I learned something about trust this week.
I’ve always been kind of gullible. You know those stupid spam emails from British moguls or Arabian princes? When I first started using email in the early 2000s, it took me a few weeks before I realized I didn’t really win $4 million from an imaginary online lotto. Thankfully I wasn’t old enough to have valuable information.
I still remember when I was about 14 and had just moved to America from Singapore. A new friend I made (who later became one of my closest friends) detected my gullibility early on and decided to push my trust limits.
“Sophia, there’s ice cream in the fridge! Go have some!” she told me. I jumped up and looked—no ice cream. “Hahaha,” she said. I made a face at her. “So dumb.”
The next day: “Sophia, there’s ice cream in the fridge, for real!” My idiot 14-year-old self went to the freezer again—no ice cream. Fooled again.
And would you believe it, she played that trick on me the third time and I once again trusted her. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, my head needs to be checked. Or in this case, my willingness to trust people. And then there’s the time when I lost my iPhone because I put it down and trusted no one will steal it. Or the time I left my groceries for a few minutes because I trusted no one will take that, either. My friend’s prank was silly, but it revealed something about me that I always thought was not favorable.
This week, however, I interviewed a North Korean refugee for WORLD Magazine. This man is the opposite of me. He trusted no one. Spending more than three decades in a totalitarian regime will do that to you. I’ve been reading up a lot on life in North Korea, and one of the most chilling aspects (besides the infanticides and tortures going on in prison camps) is that trust is a dangerous folly. Trust no one—not your neighbor, not your best friend, not even your mother and brother. You never know who might turn on you for the sake of a few more grains of rice.
It definitely wasn’t easy scoring an interview with this North Korean refugee, who I’ll just call Mr. S. A lady in my church managed to convince him to talk to me, perhaps because she is one of the few people he trusts. Even so, I almost didn’t get the interview.
We met at a church meeting at the lady’s house. There was an instant awkwardness the moment he entered the house. He’s a very polite man, but he’s incredibly soft-spoken and he never looks you in the eye. Even when we were bowing to each other in greeting, he kind of turns his head away so you can’t look directly into his face. And then he took a seat tucked into the corner so he doesn’t have to interact with other church members. The only person he talked to was the church lady.
Since it was a church meeting, we had prayer, praise and a brief sermon first. And then as soon as it ended with a prayer, Mr. S shot up from his seat and darted towards the door. My heart thudded, certain I wouldn’t be able to speak to him after all. Thankfully, the church lady seized him and basically dragged him into her room so I could conduct my interview in privacy.
His reluctance was clear. He wouldn’t even sit down at first. “I don’t trust journalists,” he told me. “They promise me one thing but they hide cameras in their bag and film me secretly. I’ve lost all trust for them.” To show him I had no such agenda, I tucked my bag under my seat and raised my open hands.
It’s not that he’s simply camera-shy. Mr. S still has siblings and relatives in North Korea. If the North Korean regime somehow got wind of his defection, they could track down his family and haul them off into Soviet-style gulags. And from then on, that kind of severe treatment would be imposed down to three generations, following Kim Sung Il’s mandate that three generations be punished because of the crime of one person. “I don’t want my entire family punished just because of me,” Mr. S said.
And then he set out ground rules: No photos. No name. No asking about his political thoughts. No discussion about his detailed life in North Korea. So I asked the only question I could ask: “How did you become a Christian?”
Thankfully, he gradually started opening up and a huge piece of his life story unraveled. Perhaps it’s because I’m clearly young and I don’t have an evil-looking face (thank God). Perhaps it’s because he’s been lonely and relishes telling his story. Perhaps it’s because we’re both Christians, meeting in a Christian home. I don’t know how much he trusted me, but he trusted me enough to talk for over an hour and a half. I barely needed to ask anything, he just talked and talked and talked.
If I were to relate his story here on my blog, you’d drown in text. But I can say I left the meeting that night weighed by a heart churning with a convulsion of emotions. I won’t share all of them right now, but one of the thoughts that marked me was how much I take trust for granted. As a journalist, I realized I was putting great faith on Mr. S to tell me the truth, because there would be no way to verify everything he told me. Trust comes so naturally to me that I can barely fathom what it must be like to live in chronic distrust.
What would it be like, to constantly look over my shoulders, doubting the government, my people, my neighbors, even the people who try to help me? Trust, in a way, is a privileged luxury.
Now, talk about awkwardness. No way can I gracefully transition into food. But it’s been more than a week since I last blogged and my need to blog is tingling. I want to share the dinner I recently had with one of the WORLD editors and a WORLD summer intern, Angela and Aimee.
We live in three separate directions, so we compromised and met smack in the middle, at Glendale. I don’t visit Glendale much, but I did a quick search and we decided to dine at Mamita Peruvian Restaurant. It got high ratings on Yelp, and neither Angela nor Aimee had ever tried Peruvian cuisine.
Angela and I met earlier to talk at a nearby Barnes & Nobles, and then we walked the half-mile to Mamita, where Aimee was already waiting. It’s so wonderful to get together with fellow WORLD writers, because we share a common love for Christ and journalism.
Mamita turned out to be an awesome choice. It’s a place I wouldn’t mind visiting again, and that’s saying a lot. We were given fresh, hot rolls first.
See that green stuff at the back? Holy crack. It’s magical!!! Don’t be fooled—it looks refreshing and cool, but that stuff is spicy. Nobody knows what’s in it, because the recipe differs in every kitchen, but God, it’s delicious! It is vibrant, creamy, zingy with a spice that pummels your tongue at the end.
The roll is a simple dinner roll, but served warm, you could eat a basketful by itself. But what do I know? I basically ate each nibble with a heaping spoonful of that green Peruvian sauce.
We shared a plate of yucca fries:
Yum! Because of the root was so roughly cut, it had a lot more crisp from its zagged edges. I tried not to eat it with the green sauce so I can enjoy its starchy flavor.
And then the main entrees! Angela ordered the Lomito Montado Estilo Mamitas:
Beef strips stir-fried with french fries, two eggs, cilantro, onions and tomatoes, on top of rice.
Obviously Angela knows how to order.This would have been my second choice. It is as delicious as it looks, and very filling.
Aimee had the Pollo Al Estilo Mamita:
Chicken breast stir-fried with bell pepper and onions. Served with rice and mashed potatoes. And tons of cilantro, from the look and taste of it.
Look at how sunny the mashed potatoes look!
I had the perfect summer dish, the Ceviche Mixto:
Raw fish, shrimp, squid and octopus marinated (or “cooked”) in lemon juice topped with onions. Garnished with corn and sweet potato. Love how they served it in a fish-shaped platter!
This dish had a mountain of red onions—just the way I like it. But all the pungent onion odor was mellowed out with zesty lemon juice.
This corn was interesting. It came off the cob, in fat and humongous nibs. They were like the size of my thumbnail. They weren’t very sweet, but they were a lot starchier than American sweet corn.
And look! A whole baby octopus! How cute.
I’ve been to a couple Peruvian restaurants, and so far I like Mamita the best. It’s so aptly named; the food is just down-home cooking with fresh ingredients and a deft sprinkle of spices and herbs. The weather has been so stuffy lately that I can’t get the ceviche out of my mind.
Okay, I’ve been writing all day. I’m out to get the last rays of sun. Have a great week, everyone!