Japan from the inside out

Four days in North Korea

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, August 8, 2009

HERE’S ANOTHER depressing account of life in Northeast Asia’s workers’ paradise, written by Sarah Wang for Slate.

Perhaps the most telling part of the article is the account at the end. Ms. Wang wanted to wander around at night for herself, but was prevented from doing so.

The island on which our hotel stood was guarded, and we could not leave at night. There may not have been any point going out anyway: There are no streetlamps, and after sunset, the only lights came from the windows of residential buildings. Around 9 o’clock, all the lights were turned off, and the city sank into darkness.

Yet she managed to get past the guards during a heavy rainstorm because they gave her only a cursory glance from under their umbrellas. She got lost in Pyeongyang–it was dark, after all–and then returned to the hotel.

When I returned to the island, I visited the revolving restaurant on the hotel’s 47th floor. It offered a panoramic view of Pyongyang, but there was nothing to see except the darkness.

Ms. Wang’s account differs from most because she includes a brief description of the elites. The pigs have learned to walk on their hind legs in this part of the world, too:

The train for Pyongyang had 15 cars, but only the three “international compartments” had fans to fight the sweltering heat. Well-dressed North Koreans took up the majority of seats in the compartment. The women wore silk blouses, nice skirts, and high heels, and the men were decked out in good T-shirts, which sometimes showed off their big bellies. They were the only fat North Koreans that I saw on the trip.

But there were also some odd passages. Here’s one:

There is no Internet access in North Korea—the Pyongyang elite use an intranet to listen to music and watch movies.

Entertainment is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the Internet, but I’m probably out of step with the modern world.

Here’s another:

Our guides repeatedly reassured us that the people had enough food and that each Pyongyang resident receives a ration of vegetables and rice every day. They didn’t mention meat or fruit…On one occasion, I drew a banana on a piece of paper and showed it to a waitress; she had never seen one. She knew about apples, but she had never eaten one.

So what did she bring them to eat?

I brought 150 Kit-Kat bars into the country, and I always took several out of my bag when I was alone with a North Korean. They would hesitate for a few seconds, look around to make sure that no one else was watching, and then stuff the Kit-Kats into their pockets.

I understand that she wanted to bring them a treat, but giving all that refined sugar junk to malnourished people? Gack!

Bring 150 bars of dark chocolate or a more healthful snack the next time!


While we’re on the subject of North Korea, the always interesting DPRK Studies website links to this English-language Chosun Ilbo article on a new book by Chang Jin-song, formerly associated with the North Korean Workers’ Party, about the Dear Leader’s personal life. Here’s the first sentence of the article:

Yun Hye-yong was a woman beyond the reach even of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. Yun, the lead singer of Kim’s former favorite band Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble, was brutally executed after she spurned Kim’s persistent advances and fell in love with another man.

Security forces discovered her affair with the band’s keyboard player because they had tapped her phone.

It would seem that “absolute monarch” would not be an inappropriate word to use for the world’s most powerful otaku. Here’s the article speaking about a different woman:

Kim loved her more for her bold personality and sharp wit than her looks, and granted her the privilege of speaking informally to him.

“Privilege”? That says it all right there, doesn’t it?

2 Responses to “Four days in North Korea”

  1. iolanach said

    I won’t stand for that foul besmirching of the Kit Kat. It’s delicious my good Sir!

  2. The Overthinker said

    Absolute monarch? You foully besmirch the name of Louis XIV, my good sir, to place him in such company….

    Although in a more serious tone:
    ““Privilege”? That says it all right there, doesn’t it?”
    I think this is overstated, both for the reason that any head of state gets respect language, Mr President sir, and because the East Asian keigo influences making it even more so. I don’t doubt for a minute that Kim is a complete shithead, but this is not the most illuminating example.

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