Saturday, November 13, 2010

Come See The Ballas Today!

Be sure, if you are in the area, to stop by the craft fair at St. Andrew's (see yesterday's post for more details). We have some special gifts from the other side of the world!

~Steve

Friday, November 12, 2010

Craft Fair At St. Andrew's

Anyone in the DC area looking for some special holiday gifts, be sure to come on by the craft fair at St. Andrew's this weekend. Believe it or not, the four of us will have a table there, selling some really unique handicrafts straight out of China. They are truly beautiful in both their origins and craftsmanship (or, more accurately, craftswomanship!).

Here are the details...The craft fair runs from 10am until 3pm this Saturday, November 13. St. Andrew Apostle School is located at 11602 Kemp Mill Road, Silver Spring, MD. You can click here to check out the full program of vendors, events, and sponsors.

Be sure to save $25 for when you stop by the Balla family table! It will be money well spent!

~Steve

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Nothing To Envy

Ever since our trip this past summer to the China-North Korea border, we have become interested in learning about what life might be like inside one of the world's most isolated societies. All we personally took away from our close encounter was a landscape that was lush and stories from both ethnic Chinese and Koreans about illegal border crossings and a mixing of the two cultures.

And so it was with excitement that I received a recommendation from Glenn Mott to dig into what he billed as the "best book of the year." Once again, Glenn, you are spot on!

In Nothing to Envy, Los Angeles Times Korea correspondent Barbara Demick crafts a gripping narrative about the lives of ordinary North Koreans. But how, you might ask, can she tell such a story when her own trips to North Korea have been limited in number and carefully managed by state security forces? Demick turns to North Korean defectors who now live on the southern side of the Line of Demarcation. Although the resulting reporting is second-hand and out of the mouths of defectors (read, enemies of the motherland), Demick's story lines comport with other accounts that have leaked out of North Korea over the past two decades.

The book itself reads like River Town might have, had Peter Hessler lived in Sichuan Province during the Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution. Only the events Demick is recounting took place in the 1990s and 2000s. The 2000s!

There are stories of starvation, of a kindergarten teacher who watches helplessly as her class methodically and ruthlessly is reduced in size from fifty to fifteen. Children are, sadly, among the first to succumb to famines.

There are families torn apart by the dictates of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jung-Il, and the Worker's Party. Loyal party members starve to death. Non-conformists find themselves prisoners in primitive labor camps. Regardless of status, people subsist in part by eating grasses and weeds, life-sustaining practices that have stunted the growth of an entire generation of North Koreans.

Yanbian, the region in China where we stayed, figures prominently in the story. The Tumen River, which flows as the border between China and North Korea, has served as an at times porous dividing line between the nominal Communist allies. There are naked, middle-of-the-night crossings. There are winter crossings over the top of the iced river. All of these facts are not only told compellingly by Demick. Such stories also came right out of the mouths of our Yanbian drivers, who spun such tales as the river's waters passed by just meters away from our speeding cars.

At the time, we were tantalized by thoughts of what might be going on on the other side of those beautiful green hills. Now, thanks to Nothing to Envy, we have a second, different sort of glimpse into one of the saddest global stories of our times.

~Steve