I had not gone to North Korea because I wanted to see my hometown, or because I wanted to tour Mt. Kumgang. I wanted to meet President Kim II Sung and have a serious discussion on the future of our homeland. Yet, six days into my visit, there was no word on whether a meeting with President Kim could be arranged. When we arrived back at Pyongyang's Sunan Airport by helicopter after visiting my hometown, however, I found Vice Premier Kim Dal Hyun had unexpectedly come to meet me.
"The Great Leader Kim II Sung will receive you tomorrow," he told me. "The place will be the Majeon Presidential Residence in Heungnam, so you will need to board a special flight immediately, and go to Heungnam.''
I thought to myself: "They say he has many presidential residences. Why, of all places, Heungnam?"
On my way, I noticed a large sign for the "Heungnam Nitrogen Fertilizer Factory,*' where I had been. It reminded me of my time in prison, and gave me an odd feeling. I spent the night in a guest house, and went the next day to meet President Kim.
As I approached the official residence, I found President Kim at the entrance, waiting to greet me* The two of us simultaneously embraced each other. I was an anti- Communist and he was the leader of a Communist party, but ideology and philosophies were not important in the context of our meeting. We were like brothers who were meeting for the first time after a long separation. This was the power of belonging to the same people and sharing the same blood.
Right at the outset, I said to President Kim: "Mr. President, because of your warm consideration, I have been able to meet my family. There are, however, 10 million Koreans who are members of families separated between North and South, and they are unable even to know whether their relatives on the other side are alive or dead. I would like to ask you to grant them the opportunity to meet each other."
I spent a little more time telling him about my visit to in my hometown, and appealed to his love for the Korean people. He and I spoke the same dialect, so we were at ease with each other.
President Kim responded, "I feel the same way. From next year, let's begin a movement that let s separated compatriots of North and South meet each other." His acceptance of my proposal was as natural as the snow melting in spring.
After speaking of my visit to Jungju, I moved on to my views on nuclear weapons. I respectfully proposed that North Korea agree to a declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and sign a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
President Kim responded with candor, "President Moon. Think for a moment Who am I going to kill by making nuclear weapons?
To kill my own people? Do I look like that kind of person? I agree that nuclear energy should be used only for peaceful purposes. I have listened attentively to what you have to say, and I expect it will be alright." At the time, North-South relations were at a difficult point over the issue of nuclear inspections in North Korea, and so I had made my proposal with some reticence. Everyone present, however, was surprised that President Kim responded in such a pleasant tone. At this point, we adjourned our meeting to a dining room, where we took an early lunch.
"President Moon, are you familiar with 'frozen potato noodles'?" It's a dish that I ate quite often when I was active as a partisan on Mt. Paektu. Please try some."
"Well, of course I know it," I said, responding to his words with delight "We used to enjoy this dish in my hometown."
"Well, I'm sure in your hometown you ate it as a delicacy," he continued. "I ate it to survive. The Japanese police used to search for us all the way to the top of Mt. Paektu. We didn't have a chance to sit down to a decent meal. What else is there to eat at the top of Mt. Paektu other than potatoes?
"We would start to boil some potatoes, and if the Japanese police came after us, we would bury the potatoes in the ground and run away. It would be so cold that by the time we got back, the potatoes would be frozen solid in the ground. The only thing we could do was dig up the potatoes, melt them and then turn them into powder so that we could make noodles out of them."
"Mr. President," I said, "you are an expert on frozen potato noodles." "That's right. They taste good mixed in bean soup, and they also taste very good if you eat them in sesame soup. It's a dish that is easy on the digestion, and because the potatoes have a tendency to stick together, it is very filling.
"Also. President Moon," he continued, "it tastes really good if you do like they do in Ham-gyung Province and take some leaf mustard kimchi, like this, and put it over the noodles. You should try it."
I did as he suggested, and ate my frozen potato noodles with some leaf mustard kimchi over them. The tasty flavor of the noodles matched well with the spicy kimchi, and left my stomach feeling light.
"There are many delicacies in the world," President Kim said, "I'm not interested in any of those. There's nothing better than the potato cakes, corn, and sweet potatoes that I used to eat in my hometown."
"You and I even share similar taste in food," I said. "It's good that people who share the same homeland can meet like this." "How was it when you visited your hometown?" he asked me. "I was filled with many emotions," I said. "The home where I lived was still there, and I sat in the main room to think about the past. I almost expected to hear the voice of my late mother, calling me. It was an emotional feeling.
"I see," he said. "That shows that our country needs to be unified immediately. I hear that when you were young, you were quite mischievous. Did you have a chance to run around while you were there this time?"
Everyone at the table laughed at the President's comment "I wanted to dimb a tree and go fishing, but I heard that you were waiting for me so I quickly came here. I hope you will invite me to come again sometime."
"Well, of course. Of course I will. President Moon, do you like to hunt? I like hunting very much; I think if you go bear hunting on Mt. Peaktu, you will enjoy it very much. Bears have big bodies, and look uncoordinated, but they are actually very nimble. "I once came face to face with a bear," President Kim said. "The bear looked at me and didn't move a muscle. If I had started to run, you know what would happened, don't you? So what was I going to do? I stared right back at him and just stood there. One hour passed, then two hours, three hours. But the bear just kept staring at me. You know how Mt. Paektu is famous for being cold. I was afraid I might freeze to death before the bear ate me." "So what happened?"
"Well, President Moon, do you see the bear sitting here, or do you see me?
I laughed out loud, and President Kim immediately followed with a suggestion.
"President Moon," he said, "the next time you come, let's go hunting together on Mt Paektu."
I responded quickly with my own invitation.
"Mr. President, you like to fish, don't you? On Kodiak Island in Alaska, you can catch halibut that are as big as bears. Let's go fishing for those some time."
"Halibut as big as bears? Well, I will definitely have to go."
The two of us were able to communicate well about our shared hobbies of hunting and fishing. At one point, we each felt we had so much to say to each other that we just started talking like old friends meeting after a long separation. Our laughter echoed around the dinning room.
I also talked about Mt Kumgang.
"I went to Mt. Kumgang, at it really is a beautiful mountain," I said. "It needs to be developed as a tourism destination of our people."
"Mr. Kumgang will be an asset to our unified homeland," President Kim said. "So I have made sure that only certain people can touch it. If its developed in the wrong way, it could be ruined. You have an international eye, and if someone like you were to take it over and develop it for us, I could trust you."
President Kim went so far as to ask that we develop Mt. Kumgang. "Mr, President," I said, "you are older than me, so you are like my older brother."
He responded, "President Moon, from now, let's refer to each other as older brother and younger brother," and he grasped my hand tightly.
President Kim and I held each other's hand as we walked down the hallway and took commemorative photographs. Then I left the residence.
After I had gone, I am told that President Kim told his son, Kim Jong H, "President Moon is a great man. I have met many people in my life, but there were none like him. He has a broad scale of thinking, and he overflows with heart I felt close to him. It made me feel good to be with him, and I wanted him to stay for a long time. I want to meet him again. After I die, if there are things to discuss pertaining to North-South relations, you must always seek the advice of President Moon."
So it seemed that we had communicated very well.
Soon after I ended my week long stay and left Pyongyang, Prime Minister Yon Hyung Muk led a North Korean delegation to Seoul. Prime Minister Yon signed an agreement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula. On January 30 of the following year, North Korea signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with IAEA, thus fulfilling the commitments that
president Kim had made to me. When I heard about the results that were achieved, I felt that my trip to Pyongyang at the risk of my life had significant impact and I found that very rewarding.