Last week, according to USA Today, The Wire and other sources, nearly 200 South Koreans and defectors from the North met up in the city of Paju, near the North Korean border, to send 50 balloons to The Other Side. But these weren’t just ordinary sacks of helium. No, sir. When these precious vessels took to the sky, attached to them was a savory political statement, a silent F-U to the North Korean government but a loud message to its suffering people that the world has not forgotten them. Inside these balloons were 10,000 Choco Pies.
Feeling like you need a little background info? Let’s journey back to the 1950’s. During and after the years of the Korean War, American soldiers introduced Koreans to the graham crackery, chocolatey, marshmallowy goodness known as the Moon Pie. In the following decades, the treat grew wildly popular throughout Asia. You might say the Far East was…over the moon in love with it; so much so that Korea started producing its own equivalent, the Choco Pie.
Fast forward to 2004, when the Choco Pie was first dragged into the North and South’s touchy political relationship. Yep, that’s right. The Choco Pie has made international relations headlines more than once now. In ’04, the two sides began an experimental economic partnership in which South Korea provided the technology, while North Korea supplied the labor, for producing a handful of industrial products and, of course, Choco Pies.
Naturally, with the North Korean government being the sadistic, seedy, greedy…scoundrels…that they are, most of the laborers’ salaries wound up falling into the pockets of the political. Consequently, during this experimental period, Choco Pies became more than just a way to reward workers, and a means to keep death-by-starvation at bay for them and their families; they also evolved into their own form of black market currency.
Like an evil Santa Clause who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake…trading Choco Pies, the North’s government eventually got wind of its people’s clandestine economic activities and decided to do something no dictatorship has ever done before: BAN DESSERT!
Who knew that such small, vacuum-sealed nom-noms could be such a threat to one of the most heavily nuclear-armed countries in the world? True, Choco Pies somewhat incited a flare-up of capitalism across the nation. And even more true, they represented a taste of the outside world. But still, as an outsider looking in, I can’t help myself from thinking, “…REALLY?”
In all seriousness, I think the balloons were an incredible gesture. It deeply saddens me that it’s sort of the best we outsiders can do for the North Korean people, but it’s better than nothing. Even if it was only for this brief week, at least the activists’ work successfully brought the world’s attention back to the issue. Until a viable plan for bigger action reveals itself, the only other ways we can lend support, help and hope to North Koreans is by staying informed, spreading the word, and not taking Choco Pies or our freedom for granted.
P.S. If you like nonfiction and want to learn more about North Korea, I highly recommend Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14.