David Thompson
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May 31, 2009

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SG

"Each time the district officials came to check the hygiene of the houses, as they regularly did, they ordered us to change the colour of this lower part: to green, now blue, now light brown, but all the houses in our ban had to be the same colour; perhaps because dwellings, like everything else in North Korea, are the property of the people. That means that nothing belongs to anyone."

Keep 'em busy. Keep 'em organized. Keep 'em infantile.

ECM

I'd also recommend this (seeing as how this is a comic-friendly site):

http://www.amazon.com/Pyongyang-Journey-North-Guy-Delisle/dp/1896597890/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1243794962&sr=8-1

David

ECM,

I reviewed Delisle’s “Pyongyang” for the Observer a couple of years ago. This extract seems relevant:

As a foreigner, and thus severely restricted in where he may travel, much of Delisle’s account centres on official landmarks devoted to the state and its glorious leadership and on the confines of his hotel, the fifteenth floor of which, where foreigners stay, is the only one that’s lit. Even a trip to the railway station requires several days’ prior notice and the pocket travel guide counsels sternly: “Do not try anything on your own.” As a result, we gain slim insight into the lives of the North Koreans themselves, incidental as they are to this ‘People’s Republic’ and its surreal paraphernalia.

One peculiar consequence of being the world’s only Communist dynasty - and still technically ruled by a dead person - is registered during a visit to the bathroom: “In every room, in every building throughout North Korea, portraits of Papa Kim and his son hang side by side. Except in the shitters, of course. And they’re made to look alike. Kim Senior’s gray hair and deforming neck tumour are gone, as are Kim Junior’s glasses and excess weight. Same size, same age, same suit. That way, nothing ever changes.” As if to anticipate reactions to this, Delisle’s pocket guide warns: “Never make jokes about the Great Leader or the Dear Leader. Show respect.”

Mary Jackson

I've been to North Korea.

mlrosty

Mary, how was it?

robert quinn

Try "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," by Kang Chol-Hwan (if that hasn't already come up in conversations). Despite the living hell the author and his family endured thanks to his whackjob, "Red-to-the-bone" Grandmother, she remained a staunch believer in The Cause. There's simply no learnin' some folks.

David

Mary’s exactly the kind of rapacious imperialist riffraff they try so hard to keep out. You’d think an alarm would ring as she approached DPRK airspace.

James S

This is interesting – escapees from North Korea:

"The exodus from North Korea began in the mid-1990s as a devastating famine broke out across the country. In the worst hit areas, people were reduced to eating roots, grasses, and tree bark. More than 2.5 million people would perish… In North Korea, crossing the border without permission is punishable by three to five years in a prison labor camp, and conspiring with missionaries or others to reach South Korea is considered treason, with offenders starved, tortured, and sometimes publicly executed…

What little the defectors know of the South is distorted by North Korean propaganda—the South is enemy territory, the land of murdering capitalists—or by images from soap operas and movies smuggled into the North, or by fantasies that success will come fast and easy in the southern paradise. A North Korean who had been living in Seoul for two years summed up the culture shock: "The difference between North and South is like jumping ahead a century."
After being debriefed to make sure they're not spies, defectors are sent to Hanawon, a high-security facility south of Seoul, where for two months they receive mandatory instruction in South Korean culture and practical matters such as taking the subway and opening a bank account."

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/02/north-korea/oneill-text/1

David

A reader emailed the following clip. An escapee from one of North Korea’s gulags tells his story…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FZMwoY7DyM

In case it needs pointing out, it isn’t a pretty tale.

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