Four years ago, Kim Eun-seo, 40, fled political persecution and poverty in North Korea's gritty far-north city, Chongjin.
After dwelling secretly in China for a year, she escaped to South Korea and, to her relief, was able to live more freely, "without government approval needed for everything," she said, taking a break in her busy office in western Seoul.
Ironically, the freedom of everyday life in Seoul became a bit much for Kim. "The choices, the consumerism was overwhelming," she said. "Even ordering at Starbucks was difficult. I'd never had coffee in my life, and didn't understand the names of the drinks."
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Finding a solution wasn't difficult. "I married a lovely South Korean man," she said. "It was the best way to join this society."
Kim now helps her husband, 42-year-old Hong Seung-woo, run a popular dating service that matches South Korean men with North Korean women. The company, Nam Nam Buk Nyo, takes its name from a Korean proverb that says beautiful ladies come from the north, while dapper males live in the south.
Hong landed on the idea for the business in 2006, when a friend introduced him to a North Korean mate after a bitter divorce with his South Korean wife. Hong married the love of his life, he said, and then helped his single buddies link up with northern women.
Before long, he was flooded with referrals — and realized that Seoul was full of untapped customers eager to tie the knot with northern beauties.
Since then, Hong and his wife have matched more than 400 couples; they claim that only four of those marriages have ended in splits. South Korea has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, with 2.3 percent out of every 1,000 people terminating their nuptials in 2011, according to government statistics. Korea recorded 114,000 divorces in 2011.
So what's the draw for the North Korean ladies?
"North Korean men want to be the king of the house," says Kim, the wife. "Southern men grew up in a developed society, so they're more respectful of gender equality."
Plus, life with them beats the hell they've endured back home.
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Last year, 1,508 North Korean refugees arrived in the south, bringing the total number seeking shelter in the country to 24,000 since the end of the Korean War, reveals a government tally.
More than 80 percent of defectors are women.
The escapees typically venture on a perilous crossing into China, bribing border guards and living secretly in the country for some time. They operate with the help of charities, activists, and even loan sharks luring them into indentured servitude.
But the risks are high in a country that doesn't want to deal with defectors. China deports North Korean citizens on the justification that they're "economic migrants" and not political refugees, sending them home where they live out a short prison sentence.