My Run For Peace
– by Tim Hidori Johnson
So hey everyone!
As the title suggests, I’m doing something most people wouldn’t ever think of doing – this coming April, I’m going to be running a half-marathon in Pyongyang, DPRK. And I want your help and support in doing so.
My inspiration for doing so goes back a few years. It’s a story I’ve told only a few people, and never all the details. While studying abroad in China, I met a North Korean citizen who was studying a Master’s program in translation. We met by accident, and I only knew her in person for a few months, but I’ll never forget her. Let’s call her K.
Contrary to the media stereotypes of her country, K was a very open, if initially reserved person. We quickly found that despite our different backgrounds, we had a lot in common. We both came from large families – four children in her case, five in mine. We both were very interested in different cultures. A few times a week, we’d take turns showing each other a movie or two from each of our cultures.
K really liked science fiction. We watched Star Wars together – Machete Order (google it if you aren’t familiar). I still remember how she got really excited and said “So cool, so cool!” at the beginning of Star Wars IV, how she literally asked ‘is he supposed to be an idiot?’ about Jar-Jar Binks the first time we saw him, and seemed pretty moved by Darth Vader’s sacrifice at the end of VI.
K showed me some North Korean dramas and films as well. Some of them were actually quite well made with pretty good arcs. I remember after we watched a film about Koreans resisting the Japanese invaders in WWII, how we talked about how sad it was that so soon after Americans and Koreans had been allies in a heroic struggle against fascism together, we’d become enemies. I think if Americans and Koreans had met each other as K and I had, learned to see one another as fellow humans, rather than some demonized caricature of “the enemy”, it never would have happened.
Meeting K, I got to know her as a person. She had majored in Chinese language at university, and scored high enough to study it in China. She had a fiance back in Pyongyang whom she was going to marry after returning, and hoped to start a family there. She said she hoped to work in foreign service because she wanted to help her country and people make better relations with the rest of the world. She said Korean culture is beautiful and hopes to share it with the world. I really hope she achieves her dream; her country would be in good hands with someone like K – competent and well-meaning – in a position of influence.
She also asked me about my life in America. I told her about my family, life in Florida. She said she hoped she could visit one day – particularly Disneyland (contrary to popular belief, a lot of North Koreans love Disney films – mostly pirated DVDs coming in from China) – and meet my family.
We traveled together too. Her Mandarin was a lot better than mine, to the point where she could probably have passed as a Chinese person if she wanted to. She loved drawing, so we went to Guilin, one of the most places in China. She took TONS of pictures so that she could sketch them and show her family when she went back home.
I still remember the last time I saw her too. It was a really sad day as I saw her off in a taxi to the airport where she’d return to Pyongyang to start work and a family. But we promised – hoped – that we might meet again.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, I have a dream. I have a dream that one day Americans, North Koreans, and people of all nationalities can learn to live side by side with one another – to see differences of culture as something beautiful rather than something to hate. I hope that if I ever find someone insane enough to marry me, that my children and K’s children can meet and be friends, just as K and I did. I hope I can one day take her to visit Florida, and she can one day take me to see her home in Pyongyang.
For several years now, I’ve had this dream. I’ve put it off with one excuse or another to myself. No longer. I’m 27 now; the same age K was when we met.
If you believe in my goal of a more peaceful world, I hope you can support me in whatever way, large or small – whether donating to this cause or simply sharing it; either way it is largely appreciated.
I’ve set a target of $1950, as this number currently represents something terrible – the year my people and K’s people were forced to become ‘enemies’ rather than fellow humans. The year that the terrible war began that ended millions of innocent lives and ruined millions more.
But I want 1950 to represent something new. A chance of hope for peace and a better life. Every penny of it will go towards the cause of people helping people across cultural barriers – the first step towards a better future. Let’s our generation be wiser than the ones that came before us and stop listening to those who tell us to hate another simply for their culture or nationality. I run for peace, and I hope you stand behind me.
Historic Pictures from the Pyongyang Marathon