A Year In Pyongyang
January 20, 2007 11:01 PM   Subscribe

See also
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:08 AM on January 21, 2007

Stavros, I love you.
(Don't tell my husband!)
posted by Brittanie at 12:20 AM on January 21, 2007

I'm a few chapters into it -- he writes well, and this is pre-edited, a shame he died.

So far, no great weirdness or secrets though.... he seems to like them a lot. Where's the dirt?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:21 AM on January 21, 2007

This is a great read, thanks!
posted by amyms at 12:28 AM on January 21, 2007

So I read a chapter more and then skimmed to the end.

Very very interesting indeed. He paints a sympathetic of the country, and and understands the original goals and ethos of the government but his year there is grueling and he leaves with great relief. He clearly thought the country was in an "irreversible decline" and I shudder to think what it would be like now, two decades later.

He manages to present a nuanced picture of the country and the people and a persuasive story. Lots of good research too... /me shakes head.


for Andrew Holloway.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:37 AM on January 21, 2007

Visit Dandong, on the Chinese border, and you can get a good impression of the Korean life in about two hours. Go to the infamous bridge the US bombed in the Korean War, stand on the end, pay your three renminbi to use the binoculars.

You'll see a charming place. A soldier pushes a cute young boy, helping him to learn how to ride a bike. Two well-dressed couples walk by in their wedding outfits. A man reads on the banks of the river. A ferris wheel sits idle on a fairground, waiting for another carnival to use it.

After five minutes, it all happens again. The soldier seems to meet the boy again and helps him ride a bike. The couples come out from the same place and seem the same kind of cheery. The man reading walks up and down the banks and never seems to turn a page. The ferris wheel is just boards, perpendicular to the view- no place to sit.

The train crossing the functional bridge snaps you out of it, and you leave. On the way out, vendors are eager to sell you DPRK currency and stamps.

Then, up on the east end of the Great Wall- Tiger Mountain- you see a girl with the same kind of binoculars. She seems more apathetic, more interested in her tiny dog than the tourists. Another three renminbi, and you can see deep into the country.

Men walk up and down the banks of the river with rifles. Filthy, disintegrating huts fill clumped villages. The only motor vehicles are painted tank grey and festooned with DPRK army symbols. People desperately try to forage out of an obviously desolate field.

I can only imagine that going inside the country makes all of these sensations crazier, and so I eat up every description like this I can find. Thanks for the post.
posted by thethirdman at 2:22 AM on January 21, 2007 [6 favorites]

It's been mentioned here before, but Guy Delisle's graphic novel Pyongyang (third down) is pretty good. Also, surprisingly, my Lonely Planet Korea guide has a really fascinating section on the DPRK, with tips on how to get there from various other parts of the world and what to expect once you're there. If you dare.
posted by Brittanie at 4:57 AM on January 21, 2007

Thanks for this post—looking forward to reading the book.
posted by languagehat at 5:46 AM on January 21, 2007

It's interesting, but sadly not much there that isn't already available in other forms. Holloway seems to have been quite a guy though, and his take is both sympathetic and relatively unflinching. I look forward to reading someone's 2007 Pyongyang experience, hopefully in less than 20 years.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:50 AM on January 21, 2007

Second-ing the Guy Deslisle comic.
posted by pokermonk at 6:25 AM on January 21, 2007

He seems to be generally of the opinion that the North Korean worker class are reasonably happy with their lot, if only because they don't know any better and have been indoctrinated to conform. He paints too rosy a picture I think.
posted by snoktruix at 6:59 AM on January 21, 2007

Fantastic post, thanks.
posted by Abiezer at 7:17 AM on January 21, 2007

… These people are the sort of labour force Mrs Thatcher must dream about. Utterly quiescent, they will go anywhere they are needed in the economy. They will put up with the most basic living conditions. They will accept minimal wages. …
Wow, that was gratuitous and hypocritical from a leftist. But the book is fascinating and the guy’s death is a loss.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 8:24 AM on January 21, 2007

Surprisingly gripping. I read the first three chapters and had intended to just blink at this.

Thank you for the post. I leave my breakfast a little wiser and a little calmer this morning.
posted by django_z at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2007

Just read the first 3 chapters and will work my way through the entirety over the next few days. A great find.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 9:40 AM on January 21, 2007

Great -- best of the web. Thanks
posted by Rumple at 10:28 AM on January 21, 2007

This is a truly excellent find... a nice change from the usual run of 1997-ish photoessays and hollow travelogues that just go through all the tourist routines, monotonously emphasizing and re-emphasizing the veneer and the underlying reality.
posted by rolypolyman at 12:37 PM on January 21, 2007

That's really difficult to read, what with the framing story telling you how it all ends. Certainly a better read, though, than Harrold's Comrades and Strangers, which left me feeling surprisingly flat and empty.
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:53 PM on January 21, 2007

Great find. Curiously, I was going through the English section of the Shenzhen [China] library last evening and became entranced with a book of Kim Il Jung propaganda art, a gift from the DPRK to the PRC on Kim's birthday. I snapped as many pages as I could. If anyone knows how to properly digitalize this kind of book, email me.
posted by trinarian at 6:27 AM on January 22, 2007

It might be interesting, but the first chapter is so anti-American that I'm not sure I want to read any more of it.
posted by tadellin at 8:43 AM on January 22, 2007

This is fascinating -- thanks!
posted by ducksauce at 11:54 AM on January 22, 2007

Great read so far. Having grown up in the eighties in China, it's interesting to see how these two supposedly socialist countires diverged over the last two decades.
posted by reformedjerk at 3:18 PM on January 22, 2007

Thank you Mister Chicken.
posted by bigbigdog at 6:32 PM on January 22, 2007

« Older Shut Up!   |   YouSuck! Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments