Sunday, 25 November 2012

North Korea - Wish You Were Here!

Here, a cheery bunch of Aussies is sumptuously entertained in Pyongyang, the Kim dynasty's bizarre film-set capital of North Korea. You needn't watch it all - they had a bloody nice time, eating well, drinking beer, joshing, dancing and posing with carefully selected locals. That's all you need to know.


Can my frequent visitor from Seoul translate the texts on the banners in the photo above? I'll lay odds they are all about death to the Imperialist Bastards, but I'm open to correction.

Human Rights Watch Report 2012 tells us:

'The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) systematically violates the basic rights of its population. Although it has signed four key international human rights treaties and includes rights protections in its constitution, it allows no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and endemic problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other “anti-socialist” crimes.'
How far up your fucking arse do you have to be to put out a video of 'What I Did On My Hols In North Korea', and show no awareness, no acknowledgement, that you are in a state that appears to have modeled itself explicitly on Nineteen Eighty-Four? (Christopher Hitchens speculated that some time around 1950, somebody must have given Kim Il Sung a Korean translation of Orwell's novel and said 'what d'you think? Reckon we can make it fly?') How crashingly bloody insensitive do you have to be to recommend people visit this Hell on Earth 'before it changes'? This is a state where in the nineties two million people died of starvation while the Dear Leader stocked his 10,000 bottle wine cellar and sent his sushi chef to source caviar from Iran and sea urchins from Japan. (On the latter expedition, the chef managed to slip his minders and escape.) In a country where sex is not deemed a fit subject for discussion, Kim Jong Il hired girls to dance naked for his favourites while they sloshed down the Hennessy. This is a country where every individual, whether one of the privileged permitted to live in Pyongyang (so long as he behaves himself) or a serf in a forced labour camp, is state property. Did that jolly little bunch of visitors not wonder where everyone went in Pyongyang after dark? If the people are not on parade, they're under curfew. Seen from space at night, North Korea is a field of black between the lights of South Korea and China. How much is revenue from tourism going to benefit the people in that darkness, subsisting on grass and tree bark, given that the Kims have always seen them as so many expendable extras in the drama of their own greatness?

Kim Il Sung, the Great Leader, always had himself depicted as sleek, plump and benign, dispensing hand-shakes and homely wisdom to his grateful and admiring people. Sometimes he was shown with a ciggy in his hand, to add an air of down-home just-folksiness to his image. The goitre that afflicted him in later life is omitted from all representations, naturally. Kim Jong-Un seems to be playing the same easy-going, noblesse oblige card - see below. Like his dad the Dear Leader, he has a fondness for the top-drawer smokes and Scotch. One day, according to Jong Il's sushi chef, Jong-Un got to thinking a bit. Picture him gazing meditatively into his Johnny Walker Black. 'We are here,' he mused, 'playing basketball, riding horses, riding Jet Skis, having fun together. But what of the lives of the average people?' Well, you horrible little cunt, read the Human Rights Watch Report, since you don't operate under the same IT restrictions as your subject populace. You needn't go further than You Tube if reading wearies you. Since Jong-Un took over that little parallel universe from his father, the young things of Pyongyang have a brand new funfair to play with and may gab to one another on cell-phones. It's impossible to make international calls, of course. The attempt alone could get you shot.. Play nicely, or else.

Here's The Dear Successor with his Mrs, opening a supermarket in Pyongyang. It looks as though the architect of Kim Il Sung's mausoleum designed it, incorporating an addled memory of  Manchester Airport. Anyway, the design way upstages the merchandise. The ritual involves the same saluting, handshaking and bonhomie that attended Kim Jong Il's visits to factories and offices, the same sense of empty display. We do not buy it.


In his book The Aquariums of Pyongyang, Kang Chol-Hwan, who along with his family spent ten years in the Yodok concentration camp, tells of being forced to witness executions by firing squad or hanging:

I attended some fifteen executions during my time in Yodok. ...they were [almost all] for attempted escape. no matter how many executions I saw, I was never able to get used to them, was never calm enough to gather herbs while waiting for the show to begin. I don't blame the prisoners who unaffectedly went about their business. People who are hungry don't have the heart to think about others. Sometimes they can't even care for their own family. Hunger squashes man's will to help his fellow man. I've seen fathers steal food from their own children's lunchboxes. As they scarf down the corn, they have only one overpowering desire to placate, if even for one moment, that feeling of insufferable need.                        

Well, at least those Aussie trippers got shown a good time. Here for balance is another who's less wide-eyed


Stuff I've read recently:

Demick, B. (2010) Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea London: Granta.
Kang,C. (2001) The Aquariums of Pyongyang London: Atlantic Books.
Kang, H. (2005) This is Paradise! My North Korean Childhood London: Abacus.
Myers, B.R. (2010) The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans see themselves and why it matters. New York: Melville House.


Candy said...

That HAS to be gigantic piss- take. Please don't tell me there is anyone in the civilised world who wouldn't be spooked by that? What a terrifying piece of film.

Rob said...

The supermarket news film is reassuring at least - got to be one of journalism's finest moments.

Vilges Suola said...

I don't think it's a piss take - it's an advert for the agency by Innocents Abroad who seem to have no idea that everything is stage-managed.

Candy said...

Things like this were happening 100years ago nearly. Who ARE these people? As for that Australian thing.....was the journo seriously THAT deluded?

Vilges Suola said...

Sorry, what was happening 100 years ago? I suspect it's a plug for the tourist agency, and you wouldn't want the punters knowing that the people trusted to feed you and dance and pose with you actually despised you for being a westerner and getting all that nice grub.

Candy said...

I was thinking sort of Communist type shops and buildings and all that relentless cheerfulness and smiling self-congratulation at how marvellous everything is. Not that I saw a movie or anything. And then there was Nazi Germany with the same sort of thing. Maybe 80 years ago.....That implacable Socialist statuary. There used to be one in Birmingham, but it got burnt.


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