Friday, October 15, 2010

North Korea

North Korea is the most isolated and secretive country in the world with only about 100 Americans visiting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) each year. Our trip was extremely controlled with our "guides" accompanying us every minute of our trip (even walking us to the bathroom) and restricting our visit to predetermined buildings, sites and museums. Our cell phones were confiscated at the airport and returned to us five days later when we left the country. Internet is non-existant. We are required to ask permission before taking every photograph (much of the time being denied). We were not allowed to speak to unauthorized North Koreans, and they are not allowed to speak to us, under penalty of arrest, detention and imprisonment. Propaganda is rampant, blaring from loud speakers and covering billboards. Despite having my every move and word monitored (the 43rd floor of our nearly empty hotel is reserved for foreigners and we were warned that it was bugged), the trip was fascinating and unforgettable.

Bill Clinton said it was the "scariest place on earth," The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 38th Parallel. You can see the North Korean soldiers on the near side of the picture and the South Korean soldiers on the far side. The 38th Parallel is the cement line that runs through the center of the three blue buildings.

A North Korean General at the DMZ who HATES America (no big surprise).

The 38th Parallel that separates North and South Korea runs through the center of this room. I am standing on the North Korean side and the soldier behind me is on the South Korean side.

As you can see, the roads throughout North Korea are wide and empty. We drove on 10 and 12 lane roads with one or two cars on the entire road. The roads are also lined with street cleaners who painstakingly sweep and maintain the roads.

Our government handlers/guides referred several times to "rush hour." At first, I didn't quite understand because even when they said it was rush hour, the street were empty. I soon realized they were referring to the length of the bus lines. The buses in Pyongyang are as packed as I have seen anywhere in the world. The lines were often several blocks long and we were never allowed to take pictures of them.

Room #25 shows the North Koreans "Victory" and Room #26 shows the US Imperialist's atrocities.

The "Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum" in Pyongyang is one of the most intriguing museums I've ever visited. It is full of propaganda against the "US Imperialist Aggressors." They have re-written history showing that they were living peacefully when the US bombed them "relentlessly." Eventually, the story always ends with the American cowards surrendering and the North Koreans triumphantly winning.

Our guide showing us how the North Koreans victoriously crushed the American cowards in the Korean War.

Many of the museums and buildings through out DPRK (North Korea) show pictures of Americans surrendering and confessing to war crimes.

4.5 million people were killed or wounded during the Korean war, including an estimated 2.5 million civilians. Much of the Korean peninsula was left in ruins.

You soon realize when in North Korea that Kim Il Song (the founder of North Korea and father of current leader Kim Jong Il) is revered as a God. The "Great Leader" is featured on a pin worn by all adult North Koreans, there are over 500 statues of him throughout the country, almost every book sold in North Korea was either written by him or written about him, and you can plan on hearing his name several hundred times per day.

I traveled with a great group. There were six of us from Harvard and Wharton all holding passports from different countries: US, Canada, Germany, Brazil, England and Sweden.

Inside a North Korean home - we are only shown what the government wants us to see, so it wasn't surprising to see a pretty modern home with a nice washer and drier, karaoke machine and tv. Certainly isn't a typical North Korean home.

Rice patty fields. Over the last decade, over 1 million North Koreans have starved to death. During teenage years, North Koreans are 20 cm shorter and 20 kg lighter than their South Korean counterparts due to malnutrition. People's rations shrink or become non-existant depending on how "loyal" they are to the regime.

One of the 500 statues of Kim Il Sung throughout North Korea.

Tens of thousands of people practicing marches, card flipcharts and "the wave" from dawn till dusk (in the rain) in Pyongyang's most recognizable plazas.

We were taken down to take the subway for one stop (weren't allowed to go any further). It descends nearly 350 feet below ground and doubles as a nuclear shelter.

The "Great Leader" and the "Dear Leader" are everywhere in NK, even in all the subway cars.

Beautiful subway stop (since were weren't able to see the other stops, it is tough to know what the remaining stops look like). NK is know for creating a great facade for the outside world, but behind the scenes everything is in shambles.

One of the prides of North Korea, this olympic sized swimming pool at Kim Il Song University, sits empty.

One of the MANY massive portraits of Kim Jong Il.

Two newspapers, almost a month apart, with nearly identical headlines and content.

You can see some of the hundreds of grey colored apartment buildings were all the North Koreans live. Every building is painted grey and most look identical to each other. The tall pyramid shaped building in the background is a hotel which was started in 1987 and would have been the tallest hotel in the world had it been finished. It currently sits partially built and empty.

Pyongyang's Rungrado May Day Stadium, the largest stadium in the world, with capacity of 150,000. The stadium is primarily used for the Arirang Mass Games, but has also been used for executions (several military generals convicted of attempting to assasinate Kim Jong Il were burnt alive in the stadium in the late 90's).

Arirang was an incredible show - they were shooting people hundreds of feet through the air with large rubberbands. Some of the performers were as young as 5 yrs old. They perform on a nightly basis and many will perform until retirement.

Arirang, Mass Gymnastic Games. The background/backdrop is actually tens of thousands of people holding large colored flipcharts- they flip them constantly to change the backdrop of the show.

The "Great Leader" and the "Dear Leader" watching over a music class. This large school was built to showcase the talents of the young NK children. Many start learning music, art, gymnastics at just a couple years old.

1 comment:

  1. This is a really interesting article. How did you get to North Korea? Did you use any travel agency or something else? Was it easy to get a visa? With how many people you were travelling? I am asking all these questions because I am considering travelling there.