“I’m so happy,” says Ma Young-Ae, the North Korean defector-turned-restaurateur profiled in our March 4 cover story, upon hearing news of Kim Jong-Il’s death.
The former counternarcotics officer in the North Korean intelligence services fled her homeland 11 years ago, a journey that took her through China and South Korea before she ended up running a sausage restaurant in northern Virginia.
The restaurant, Pyongyang Soondae (Pyongyang Sausage) has since closed. Ma had a dispute with the landlord over rent and, she implies, politics. The landlord broke the lease with Ma, and now rents out the two-story building on Little River Turnpike in Alexandria to another Korean restaurant. Ma continues to make her sausages and sells them wholesale to Korean supermarkets in Virginia, Maryland, New York and New Jersey through the Assi grocery chain. In the meantime, Ma devotes herself to her political activism, denouncing the regime through speeches and musical performances, mostly at local Korean churches.
Ma says her phone has been ringing off the hook since news of Kim’s death broke late last night. (State-run news agency KCNA reported it was due to a heart attack, but the Dear Leader was also suffering from diabetes and pancreatic cancer and was recovering from a stroke, so who knows.) She’s been fielding calls from both Korean media and other North Korean defectors, who have been calling each other back and forth across the U.S. and South Korea. One fellow defector stayed up all night drinking in celebration.
“I always wished for Kim Jong-Il’s death” whenever protesting at North Korea’s UN diplomatic mission in New York, says Ma, “and now it actually happened.” As for what the succession of Kim’s son, Kim Jong-Un, to the country’s dynastic throne means for defectors and their chances of reuniting with family members back home, Ma says “it’s too soon to tell.”
Anyone hoping to celebrate the end of the Dear Leader’s reign with authentic North Korean sausages can find them at Lotte Plaza in Fairfax (3250 Old Lee Highway). Ma’s sausages are also on the menu—both the regular and the spicy fried variety—at Arirang restaurant, which has two locations in Maryland: Rockville (1326 East Gude Dr.) and Germantown (13541 Clopper Rd.).
Photo by Darrow Montgomery