How Steve Jobs Helped This North Korean Defector 'Think Different' : Parallels When Kim Hak-min got to South Korea, he saw his first-ever smartphone, the iPhone 4. It changed his life trajectory.
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How Steve Jobs Helped This North Korean Defector 'Think Different'

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How Steve Jobs Helped This North Korean Defector 'Think Different'

How Steve Jobs Helped This North Korean Defector 'Think Different'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/540226659/540515400" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

North Korea tested another intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday. It's the second test in a month. President Trump responded by tweeting criticism at China. North Korea's state-run news agency quoted North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, as saying, quote, "the whole U.S. mainland is now within North Korea's reach." We have a story this morning of one North Korean defector. There's about 28,000 of them living and working in South Korea. One has made a name for himself with his side business, inspired by a man who inspired many Americans, too. NPR's Elise Hu has his story.

(APPLAUSE)

STEVE JOBS: And so today...

ELISE HU, BYLINE: The year was 2010. And in California, Apple leader Steve Jobs gave one of his signature keynotes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOBS: We're introducing iPhone 4...

(APPLAUSE)

JOBS: ...The fourth-generation iPhone.

HU: The same year in North Korea, then-23-year-old Kim Hak-min was fixing so many of his neighbors' electronics that they called him repair boy. He had never seen a smartphone in his life.

KIM HAK-MIN: (Through translator) When I was in North Korea, the only phones I saw were 2G, and they were flip phones. They would hand them out.

HU: On his home television, Kim remembers secretly watching South Korean soap operas known as K-dramas. They're commonly snuck into the North.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As actress, speaking in Korean).

HU: Exposure to the shows inspired him to get out.

KIM: (Through interpreter) I remember hiding in my house, watching the dramas. During the years of the famine, I was starving. But watching these dramas made me feel like I was looking at heaven.

HU: In 2011, Kim slipped across the North Korean border with China. Then defection brokers helped him get to Thailand and, eventually, South Korea. It was here in Seoul that he fell in love with a device.

KIM: (Through interpreter) It was the iPhone that really caught my eye. The body was made of two pieces of glass, and it had curved, metal sides. It was quite breathtaking.

HU: Today, Kim Hak-min has parlayed his childhood fascination with electronics into a side business fixing iPhones and iPads on the campus of his college, Sogang University.

KIM: (Foreign language spoken).

HU: He named his business Sogang Jobs after his hero. His clients say he comes highly recommended.

LEE MYUNG-JA: (Foreign language spoken.)

HU: "I've heard great things about him, and he's known to be an honest businessman," says Lee Myung-ja, who found him through students on campus. While he works, behind Kim is a framed photo of a young Steve Jobs, the same one on the cover of the biography by Walter Isaacson. Kim says he's read it twice.

KIM: (Through interpreter) The book is really what helped me adjust to life in South Korea. It also helped me decide to go to college. It motivated me, inspired me and brought me purpose in life.

HU: After surviving famine as a teenager, detention and torture for watching forbidden TV programs and a difficult journey in defecting, Kim's now working on his electrical engineering degree with another eventual destination in mind, America.

KIM: (Through interpreter) I want to go visit the Apple headquarters. It was a revolution that started from a garage. I want to visit Steve Jobs's birth home. And I want to visit all the sites that have to do with Steve Jobs's history.

HU: Like many in Silicon Valley, he says he wants to make things.

KIM: (Through interpreter) After I graduate, I want to work more with ideas and invent things.

HU: Steve Jobs himself said the first ever smartphone Kim encountered - that iPhone 4 - was impressive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOBS: This is really hot.

(LAUGHTER)

JOBS: And there are well over 100 new features, and we don't have...

HU: One of the more unexpected features - inspiring this North Korean's new life. Elise Hu, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHANGHAI RESTORATION PROJECT'S "UPROAR IN HEAVEN")

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