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Dearest Lisa,

Please do not share this letter with Mom or Dad as I do not want them to worry. I am trying so hard to be strong, but it gets harder and harder every day. It is so difficult to get through each day. I miss you all so much it hurts. I want my big sister.

As I'm sure you know, I am in the worst possible situation...

LAURA

We arrived in Yanji, China, on March 13, 2009.The mountainous region that borders Russia and North Korea is one of China's coldest. As our team walked out of the airport, I clenched my fists tightly and hid my face in my woolen scarf to protect me against the bone-chilling, cloud-covered night. Over the past decade, I have made more than half a dozen trips to China—it's where my father and his forefathers are from, and it's always been one of the most fascinating places to work as a journalist. I'd reported from different parts of the vast country, but this was my first time in the northeast, where a large portion of the population is of Korean ancestry. The project we were working on had as much to do with something happening in neighboring North Korea as it did with this part of China, and being in Yanji, I could immediately sense a connection between the Korean and Chinese cultures. Signs are written in both Korean and Chinese characters; most of the restaurants serve Korean food. It would be easy for someone of Korean descent to blend in, without knowing a single word of Chinese.

Our small team consisted of producer/cameraman Mitchell Koss, coproducer/translator Euna Lee, and myself. We had traveled to the area to investigate a controversial issue to which neither the North Korean nor the Chinese governments wants any attention drawn. Millions of citizens of North Korea, one of the most isolated, repressive countries in the world, suffer from dire poverty and brutal conditions, and some of them take the risk of fleeing, or defecting, from their homeland by crossing the border into neighboring China. But once in China, they end up facing a different kind of degradation.

FROM: Held Captive for 140 Days: Lisa Ling's Sister Breaks Her Silence
Published on May 18, 2010

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