Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

On the DPRK

On Thursday I attended a lovely dinner as a thank you for my volunteering to interview candidates who wish to teach English in Japan. One of the other guests regaled us with stories of his trip to North Korea last year. He was the only American on his tour as this was right when Otto Warmbier died. Prior to the trip, all tourists were given a chance to get a full refund and cancel, but this young man figured as long as he followed the rules, he’d be safe.

Here are some facts I learned:

  • You must always, even in private conversation call Kim Jong-Un, the “Supreme Leader.”  His father, Kim Jong-Il, whom he succeeded, must be referred to as the “Dear Leader.” The Supreme Leader’s grandfather is referred to as the “Eternal Leader.”
  • Upon arriving at the airport, travelers go through a thorough security check of your bags.
  • Foreign travelers must use either US dollars, Euros or Chinese RMB. It’s illegal for them to have the local currency.
  • If you have a newspaper with a photo of the Supreme Leader on it, you can not fold the paper.
  • When you take a photo of a painting of poster of the Supreme Leader, you must take his full body. You can not leave out an elbow, ear, etc. It has to be 100% of what’s pictured.
  • The tour covered the countryside and there all the farm animals, mainly goats, but a few cows , were emaciated.
  • The best food he had the whole time was scrambled eggs and tomatoes. Most food was tasteless.
  • In the capital city, Pyongyang, the group stayed in a 5 star hotel, that surprisingly he said was the most luxurious hotel he’s ever stayed in. For the Japan Exchange Teaching Programme, upon arrival in Tokyo, teachers stay in a 5 star hotel so it’s not as though this man’s never stayed in a good hotel.

 

Interviews with North Koreans

A must see. Just incredible to go through these experiences.

Being a woman in North Korea is worse than I thought.

Thank you, Asian Boss, for these outstanding videos.