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Comprehensive Consultation Call Center for North Korean Defectors 1577-6635
SUCCESS STORY
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Age is just a number if you have the right attitude.
NKRF Date 2021-09-14 Hit 180

Age is just a number if you have the right attitude.








 
20 years ago, during a skin-piercingly cold winter, Ms. Lee Sun-lan defected from her hometown of Musan, Hamgyeongbuk-do. She was 29 years old when she defected, and after having lived in China for 5 years, she came to Korea in 2006. She settled in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do, looking for employment whilst carrying her one-year-old second son, when she came across a job posting flyer at an intersection and started her building cleaning work. At first, she cleaned stores or studio apartments, and as her experience grew, she cleaned large buildings and new apartments before tenants moved in.
“A lot of people asked why a 30-year-old young lady was doing cleaning work, but I had no choice if I wanted to support myself and my two children.” The cleaning work continued for 7 years. During that time, she grew accustomed to the cleaning work and having acquired her driver’s license (type 2, normal) and able to drive her car, she was put in charge of cleaning buildings in other regions. 


The youngest son’s word that changed her course of life
Then one day, seeing his mother stepping out of the house in her work uniform, her youngest son started pleading to go with her to work. Having felt bad for leaving behind her 7-year-old youngest son at home alone, she brought him along to her workplace.
Arriving at the store underground parking area, she started cleaning while her son followed her around and helped to pick up trash littered on the ground, and removed flyers taped on pillars. That night, Sun-lan overheard her two sons’ conversation under the blanket, which sank her heart.
Her eldest, envious that his brother got to spend the whole day with their mother, asked, “Seong-jin, what did you play with mom today?” “Don’t even mention it. Mom’s work is just picking up trash in an underground parking lot.” It was a meaningless conversation between her two young sons, but her hearing her upset son pained her.
Before defecting, she had worked as a mill (ore crushing machine) operator at the Musan mine. The machine ran by pressing a switch, and as she beheld the loud machine, she desired to drive moving machines.
But for a woman in North Korea to drive large trucks or buses was impossible, and after defecting, she had been too preoccupied with surviving everyday that she hadn’t thought of trying. The next day, she went to the Driver's License Examination Center for consultation on acquiring a large-vehicle license. At this point, she wanted to try and make her long-time dream come true.
For the first time, she went for the Type 1 Driver’s License (large vehicles). She took the written exam in between her cleaning work, but she failed each time. In total, she tried 49 times. “Honestly, it was getting quite embarrassing stepping into the exam center. So, I thought of giving up after giving it one more try. But then I passed. From then on, I got the confidence I needed and passed the practical test and got the Bus Driver’s License and Forklift Driving Technician License together.”



Dreams motivate you to remember your origins
One day, she got a call from the detective in charge. He shared that ‘LG Electronics’ was recruiting forklift drivers and recommended that she apply. Ahead of the job interview at the conglomerate, she couldn’t sleep. But during the interview itself, she responded in a loud voice, “I’m a North Korean refugee and a mother of two. I do have a license for forklift driving but I don’t have any field experience yet. I wish to be employed here and be a mom my boys can look up to. Please give me an opportunity and I will do my best.” 
And so she joined a major company, and worked as a forklift driver technician at ‘LG Electronics’ for 2 years. She shared that sometimes she would tell her friends, “I’m someone who works at a major company,” and boast for fun.
Even while working at a major company though, she couldn’t forget her dream of wanting to drive a bus. At that time, an accomplice who trained alongside her during the bus driver’s license process contacted her and asked if she was interested in working at ‘Hwaseong Transportation. After a long period of consideration, she left her job at ‘LG Electronics’ and started work as a town bus driver at ‘Hwaseong Transportation’.
“When I first started driving a bus, I greeted our customers with a loud voice. But because of my North Korean dialect, they would be surprised. I have a high voice and have had a difficult time trying to fix my accent. I’ve learned that there are some things that you just can’t control even with hard work. But what can you do? I continued to be friendly and welcomed customers with my hometown dialect. Now, the customers warmly call me the ‘Hamgyeong-do Driver’ or ‘Upper Neighborhood Driver’ which is great.”
Ms. Lee operated town buses for 3 years at ‘Hwaseong Transportation’ without a single accident. Afterwards, she was employed by ‘Hwaseong Passenger’, a major transportation company, and started driving Red Buses. Driving a 25-person town bus at ‘Hwaseong Transportation’ made her happy, but the ecstasy she felt when driving a 45-person Red Bus through the center of Seoul, passing by the Pangyo Department Store, was at another level.



The teacher that made me stronger
Having driven as a town bus driver for 3 years and starting her new job as an Red Bus driver, her future seemed set and stable for her. But life is unpredictable, and an unfortunate accident came upon her one day in the most unexpected way.
One rainy night, after finishing her service, she was returning to the company and was waiting to make a right-turn, when a pedestrian with a black umbrella ignored the traffic light and stepped onto the road and a small accident occurred. The intoxicated customer collapsed on the spot. There were no major injuries, but as a bus driver involved in an accident, she had to take responsibility.
“Through that incident, I deeply felt that as a bus driver who’s in charge of people’s lives for a living, we must never ever forget about safety.” Since then, even if the light has turned green, she takes a look around one more time and drives with utmost precaution.
Currently driving a town bus for ‘Suseong Passenger’, her day starts at 5 am. Before her shift, she checks the bus urea solution (catalyst used in exhaust gas reduction devices of diesel vehicles, decomposes nitrogen oxides which causes air pollution into nitrogen and water that is harmless to the human body), oil, fuel amount, and the bus exterior for tire condition and any scratches. Buses are operated by drivers in turns, so during handover, responsibilities must be communicated clearly, and detailed observations are essential. For shifts requiring driving in the night, checking to see if lights and the stop bell (bell pressed to get off the bus) are working, and checking to see if the automatic doors open and close properly must be done.
“There’s been a lot of hardships until now, but I’ve never regretted becoming a bus driver. First and foremost, I’m grateful I can work, and I am happy I can safely help busy people to reach their destinations every day. I get to see the stars by waking up earlier than other people, and I’m grateful that I have a safe home I can return to every day where my family waits for me.”
The thing she desires above everything else is safe driving. “For bus drivers, if you have the capabilities, it’s a job you can continue with until your 60s. Technical work is all about continuing to learn. If you have a will to learn, then I want to recommend going for the challenge of becoming a bus driver.”



  

20 years ago, during a skin-piercingly cold winter, Ms. Lee Sun-lan defected from her hometown of Musan, Hamgyeongbuk-do. She was 29 years old when she defected, and after having lived in China for 5 years, she came to Korea in 2006. She settled in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi-do, looking for employment whilst carrying her one-year-old second son, when she came across a job posting flyer at an intersection and started her building cleaning work. At first, she cleaned stores or studio apartments, and as her experience grew, she cleaned large buildings and new apartments before tenants moved in.

“A lot of people asked why a 30-year-old young lady was doing cleaning work, but I had no choice if I wanted to support myself and my two children.” The cleaning work continued for 7 years. During that time, she grew accustomed to the cleaning work and having acquired her driver’s license (type 2, normal) and able to drive her car, she was put in charge of cleaning buildings in other regions.