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.
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.
There 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.
Not many signs of spring here yet, but everyday I like to awaken with some coffee and breakfast.
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Tomorrow I return to China and school will begin on the 7th. The fall is usually easier because we just have one course so there’s less planning to do. I’ve got a good schedule with Thursday’s off. I think I’ll have one class from the spring and they were a good group.
The day before departure’s always hectic. I’m more or less packed, but I have to go to the bank, get a flu shot (optional), have lunch with a friend and then tea with another, attend an online class, and I hope find time to see my aunt, who’s still in rehab. I’ll probably make one more trip to the grocery store.
Lots of rushing around, but it would be weird to just spend the day lying about.
A week ago Friday we learned that there was a hold up with getting our tickets back to China. The Chinese consulate rejected our applications because some “unspecified” paperwork was missing. I figured things would work out since the Chinese government approved this program and the students need teachers.
We had a week of waiting and sometimes I thought well, maybe, the government doesn’t care that students need and paid extra for international teachers. However, Monday our employer got our visas and by today we’ve got our passports in hand and airline reservations made. We’ll arrive in China on the 4th and start teaching on the 7th.
I’m looking forward to this semester and the warmer weather I’ll find in Jinan.
After a wonderful day, I was about to start doing some school work and checking my emails, when I felt a drop on my head. How strange as I’m indoors.
I looked up and saw:
I call our liaison. No answer. I text. No answer. I turn off and unplug all the electronics nearby. I call again. I go to one of my neighbors as I’m getting antsy waiting and need to tell someone.
Thirty minutes later, I get a text saying someone else will come over.
Ten minutes later help arrives. We all go upstairs to the empty apartment. There doesn’t seem to be any problem. We call my neighbor across the wall, but he’s out. The Foreign Affairs helper goes to get the key for the empty apartment next to the one above me. There she discovers his radiator has burst. She turns off the water somehow.
Meanwhile my neighbor returns and finds all sorts of belongings are soaked. He’s got more water damage than I do.
Well, it was an exciting end to an otherwise good day.
By the way, that’s the fifth water problem we’ve had this year.