Trifecta 88 – Voice of Korea


A week in North Korea hadn’t been high on my bucket list, but as one of the few corporations with an office in Pyongyang, I was up. Whether through a sense of curiosity or sadism – I wasn’t sure which – I almost began to look forward to it. Could this place really be as grim as it was painted?

I was barely out of the plane when they came towards me. One introduced himself as my official interpreter. He introduced the other one as a party observer. No names; certainly no informalities. I decided to call the interpreter Mr K. He didn’t object. He called me Sir. Both men wore identical clothing.  Just about the only way to tell them apart was the striking flash of grey in the interpreter’s otherwise matt black hair.

Over the following week I would only lose my double shadow when my bedroom door closed. On my last full day a cultural tour was undertaken; it seemed to be obligatory. Driving through the eerily deserted city streets my interpreter pointed out one particularly bold propaganda poster:

“We Koreans Band Together For Victory”

Probably not a literal translation, pointed out Mr K, but the unification rhetoric sounded familiar. I laughed. We both did, surprisingly. He suddenly started telling me about his family – even showed me a small picture of a pretty little girl, red ribbons in her hair. It was his daughter. The observer took note.

On my last morning Mr K wasn’t there. The observer turned up alone and pointed the way. I didn’t think too much of it. We were quickly herded to the station and the train south to Seoul. As we waited I spotted a crowded train opposite, with armed guards on the doors. I was told it was going north. I was told not to ask any more questions.

As the northbound train left I caught a flash of grey. Our eyes briefly met. In his lap a little girl’s red ribbons fluttered.


These 333 words form my entry into the Trifecta 88 writing challenge.

The ‘Voice of Korea‘ is international broadcasting service of North Korea. If you have a moment please visit this page and listen to the crackling segments of VoK – they send a shiver down the spine.

For the crime of laughter Mr K was possibly heading here:

nk2Camp 22 

18 thoughts on “Trifecta 88 – Voice of Korea

  1. electrasmoped

    Really vivid story and sad too. Well written as always and really made me feel I was there. I like the ending where it’s left open to individual interpretation. The best stories don’t tell the reader what or how to think, instead giving pointers so they can make their own minds up.
    Well done on another great entry!

  2. Gina

    This was fantastic. I, too, felt guided by your words. Not pushed. This story is incredibly poignant. And sad. The ending, as you wrote it, cinched it all together. What I feared, happened.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Thanks as ever for your support Jo-Anne. I actually spent a couple of hours thinking about, and then writing this piece, and I enjoyed every minute. I had music playing and images of North Korea on the screen. Could have written a lot more. Thanks again for commenting!

  3. jannatwrites

    I like the vagueness of the ending. We know it probably isn’t good, but it isn’t spelled out. I have absolutely no desire to travel there. (The short straw in our company would send us to Omaha in the middle of winter…I’d take that over N. Korea any day!)

  4. Kir Piccini

    oh my heart just fell, I could imagine those ribbons in his hands. Laughter has bridged so many places for me that I am offended that it would be considered anything but a healer of everything but maybe that is why this piece isn’t going to leave me today and I’ll still be thinking of it later as I laugh with my coworkers or put my nose in the hair of my twins as I say goodnight..giggling into their bellies.

    this was vivid and beautifully written.
    Thank you so much for linking up.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Really appreciate your words Kir. When people are ‘disappeared’ nobody knows where they go – they’ve just gone. Thus the story simply ends with him leaving. You don’t know where but you can guess. It tells me I’m getting somewhere with this writing malarkey when established writers such as yourself can be affected by my work. Thanks again Kir. Oh, and good luck with the judging – a lot of good writers out there.

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Think endings are key in 333 word pieces. Somebody has committed time out of their day to read your story, and I think a strong last line or two is a good reward for that time. Doesn’t have to be a twist, just be worth the wait. I had the ending in mind from the start (as I often do) hence the references to the grey hair and ribbons. Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated!

  5. mairzeebp

    By far, my favorite. Detailed, engaging and with so few words. I really enjoyed this and would love to read beyond to see what happens.

  6. Anne Chia

    What a strong story. I love how vivid the descriptions are without necessarily being too wordy. I think my favourite part is how you let the little girl appear just twice, her ribbons becoming like an identity; the first time and the last time we saw her. Really great ending too, I have mdae up my own story and it is not too bleak. There’s light at the end of the tunnel 🙂

    1. paulmclem Post author

      Appreciate the time you’ve taken to read my story and post a kind comment. Yes, I thought the ribbons bit (and the fathers grey hair) was a neat way of referencing someone in a subtle way. Glad you enjoyed it.


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