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  • Into the Future
  • Marie Myung-Ok Lee (bio)

Old man,” said Youngae to her husband. “What are you doing? At your age, Doctors without Borders? North Korea?”

Yungman had pondered this strange turn of fate. How he had always wanted to work with the prestigious Doctors without Borders and now he would not only be doing that, but they would be taking him home.

Kwok Gwan-su was a revered patriot of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which gave North Korea the requisite political cover to allow a descendant of Kwok Gwan-su back into the country. It was a homecoming. The North Korean government tried not to eye too greedily the modern medical equipment the man and his delegation would be bringing. But even though the man was American, he was still a son, and still wanted to return to Choson more than anything.

Yungman even still had a valid Minnesota State medical license (even though the last medical procedure he’d performed in the last year was laser hair depilations, at The Mall). One last little problem: the Korean Church of Heavenly Love’s Bible Study Group. Sometimes, Yungman hated that he had a Christian wife.

“Welcome, welcome,” said Dr. Kimm, the Head Deacon of the church. He made sure to spell his name, the commonest of common Korean surnames, a little differently because he felt he [End Page 81] was different, better than everyone else. In his usual meddlesome way, he had insisted on throwing a “little sendoff party” for Yungman and “Sister Kwok” in his palatial home in Edina.

“North Korea—tsk, tsk tsk. You know I’ve prayed on this a lot,” he said, smiling fatuously, the way only a man with live children could do. “This is kind of preposterous, no?”

“What’s so preposterous about a bunch of doctors bringing medicine to a place that could really use it?” Yungman had been hoping for a little oohing and aahing from the group: Doctors without Borders—I’ve heard of it! How prestigious! Leave it to Kimm to once again make this all about him.

The others eyed Kimm curiously, to see what else he would say—so they could ape him. After all, he had a signed picture of George W. Bush thanking him personally for all his help in the 2004 campaign hanging on his living room’s wall, right above his daughter Angelina’s polished black Steinway.

“But it’s a communist state, the third member of the Axis of Evil. They are terrorists.”

“Just the same, the people don’t deserve to go blind from something as simple as cataracts—”

“That’s not the reason they are going blind,” Kimm said indignantly. “We had a defector speak at the church—Sister Kwok must have told you about him. He was talking about how in his village, during the famine, people were reduced to boiling down corncobs—Korean toilet paper!—for food. But to Kim Jong Il, the corncobs were too good for his people. He ordered them to mix the corncob gruel with fifty percent rice root. Do you know what rice root does to you? It makes you go blind. This man told us how one man in the village secretly refused to add the rice root to his children’s corncob gruel. And so what did the Dear Leader do when his spies found out? He had the man executed! Not only that, but in the middle of the village, where the party thugs dragged not just the man’s children but all the village’s children to the front to force them to watch the object lesson of what life is like in a [End Page 82] dictatorship. Imagine, while Kim Jong Il is drinking fine French wine and eating pastries!”

“That drunk old fatty!” snarled old Dr. Song, professor emeritus of physics at the U.

“Yes, the World Health Organization estimates that more than a million people might have died during the famine. So it’s doubly important for us to bring in this equipment,” Yungman said, patiently. “They don’t even have iodine or antibiotics in some hospitals, patients have to share IV...


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pp. 81-90
Launched on MUSE
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