, has become a human rights defender, determined “as a survivor and witness” to tell people what is happening in North Korea.
In 2016 he joined the Conservative Party, because he believes in “the ideals of justice, freedom and family”:
“A lot of people asked me,‘ Why are you joining the Conservative party? They discriminate against refugees. “
“I told them,‘ That’s not true. Think about who you are, why you left your country, and why you came to the UK.
“‘This is a democratic country: this country has given you freedom.
“‘When we got here, a lot of people didn’t know who we were and they thought we were Chinese.
“Then we learned English and said we were Korean.
“’We became friends. No one discriminated against us. People know that this is our baggage and they always welcomed us, they opened our hearts ”.
Some people, when deciding to run in an election, wonder how to make their personal story more interesting. Park’s story is too interesting, too full of pain, though she is now “very happy with life.”
His eldest son is studying in London and has had two more children with Kwang.
She is one of the first two North Koreans to run in an election in the United Kingdom: the other is Timothy Cho, who runs the Denton South Hall in Tameside.
Park refused to estimate his chances of success, but the mere fact of standing still is certainly a claim of conservatism.
Bury will be remembered forever as the cradle of Sir Robert Peel, who in the 1830s created the modern Conservative party and in 1846 almost destroyed it by abolishing the laws of corn.
A beautiful statue of Peel is on the market, which collects on the plinth his famous words spoken by him at the end of his last ministerial speech to the Commons:
“Perhaps, I will leave a name remembered with expressions of good will in the home of those, who have to work and earn their daily bread with the sweat of their brow, when they will recruit their exhausted strength with abundant food. and without taxes, sweeter because it is no longer relieved by a feeling of injustice ”.
Other landmarks in the city center commemorate the heroism of the XXL Lancashire Fusiliers and “the name and fame of John Kay de Bury.”
“The invention of the flying shuttle in 1733 quadrupled human power in weaving and placed England in first place as the best market in the world for textiles. He was born in Bury in 1704 and died in exile and poverty in France, where he is in an unknown grave.
Park’s father is also in an unknown grave, but she herself has become an adornment of our democracy.