Saturday, October 22, 2005

North Korea Pics

SHOTS FROM THE ARIRANG MASS GAMES

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MORE SHOTS



Monument to the Great Leader, Kim Il Song

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The Great Leader, again.

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The Tower of Juche Idea honoring the Great Leader's Philosophy

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Hammer, Sickle, and Pen Statue

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This was supposed to be the largest hotel in Asia. For some reason,it wasn't finished. Now it's a 105-story skeleton that has loomed symbolically over Pyongyang for 11 years. They didn't even bother to take the crane down.

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Korean War Stuff

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The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

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Soldiers

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These crossing guards are hand-picked for their beauty and grace. They must also be single and female. They are there at all hours of the night, even on streets where cars won't pass for hours.

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Ha! I always knew Alan Greenspan is really a cockroach!
This is how they portrayed Americans during the Korean War, and still do. Long noses and jagged features.

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Welcome to Pyongwood! Dear Leader loves movies. This is his personal movie studio which was the only place in Pyongyang I saw advertising. This is from a Chinese set from the 1950's.


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Friday, October 21, 2005

Peeking Behind the Iron Curtain

Dear Comrades,

I have just returned from a 3 day (acid) trip to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (AKA North Korea). I went on a very organized, very controlled, tour that was designed especially for US tourists. Somehow this Beijing based group was able to smuggle in 4 large groups of Americans for the month of October. This can be largely attributed to the fact that this is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Worker's Party, which seized power in NK in 45. So on this 60th anniversary of the “democratic” republic, Kim Jong Il, who must always be referred to as "Dear Leader," decided to put on what's known as the Arirang Mass Games. This happens only on very special years. The next one will be in 2013, the anniversary of their victory against the "US imperialist forces" in the Korean War.

I almost didn't make it on the trip. The trip left from Beijing and flew directly into Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK. So in order to get into China to catch the flight to Korea I had to buy a Chinese Visa. I noticed that it was 20 dollars cheaper to get the Visa on my Canadian passport, rather than my American one, so I got the visa stamped on to my Canadian. I brought both passports to the airport but packed my Canadian passport in my suitcase since the tour was run primarily for US passport holders. I had a coffee so I was the last person out of the 90 "imperialists" to pass through security. I whistled my way to Chinese border police incredulous about the fact that I was actually on my way to North Korea, one of Bush's 3 "axes of evil" countries. The Chinese policeman leafed through my American passport once, twice, and then finally said, "No Visa." He called his supervisor who calmly escorted me out of the line and into the oblivion of Beijing Airport. My excitement turned quickly into panic when I realized that I needed my other passport, which at this point was probably already stowed under the plane. In what may have been the bonehead move of the year, I failed to consider that I may need my Chinese visa in order to leave China. I then turned into what could best be described as “the woman who can't find her kid in Disney World." The only difference was that I couldn't communicate the nature of my problem since everyone spoke Chinese. I must have freaked out half of Beijing Airport. A wild, long-haired Western man sprinting while screaming frantically in English about bags and passports and North Korea. I must have covered the length of the airport twice looking for someone to help me. I finally found a guy who seemed to be in charge of bags. I swear I must have spoken Chinese in my desperation, cause this guy understood what needed to be done and would try his best to make it happen. I was at this point a half-hour late for my flight, which somehow was still on the runway. After being caught trying to sneak past security I decided to leave it up to this guy. Suddenly he appeared like an angel waiving a ticket to heaven, or in this case, a Canadian passport for North Korea. I grabbed the passport, thanked him, and sprinted to Gate 1 where a vehicle was waiting for me on the tarmac. I jumped in and I was driven to my plane. Hyperventillating and now even more incredulous that I was actually going to North Korea, I tried to enjoy the flight on the old Soviet Mig destined for one of the last remaining outposts of the Cold War.


Here are the basic ground rules I was told before entering the DPRK:

1. No cell phones, computers, or any communication devices. (This applies to everyone in DPRK, citizens and tourists. The only people with internet access are the staff members of the various embassies and humanitarian organizations that live in a compound in Pyongyang.)
2. No photos unless you are granted permission.
3. No journalists.
4. No leaving the group or wandering around the city by yourself. (We were warned that even if we were to go a block from our hotel, we could be questioned or detained.)
5. Most importantly, always be respectful of Kim Jong Il and his father and founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Song. (You do this by calling them Dear Leader and Great Leader, respectively. To give you an idea of the extent to which these two men have been diefied, the Great Leader has been dead for over a decade but is still referred to as the President of North Korea.)




North Korea is like no place on earth. It is a different reality. There is no internet access, no cell phones, no coca cola. Instead they have their own version, which I call “commie cola.” There is no advertising on the street or anywhere. Stores are assigned numbers since the concept of “marketing” does not exist there. I ate at restaurant number two and bought a shirt in department store 1. The only ads visible on the street can best fit into the category of government propaganda. There are no cars, no factories, no pollutants. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of press, and little evidence of freedom of thought. Unlike accounts I’ve heard from Cuba, the North Koreans would never speak out against their leaders, who are revered as gods. Every North Korean over the age of 16 must wear a small pin over their heart with one of their “great leaders” faces. I heard a story about an American who was imprisoned for calling “Dear Leader” Kim Il Jong fat. I don’t think North Koreans live in a constant state of fear of their government. There is order. You play by the rules and you will be ok. What the North Koreans I spoke to do seem to fear is the United States, which is reflected and reinforced by the ubiquitous anti US propaganda. One street sign portrayed a North Korean soldier piercing through a US flag with a bayonet. This was only the third time American were allowed to enter North Korea since the Korean War. When I told a Korean I was American, they were at first taken aback. For most, I was the first American they’ve ever met. My tour guide told me that she does not hate the American people, but rather the American government. I was taken aback by the vitriol sprouting from the normally tight-lipped tour guide when I mentioned the word “Bush.” She was visibly perturbed by him to the point that she began to realize that she was saying too much and the conversation ended.


Anyhow…in a little while, our video will be online. It will give you a good idea of how our trip went. I played by the rules for the most part, except for the last night, when I decided to sneak out of the hotel. I really couldn’t take it anymore and wanted to see the city from a perspective other than from the back of a tour bus. So I met some people from the World Food Program and I arranged to be picked up from my hotel to check out their compound. I wasn’t able to photograph there. Anyhow, in the compound where all the NGO’s and ambassadors live, it is a completely different reality. I drank a coke, ate a pizza, and I saw another side of North Korea. I learned about the psyche of North Koreans, the trauma of the Korean War (that in their minds never ended) and the scarcity of food and health care. The country is in major need of humanitarian aid and “development.” Sadly, I learned that Dear Leader is kicking out most of the development NGO’s at the end of the year. He will allow the humanitarian workers to stay, such as the Red Cross. When I got back to my hotel at 2 that morning, 3 hours before my flight…I felt better about leaving. Then I arrived in Beijing Airport and was immediately greeted by a Starbucks and a KFC. I remember feeling comforted by the green Starbucks lady and that cheerfully red Colonel Sanders. As much as these symbols of globalization vex me, they also comfort me. Whether I like it or not, they are symbols of my culture. After 3 days in a land where I was placed under a heavy program of indoctrination, I found myself longing for something, anything familiar. I almost wanted to kiss the Starbucks Lady in Beijing Airport. I was home, of all places, in communist China.


Next Stop: Tibet

All the best,
Jaron