I felt many of the murals with children came across as creepy
April 21, 2016 10:29 PM   Subscribe

For years, foreign visitors to North Korea were only able to see two stops on the Pyongyang metro. Until now: for the first time ever, photos from all across Pyongyang's subway.
posted by Itaxpica (26 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think I've ever seen a more miserable bunch of commuters (and that's including Londoners!). The only people smiling are illustrations.
posted by Jubey at 11:16 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

this is such a good FPP
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:37 PM on April 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is fascinating, thanks!

I'm not quite sure what to make of this one:

One of our North Korean guides reading a Lonely Planet guidebook on North Korea. This book was allowed into the country after being cleared by customs. He was glued to it for hours, fascinated as to an outside perspective of his beloved country. Hwanggumbol, Hyoksin line.

Isn't that something that could get that guide, who is easily recognizable, into trouble?
Although I suppose he could always say that he was just checking the foreigners' reading material for uncouth propaganda.
posted by sour cream at 11:40 PM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yes that's what he would say.
He's probably fine especially if they allowed the book in in the first place.
posted by sio42 at 11:52 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's also this article by the same author on playing golf in North Korea.
Equally if not even more fascinating.

Now, will someone please unglue me from the monitor? I've got work to do...
posted by sour cream at 12:14 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Fascinating photos and great FPP!

In threads like these I always have to recommend Barbara Demick's amazing Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:32 AM on April 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

I don't know if the trains run on time, but those stations are gorgeous.
posted by lmfsilva at 12:44 AM on April 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Soviet-built subways are also opulent, they were promoted to have been cathedrals for the working masses.
posted by clorox at 3:54 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wish we could have the pretty subways without all the Stalinism.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:52 AM on April 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

I wish we could have the pretty subways without all the Stalinism.

Seems like you can in other countries, just not the US.
posted by qcubed at 6:16 AM on April 22, 2016 [8 favorites]

In some ways, the Pyongyang subway appears to be more advanced than the MBTA here in Boston.
posted by ColdOfTheIsleOfMan at 6:16 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Really stunning.
posted by JanetLand at 8:23 AM on April 22, 2016

Nth Demick's "Nothing to Envy", but "North Korea Confidential" makes a great companion piece that addresses everything current in NK from fashion to smartphones to why the government can't survive unless they let continue the black market of smuggled goods.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:03 AM on April 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm more than willing to take the slightly janky stations of the NY subway over the ubiquitous murals of the Kim family (complete with the super creepy detailed-face thing), but that's just me.

Also, one of my favorite parts of this whole thing might be the absolutely staggering amounts of stink-eye this dude is getting from some of the other commuters.
posted by Itaxpica at 9:12 AM on April 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Creepy public art in a totalitarian state? oh no
posted by Ideefixe at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2016

Super interesting. Thank you for posting!
posted by john_snow at 9:49 AM on April 22, 2016

i always like to recommend Corpse in the Koryo and Hidden Moon by James Church. North Korean detective novels from a guy who was a spy there for quite some time (obvs not his real name). the novels are based in Pyongyang.

Interesting perspective about why people wouldn't defect and how people there think about their own country. O's parents died in the revolution and his grandfather was a "hero of the revolution" so O has always been accorded special treatment. he's not quite a rebel but he doesn't like the status quo.

i think it's Hidden Moon where the main character, Inspector O, is told there's a man causing a problem in his district. so he goes over to where some cops have this guy and it's an old man who's very angry. O sends the cops away and says he'll deal with it.

O looks at Angry Man's papers and says you're from [someplace else far north from pyongyang]. Angry Man says yeah, so ?
O says who gave you permission to travel?
AM says me!
O says yeah, you can't do that.
AM is angry and talks about how he fought for this country and remembers when pyongyang was in ashes, he was here, and he helped build this place, and he'd be damned if he was gonna ask permission to walk around his own damn country!
O gives him a bunch of money and says to get on the next train back home and stop talking like that before someone hears him.

i think about that scene a lot and how that must reflect how a lot of people felt and still feel. i mean, we all have our veterans and issues with freedom in our various countries, but to have fought and seen friends and family die for what you thought was freedom to end up with with this Stalinist dynasty must be the most horrible mindfuck ever.

i've read all the nonfiction NK books and i think these novels are a good companion. i don't know how to say that they make the people and country seem more real to me without seeming dismissive of the stories of those who have made it out. i think i mean that it shows the side of those are inside and don't want to leave and don't think about leaving. like the people in the metro in these pictures, who probably have good government jobs and hope for the best.

hope this all makes sense. and i also hope to one day see that country become free.
posted by sio42 at 11:21 AM on April 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

Man, I wish we had some of those types of murals in DC metro.
posted by numaner at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have to say I'm always a little surprised to see photos of ordinary NK citizens in Western publications - Soviet citizens (quite sensibly) avoided the appearance of liking or cooperating with foreigners. Personally, in their shoes, I'd turn right around and go far away the second I saw anyone like this guy.
posted by SMPA at 4:42 PM on April 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

These are amazing, thanks for posting them.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:14 PM on April 22, 2016

I really enjoyed this. I did notice that he was surprised the subway doors opened manually, after noting that the rolling stock was bought from Germany. The Berlin U-Bahn runs cars that look almost exactly like those pictured (but aren't--all the cars of that type were sold to North Korea) and you pull the doors open. (In Germany, the doors don't open automatically when the train stops. In the most modern cars, you push a button. Someone presumably eventually realised pulling the lever was an accessibility nightmare. Minneapolis has the same system on its light rail (they use German rolling stock), but the doors open automatically except when its below zero.)

Also, in my quest to make sure I wasn't misremembering the Berlin U-Bahn, I've now discovered a corner of YouTube filled with short videos of the door close alert sound from various train cars.
posted by hoyland at 6:13 AM on April 24, 2016

All the people depicted in the propaganda are smiling. The people photographed are not.
posted by tommasz at 8:42 AM on April 24, 2016

There's something really otherworldly about such busy public spaces without any advertising.
posted by aerobic at 9:37 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Well, there is advertising. It's just for the glory of the state, the one and only legitimately accepted client.
posted by qcubed at 11:11 AM on April 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

One of the photo captions: "Inside the crowded, screeching tubes of trains, oil, and axle grease of the outside world, the metro walls usually remind us why graffiti is rightfully illegal. In North Korea, graffiti carries harsh, unspeakable punishment. In 2011, graffiti denouncing Kim Jong-Il found in a college sent the capital city of Pyongyang into literal lockdown, the regime refusing to sell train tickets until the culprit was found. In my time inside North Korea over sixteen days, I did not spot one single instance of graffiti or defacement."

posted by cynical pinnacle at 11:27 AM on April 29, 2016

The two dioramas at the very end of the article are amazing.
posted by cynical pinnacle at 11:30 AM on April 29, 2016

« Older Out of the goodness of our mammaries   |   It's Raining Humvees Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments