20 Things I Learned While I Was in North Korea

Well that was weird.

I was only in North Korea for five days, but that was more than enough to make it clear that North Korea is every bit as weird as I always thought it was.

If you merged the Soviet Union under Stalin with an ancient Chinese Empire, mixed in The Truman Show and then made the whole thing Holocaust-esque, you have modern day North Korea.

It’s a dictatorship of the most extreme kind, a cult of personality beyond anything Stalin or Mao could have imagined, a country as closed off to the world and as secretive as they come, keeping both the outside world and its own people completely in the dark about one another—a true hermit kingdom.

A question, then, is “Why would an American tourist ever be allowed into the country?”

Allow me to illustrate what I believe is the reasoning behind my being let in:

High Level Government Meeting


And so, I was allowed in, along with a small group of other Westerners, accompanied (at all times) by three North Korean guides. And my experience there felt a lot like the route depicted above—we saw Pyongyang and a couple other regions, and the North Koreans we laid eyes on throughout were likely the people faring the very best in the country.

Before I talk about what I learned, I’d like to quickly say hi to whomever from the North Korean government is reading this. Only the highest-level officials have access to the internet in North Korea, and I learned that the job of one of them is to scour the internet for anything written about North Korea and keep tabs on what the foreign press is saying. So hi, and haha you can’t get me cause I’m back home now and I can say all the things I wasn’t allowed to say when I was in your country.

Now that I’ve jinxed myself to certain assassination, let’s get started—

20 Things I Learned While I Was in North Korea


1) The leaders are a really big fucking deal there.

 

That’s not even a strong enough statement. They’re the only deal. These are the big three:

1. Kim Il Sung (1912 – 1994)

He’s their George Washington and their Stalin and their Jesus and their Santa Claus combined, all in the form of one pudgy dead Korean man. He’s the Eternal President—eternal because he had the position abolished for all future so that no one can ever be president again. And they’ve created an almost entirely fabricated story about all of the legendary accomplishments he didn’t accomplish.

There are an estimated 34,000 statues of Kim Il Sung in the country, everything possible is named after him (if they were starting the country today, it would be called Kimilsungland), every adult is required to wear a pin on their shirt with his face on it every day, all students dedicate a large portion of their study to memorizing his speeches and learning about his achievements, and his birthday is the nation’s biggest holiday. They even changed the year—it’s not 2013 in North Korea, it’s Juche 101 (101 years after Kim Il Sung’s birth).

As tourists, we were told to only refer to him as President Kim Il Sung.

2. Kim Jong Il (1941 – 2011)


Kim Il Sung’s son, and the dick we all got to know well in the last decade. It’s said in North Korea that he was born on a sacred Korean mountain top (he was actually born in the Soviet Union) and that his birth caused winter to change to spring (it stayed winter). He’s a really big deal too but like one third as big a deal as his father. Some outsiders question whether people are actually obsessed with KJI or they’re just scared to not act obsessed.

We were told to only refer to him as General Kim Jong Il.

3. Kim Jong Un (1983 or 1984 – )


Despite being the current Supreme Leader, KJI’s son took over well before everyone expected him to with KJI’s surprise death in 2011 (unlike KJI, who had been groomed for leadership for a couple decades before he took over), and while the propaganda machines are superb at depicting the legendary accomplishments of the elder two Kims, no one is really sure what the hell KJU has accomplished. Part of the issue is that the population never heard much about KJU until recently—he has two older brothers who would have presumably taken over had one not been too feminine (i.e. maybe gay) and the other not snuck into Disneyland on a Dominican passport and gotten caught, ruling both out for potential supreme leadership. My sense being in the country was that there isn’t that much genuine hero worship going on for KJU.

That didn’t stop them from making us refer to him as Marshall Kim Jong Un.

And everywhere you go in the country—everywhere—you see this:

I saw these guys so much it eventually started to seem completely normal, and I began referring to them as “the bros” in my head. Their side-by-side portraits are not only in every public place possible, it’s required that they are on the wall in every single home in the country, and there are random spot checks by the government to check on this. Each family is also given a special towel, the only allowed use of which is to shine the portraits clean every morning. Normal country.

There are also a lot of rules regarding the leaders that apply to visitors as well. When you come up to a statue of one of the bros, you must bow. You must also keep your hands by your side and not behind your back. When you take a photo of one of the statues, you must take the photo of the entire body—it’s not permitted to cut off any part of it. If you have a newspaper or any other paper with a leader on it, you’re not allowed to fold the paper or throw it away. Normal country.

Surprising no one, North Korea comes in dead last in the world in the Democracy Index.


2) Everyone lies about everything all the time.

The government lies to the outside world. The government lies to the people. The press lies to the people. The people lie to each other. The tour guides lie to tourists. It’s intense.

The lies range from big things—the government hammers away at the message that the US is preparing to attack North Korea, the press depicts South Korea as a suffering and American-occupied country, the leaders’ speeches talk about North Korea being the envy of the world with the highest quality of life—to tiny things—we met a soldier at one point we were told was a colonel, and after he left, a retired army major on my tour told me that he had studied North Korean army uniforms and that the soldier was in fact a captain.

Facts are not a key part of the equation in North Korea.

And it can really mess with your mind as a visitor. I’d find myself in these perplexing situations trying to figure out if a lie-spouting North Korean was in on it or not. Was she thinking, “I know this is false, you know this is false, but I live here so I gotta play the game”? Or was she fully brainwashed and thought she was telling me the truth? It was impossible to tell. During interactions, I’d find myself thinking, “Are you an actor in The Truman Show and you think I’m Truman? Or are you Truman and I’m one of the actors?” Are those kids on the street just pretending to be playing for my benefit? Is any of this real? Am I real?


3) Most visitors to the country are forced to stay in the same hotel when they’re in Pyongyang.

 

This is it.

You know why they put all visitors here? Because it’s on an island in the middle of the city—

The government’s biggest fear with visitors is that they sneak off at some point and take photos of something they’re not supposed to see, so this island location (with guards surrounding the hotel) is perfect. We were never let out of our guides’ sight during the day and told that we weren’t to leave the hotel at night under any circumstance.

And even when the rest of the country and much of Pyongyang is without electricity, heat or air conditioning, the Yanggakdo is always bright and comfortable—all part of the plan to project a certain image of the country to visitors.


4) Propaganda is absolutely everywhere.

From the suffocating number of billboards and murals to the postcards and pamphlets and newspapers to everything on TV, the North Korean people are forced to live and breathe North Korean pride around the clock. There’s even a creepy propaganda band, Moranbong Band, whose members were handpicked by Kim Jong Un. This video of them played in its entirety on both the flight in and out of the country and in nearly every restaurant we went to, and subsequently haunted my sleep. Goebbels couldn’t hold a candle to the Kims.

The propaganda I saw fell into four categories: 1) The leaders and their greatness, especially Kim Il Sung, 2) images of the North Korean military and its might, 3) negative depictions of the US and South Korea, and 4) images of North Korean people living joyous and sunshiny lives.


5) The tour guides apparently don’t find it awkward to constantly refer to Americans as “American Imperialists” even though I’m standing right there.

 

The postcard pictured in the last item was just the tip of the iceberg. If one half of the North Korean story is “Kim Il Sung is a great man,” the other half is “The American imperialists started the Korean War and lost, and ever since they’ve been trying to kill and rape us all and take the country over, but our great military won’t allow it.”

The North Korean government is very into anti-US sentiment—largely because they’ve figured out a way to blame basically all of their problems on the US and use fake fear of the US to justify being a poor country the size of Pennsylvania that also has the world’s 4th largest army (not to mention spending an unthinkable amount on nuclear weapon technology).

Check out this tour guide translating the soldier’s description of what might happen to the US when they make their attack:

And this anti-US video we were shown on deck of the USS Pueblo, a US Naval ship captured by the North Koreans in 1968 (it’s also funny how he says “people”):

 

6) It’s not cool to call North Korea “North Korea.”

 

The correct term is, “Korea.” All images of the country depict the whole peninsula, what today is North and South Korea combined. In their view, they are proud Koreans, living in Korea, the south half of which is unfortunately currently occupied by the Imperialist Americans.

 

7) Kim Jong Un’s exact year of birth is not a subject you should try to gather information on while in the country.

This is because the exact date is not really known, which apparently upsets them.


8) The same physical place can be fancy and shitty at the same time.

 

North Korea specializes in the simultaneous fancy shitty place. Simultaneous fancy shittiness happens when a poor country tries to act like things are going fantastically. So there will be a gorgeous museum with huge chandeliers and polished marble floors, but the water won’t be running in the bathroom. Or a high-end restaurant with upscale decor that’s also sweltering hot because the air conditioning isn’t working.

I was told that sometimes visitors are all ready to head into North Korea for their tour when they learn that it’s been mysteriously canceled, and the true reason is something like the water not running in the Yanggakdo Hotel that day.


9) North Koreans still talk about the Korean War constantly.

 

The Korean War is not a part of everyday life in South Korea. The war ended 60 years ago, and today, South Korea has other things to think about, like being a relevant nation with the world’s 15th biggest economy.

In North Korea, the war is a constant topic of conversation, and almost everything North Koreans learn about it is flagrantly incorrect. The big lie they’re told is that the war was started when the US, occupying South Korea at the time, attacked the unsuspecting North to try to take control over the whole country. They’re told that Kim Il Sung valiantly staved off the Americans and the Americans shrank back in defeat, then continued to occupy South Korea until this day.

Of course, the real story is that Kim Il Sung (who was nothing more than a puppet leader installed by the Soviets because they knew they could control him) tugged on Stalin’s sleeve for years, asking him if he could attack the South with Soviet backing, until finally Stalin said “ugh fuck it fine” and the North attacked. The US was, granted, playing a large role in the South at the time, but they were more focused on other things by that point and were caught off-guard. They responded to the North’s attack by heading in with the UN and joining the South in the fight. Whatever your opinion of the US’s role at the time, they certainly did not start the war by attacking the peaceful North.

But facts never stopped the North Korean government before. There are things like this in every newspaper I looked at.

At the Korean War Museum, known there as the Museum of American Atrocities, our tour guide spent the whole time telling us that the Americans started the war—everyone in the room knew the truth except the tour guide.


10) All kids wear the same uniform all the time, even when they’re not in school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not actually all kids—it’s kids from the most well-off families. But those are the families they let visitors come into contact with, so that’s what it looked like to me.


11) It’s best to just not bring up the huge rocket hotel in the middle of Pyongyang.

The 105-story Ryugyong Hotel, which started to be built in 1987 and still hasn’t finished, would seem to be an odd undertaking for a nation whose economy had stagnated, whose infrastructure was rotting, and which looks like this at night.

But we’re in North Korea, so why the fuck not.

It’s hard to understand from pictures how weird it is that this building is sitting there in the middle of Pyongyang, a city whose other buildings are all small, shabby concrete blocks from the Soviet Era. The picture below shows a typical Pyongyang building in front of the Ryugyong—


12) North Koreans seem to be lacking a sense of humor about the mausoleum that holds the bodies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

 

Here’s what our old buddy Kim Jong Il is up to these days—

This is the one picture in this post that I did not take—cameras were strictly forbidden in the mausoleum, otherwise known as the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, which experts say cost somewhere between $100 and $900 million to build.

On a visit with many tense moments, the time I spent in here was the tensest. We had to walk single file in and out and bow three times to each of the two bros.

 

13) North Korea even manages to have dictator-esque traffic ladies. 

 

Kind of mesmerizing to watch.


14) The Mass Games are both breathtaking and disturbing.

 

Let’s start with breathtaking. Attending the Mass Games was like attending the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It involves 100,000 (!) performers, many of them young children, depicting the glorious history and thriving modernity of North Korea. The backdrop is a stunning tapestry made of 20,000 kids holding up large colored cards (they have a book of cards and can quickly flip from color to color). I don’t throw the word magnificent around very often, and it was magnificent. The Mass Games takes place four days a week for three months every summer.

For the disturbing part, just say the sentence, “North Korea is one of the world’s poorest countries, a place where millions of people are starving, hospitals no longer function, and there is almost no electricity,” and then read the above paragraph again.

In any case the Mass Games is the perfect North Korean event—centered on propaganda, stresses the collective over the individual, and it makes no sense as a priority given the state of things.

You can see pictures here and here’s a video I took which shows a sampling of the show:





15) No North Korean people have access to the internet because the government is concerned that people would see things that would make them feel unfairly critical toward the West, and the government would like to protect the West’s reputation by preventing the people from going on the internet.

 

Yup. That is the story I was told when I asked our North Korean guide why no one can go on the internet. One of the most absurd explanations for anything—apparently the government isn’t even trying to lie credibly anymore.

What the (most privileged) people do have access to is the North Korean intRAnet, a network limited to government-approved North Korean websites.

Naturally, North Korea performs badly in the Press Freedom Index, coming in second-to-last, beating only Eritrea (nice job, Eritrea).


16) Kim Jong Il used a MacBook Pro.

I saw it myself. After seeing his dead body hanging out in the mausoleum, they took us downstairs to a Kim Jong Il museum, which contained awards and honors he had been given throughout his life, a huge animated map showing every route he traveled in his life, and the train he used hundreds of times during this travel (he was scared of flying).

They showed us the inside of the cart, including the room he (supposedly) died in. In it, there was a change of his favorite outfit and on the desk, a MacBook Pro.

Weird to picture Kim Jong Il putting things in his dock, minimizing windows, and opening his Finder, but that’s what happened.


17) Most of the time people walked together, I swear they were walking in step.

 

Like come on—


18) North Korea is the one place where the museum of ancient times sounds like the good old days.

 

Normally, going to a museum of any country’s ancient times makes you think, “Thank god I don’t live then.” Whether it’s hearts getting cut out in Mexico, public executions and the Black Plague in Europe, or brutal totalitarian Empires in Asia, it tends to be a lot better to live “now” than “then.”

But in North Korea, as I was hearing the guide tell story after story of ancient dynasties ruling the peninsula, my thought continued to be, “Eh still sounds better than living here now.”

 

19) Apparently the tears in this video are actually real.

 

Okay I’m not sure if they’re all real, or if some people are crying because if they don’t they’ll be sent to a labor camp for the rest of their lives. But I had assumed they were basically all faking that level of emotion, an assumption that was debunked when I heard this story:

A New Zealander who worked for the tour company that arranged my tour told me that he was meeting with an employee of the North Korean government’s tourism agency outside North Korea (one of the rare times you’ll ever see a North Korean outside the country), when the news of Kim Jong Il’s death came in. He said the man, at the time, was trying to sign something with a pen, and that his hand was shaking so violently that he couldn’t do it. The man then tore away to the other room, and emerged a couple hours later, face swollen and eyes red. This was a man outside of North Korea with no reason to fake emotion.

A brutal, heartless totalitarian dictator has to play quite the mind tricks on his people to be truly beloved—the Kims are good at what they do.


20) It turns out that there’s a place in the world that will make you enter China and think, “Thank god for this land of boundless freedom!”

North Korea. A place unlike any other.

————————-

Pictures from the trip are here

And below are some videos from my visit to the Mangyongdae Schoolchildren’s Palace in Pyongyang, a school for children with elite artistic ability. Of course, only children from the highest ranking families even have a chance to attend this school. (And yes, I am now aware that vertical videos are a bad thing, not a good thing.)

First we had a chance to see the kids practicing:

Little girls practicing dance.
Little girls sounding great practicing some weird instrument.
Little kids practicing the accordion.
A very focused little girl practicing embroidery.

Then we saw an amazing performance (excuse the terrible video quality):

The Opening Number.
A delightful dance by four little girls in red boots.
A little girl who KILLS it on the xylophone and drums.
A little boy who KILLS it on the ukulele.
A graceful dance by an animated little girl.
A little boy who blew me away with his lassos.
A group of girls dance with fans.

As I walked out, I waved to the kids in the audience and this is them waving back.

Visiting the kids was the saddest part of the trip. They’re just as deserving as any other kids of a good life and it’s pretty heartbreaking that they’re stuck in such a shitty place. The whole population deserves so much better—hopefully something changes there soon.

View all videos here.

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295 comments - jump to comment field »

    • Anonymous

      Actually, it was a rather contrived article full of swearing that was meant to make Americans feel good about their own massive police state. Enjoy feeling smug about yourself and your “free” country? Get a kick out of feeling “pity” for those poor North Koreans. Pull your head out and try fixing your own broken country, namely the USA.

      • Anonymous

        The fact that you just assume all people reading this article are American is funny in itself! You’re not the only ones in the world besides the Asians, you know.

    • Anonymous

      The shocking truth is that North Koreans have more freedom than Americans.
      Your typical American is just too dumbed-down and gullible to have figured it out yet.

      • Iseult

        Don’t talk rubbish. What freedoms do North Koreans have? Their lives are controlled by those in power, they can’t even talk to visitors from other countries or go on the Internet to find out what the rest of the world is like, let alone leave their country to travel to any other. Can they speak out against their leaders? No, of course not! So they have no freedom of speech either, something we in other countries take for granted. They’re isolated and brainwashed, they have no idea of the freedoms people in other countries enjoy. Such a sad and sick society, I hope some day things change and the people of North Korea finally get to experience freedom.

        • Anonymous

          Dude, he was trolling you,

          Pretty much playing off the article about how N. Korean officials scour the net for people talking shit about our glorious little peninsula.

    • Anonymous

      yup.. one of those north Korean officials looking through internet blogs and acting like a troll. I hope your family is safe.

    • Anonymous

      Watch out Americans! If you dare question authority and your government you may be labeled Kim Jong Un or some North Korean official. Welcome to Amerika! Drink the Kool-Aid!

    • Anonymous

      Calling people from the United states “americans” is a generalization. Mexicans, Canadians, and the countries of south america are all americans. (From north/south america. Geographical descriptions) Stop being insulting. You ignorant fuck

    • Anonymous

      No, you’re stupid and overly PC. Is it ignorant to refer to Chinese or Japanese people living in the US as Asian-Americans? Or should that never be used because it doesn’t cover India, Eastern Russia, or the Middle East, all technically part of Asia? People generally use the term American to refer to people from the US just like they generally use the term Asian to refer to people from East Asia. But I bet you don’t lash out on blogs about that one, do you?

    • “Calling people from the United states “americans” is a generalization. Mexicans, Canadians, and the countries of south america are all americans. (From north/south america. Geographical descriptions) Stop being insulting. You ignorant fuck” Well except from the “ignorant fuck” I mostly agree with this, people from USA are Americans, people from Argentina, are Americans too, I like to say that I am American to US citizens when they ask, then when they ask from which state I say Bolivia. You have to see their faces :)

      The problem is that in English is hard to say united statetians (or something like that), so it is easier to say Americans.

      To finish, it is correct to call US citizens Americans, just do not think they are the only ones…

      • lulola

        The correct gentilic or demonym for people of the United States in English, is American. This is hard to understand for people of Hispanic descent because “Americano” means from the American Continent and they use Estadounidense to refer to the people of the U.S.A. I think that If you’re speaking English though, you should also understand that in English American means from the U.S.A.

    • Anonymous

      Wrong Guillermo. Only people from the United States are true Americans. You are a Mexican. People from the great white north are Canadians.

    • I’m a Canadian. We definitely don’t think of ourselves as Americans. That’s the name of the people who have to put up with the Tea Party in their government. (Of course, we’ve got the Conservatives up here… )

    • Kim Jong Un

      Do not believe this slander, Believe what i tell you about the righteous and true Democratic Republic of Korea.

    • Anonymous

      Well, no it was terrible work, really. Written by some know-it-all kid on a 5 day vacation – just brilliant. Anyone who thinks they learned something from this article just got screwed big time.

    • Ferd

      So tell us all how this was wrong. I lived, yes, LIVED, in East Germany behind the wall, and all of this was very familiar to me. No taking of pictures off the tourist path, only referring to the West as evil and terrible, shortages on everything. Not to mention reading of all mail, and listening to all phone calls, and people getting arrested in the night and sent to state “hospitals”. Yeah, I’ve been in one of those “hospitals” they used for re-education, though luckily as a visitor.

      We definitely have problems in the US, but many of these are fairly recent. But, we can still feed our people, don’t require everyone to join the mass games (though some Obama backers would join right in if he suggested it), and still have somewhat a freedom of speech.

    • Anonymous

      While I don’t doubt your take on E. Germany, and agree we do have our problems, how many American friends do you actually have? You know, most Americans *voted* for Obama, twice, and I don’t know any, not a single one, who would join in “mass games” on Obama’s say-so.

      A friend who was a refugee from the SU before its fall once told me that there was a little SU inside the USA: he was thinking though of the RIGHT wing here. Fox News is the closest thing we have now to a party propaganda station. Obama, and the Democrats, don’t control any media here.

      • Khazarian Konvert

        Holy crap what a lie. ALL US MEDIA IS PROPOGANDA. There exists no story without bent. I love my fellow Americans, but they are sheep in this department. “Its the facist Conservatives!!” “No! Its the Communist Democrats!”, There both right, and wrong at the same time. Its the government stupid. No one gets what they vote for here, just creeping statism. Its been going on since the implementation of the FED. Read a history book that was NOT approved by the state you friggin idiots.

    • Anonymous

      ‘Most’ Americans did not vote for Obama. Your ignorance is showing; you clearly do not understand how voting works in America.

    • Anonymous

      Ummm, I’m American. I admit I misspoke: the *majority* of Americans voted for Obama. “Most” implies a much larger number, and I apologize for being a sloppy writer.

    • Anonymous

      So the Obama supporters you are worried about in the youtube video are gradeschoolers?
      Umm. OK. Drat those totalitarian kids!

  1. Thanks for telling it like it is. If the conditions there weren’t so brutal, it would all seem like a surreal spoof of a sci-fi mind control cult.

    But I remember a “60 Minutes” piece that said children are eating bugs off the streets, and there’s no birds or wildlife ’cause everything that can be eaten has been killed. Not to mention if you show any disloyalty you’re not only sent to a slave-labor camp, but your entire family is as well, where one of you will die each year.

    • Anonymous

      Why would anyone spread anti North Korean propaganda? There is nothing to necessitate that. North Korea threatens nothing except the lives of fellow Koreans. Why is the North Korean government even keeping tabs on western media about it? It seems like even the higher ups in government have no concept of reality.

    • Anonymous

      The USA – only country to have actually carried out a nuclear strike – 2 strikes, really, and on 2 cities full of people.

    • Anonymous

      Yeah the US is the only one to use nukes but they had plenty of chances. The US warned Japan several times to surrender or the weapon would be used. They refused and the first was dropped. Then again they were warned a couple of times and again they refused so the 2nd one was dropped. Yeah, we were being partially selfish using them because we didn’t want thousands of Alliead soldiers to die. You must also keep in mind that Thousands of Japanesse Soldiers and Civilians would have been killed if the war kept going. Either way, thousands of people would have died, in horrible ways. At least with the nukes slightly less people would of died and the war could be ended sooner so we could all move on.

      • Anonymous

        For the record: Japan was NOT warned that nuclear bombs would be used if they didn’t quit. Nobody except a select few even knew what a nuclear bomb was.

        I’ve heard similar claims that the US had no choice but to use the nukes, or that the use of nukes saved a lot of lives. But I doubt their validity. You can Google the US military report called the Strategic Bombing Survey that concluded that:

        “Based on a detailed investigation of all the facts and supported by the testimony of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, it is the Survey’s opinion that certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated. ”

        That’s a tangential issue, though. About this Wait But Why article, I have to say: Good stuff. It’s funny, and gives some insight into what North Korea seems like to visitors.

        It’s really crazy that there’s people defending North Korea in the comments. I don’t know if it’s just trolls or North Korean state employees being ordered to argue stupid things online.

        …Nah, it’s probably just trolls.

        • Anonymous

          This is the same anonymous as above, who had the correction about the Nagasaki/Hiroshima bombings.

          I forgot to mention:

          Read the book Escape From Camp 14. It is astonishing.

          The same stuff you probably already read about in accounts of the Nazi concentration camps are occurring right now in enormous North Korean prison camps (everything short of genocide). Camp 14 is the size of Los Angeles. Prisoners spend their entire lives as slave labor there. If they have children, those kids are born slaves and will also spend their entire lives there. Their kids, too. If a woman gets pregnant but the pregnancy wasn’t approved, she disappears.

          Prisoners are beaten and starved daily, and forced to memorize a list of things they can be killed for, like:
          Approaching the fence, not meeting the work quota, disobeying orders, or having unauthorized contact with a member of the opposite sex.

          It is a lot like the Nazi concentration camps, only happening right now.

          Reporters aren’t often allowed into the country so it’s hard to get a clear idea of what’s really going on in the country, but the stories of different escapees match up to form a clear picture.

        • Sam

          If Japan would have surrendered without the bomb…then…why didn’t they? After the fighting on Okinawa American planning was for millions of American (that word again) casualties taking the mainland. You disagree? Please explain. Without some sort of explanation the bomb killed less people than the expected deaths from invasion.

  2. OMG this is so damn funny. I also went to N.Korea to Kaesong when they used to have the day trips from Seoul. In a city of a few hundred thousand there were traffic cops for no traffic, and we were shuttled along the same streets so we wouldn’t see the ‘real’ part of the city.

    My favorite was the massive grandfather clock at immigration along with a large wooden armoire. Gotta show the wealth somewhere to show they’ve got no problems . . . why not at immigration where *everyone* will see it?

    Blog post on the N.Korea visit here: http://www.traveller.org/journal/

    Photos here: http://www.traveller.org/northkorea/2008/photos/

    • Anonymous

      Traffic cops for no traffic……….why no traffic?……….can no one afford cars?……….is it far to busy with bicycles and foot traffic?……..whatever the reason…..it is ludicrous to spend money on a useless cause in a country that poor…………no wonder the stupidest leadership on the planet, not to mention the most evil…..wow theirs a great combination……so Bradley you went to North Korea to see a big grandfather clock……….wow you must have been amazed by that…….not…..lol

    • Anonymous

      Wondering why there’s no wealth in North Korea? Because of US sanctions meant to ostracize and punish a large and innocent population that still understands the meaning of the word – pride. Try waking up just a little.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, the population of North Korea is innocent, but the entire rest of the planet thinks it’s the North Korean government that is “ostracizing” North Korea. US sanctions on North Korea are just a side-effect.

      Are you in North Korea or something?

    • Anonymous

      ^ This must be one of the official North Korean Internet monitors. Notice how there are no South Koreans making their way through China, trying to defect to the North? Because in the South, people actually live in a country worth having pride in. In the North, “pride” only shows up when the foreigners are around or at gunpoint.

  3. Anonymous

    OMG what an horrible place. Mind control is the worse type of torture. Every country has it’s faults but I think North Korea is special.

  4. What a horrible situation. The whole fatherland thing is chilling in its similarity to Nazi propaganda. The protective, omnipresent paternal figure who will protect his children from the big scary world outside. Father knows best. It’s horrifying to imagine that if North Korea ever actually uses its nuclear weapons (God forbid) and is retaliated against, the entire citizenry will have no idea what is happening or why.

    • Anonymous

      Hi, do you need an adult?

      Who cares what it sounds like? This isn’t a “who’s the most atrocious” contest. The US has little to do with the horrors in North Korea.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, it does sound a lot like the USA since 911. Of course, its easier to see the speck in the other guy’s eye, ya know? Not that N. Korea isn’t much worse and very sad because it is. But do take heed because they are working on making the US into the same kind of place. Current attack is against free speech under the guise of protecting “real journalists” – warning, warning, warning. We all must have the same protections.

  5. Ah, true love. It’s a beautiful thing. The beauty of mindless fealty where no one feels like a slave because everyone has shrewdly weighed up all the pros and cons and chosen to be on the Right side (buddies with Authority). But when everyone has shrewdly valued lies as truth…

  6. Anonymous

    I’ve just returned and have spent the last 2 weeks describing it (almost to the word) exactly as you have depicted in this blog! Freedom never tasted so good as the moment the train crossed into China. The biggest shock of all – being able to buy coca cola at many places including the mass games & the guides NOT thinking that this was ironic or odd.

  7. Anonymous

    Thanks for the interesting insight! I liked reading your post.

    I went to the DMZ in 2010 and had a weird feeling all the time, can’t imagine how it must’ve been to actually be in North Korea for couple of days. I was actually surprised to learn from your pictures that they have a (somewhat) working transportation system in Pyongyang. The same with their version of internet. Never thought they could keep it up with their limited knowledge in technology.

    So, those Korean people you could see on the streets / during their daily lives /etc., did they stare at you (in astonishment; equally to Chinese people from rural areas who rarely see Caucasians and want to take pictures of)?

  8. Anonymous

    I spent ten days there in April 2012 as part of the press delegation to see their “peaceful space satellite and rocket”, and saw exactly what you reported. My reports are at http://www.jamesoberg.com, scroll down. I would add a comment on the mysterious missing 5th floor at the hotel, where the room spy devices are monitored, and also this encouraging sign: the rulers live behind barricades of barbed wire and armed guards. They act frightened. They should be.

  9. Maria

    I learned so much by reading this extraordinary piece of journalism. I couldn’t tear myself away from the videos either. AMAZING. Thank you for shedding much needed light on what the world very much needs to see- for when light is shed, there can be no more darkness!

    • Anonymous

      At least the North Korean Medical text books have the correct average size of the human male penis: 2.137 inches.

      Word on the street is that the great leader has one that is twice that size, my oh my.

  10. Anonymous

    Funny post, but some of it sounds pretty similar to the place where I live:
    1. The leaders are a really big deal…
    Like the POTUS (Mr. Peace Prize Terror Tuesday, and all the others before him), and the Fed chairman?
    2. Everyone lies about everything all the time…
    Like saying “the recession is over!”, or “unemployment is going down!”, or “inflation is low!”, or “the FED knows what it’s doing!”, or “college is a good investment”, or “we stand for Freedom! Yeah!”, or “marijuana is bad for you! booo!”, or “the Terrorists are going to get us!”, or “our military is killing people over there so they won’t kill us over here!”, or “the government cares for your safety!”, or “fluoride is not bad for you!”, or “the Healthcare Act was written to benefit the people, not the insurance companies who wrote it!”, or “Syria bombed its own people with chemicals, so now we need to go over there and bomb their people with even more killing metals!”, or “Iraq has WMD’s”, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.
    4. Propaganda is absolutely everywhere…
    Like chanting “allegiance” and singing songs about how great the country is and how the country is God’s favorite, to start every school day, and at church, and before every collegiate and professional sporting event? And parading soldiers out in front of everyone all the time to be admired? Like that?
    7. The details of the leader’s birth (and college career, professional career, criminal history, etc.) is not a subject you should try to gather information on…
    Hmm, too much to list on this one, about every leader this country has ever had.
    8. The same physical place can be fancy and shitty at the same time…
    Washington D.C., New York, LA, Chicago, Houston, etc.
    9. Still talk about the Wars… all the ones we had no business starting or participating in?
    12. Lacking a sense of humor about the places that hold the bodies of dead leaders… See #1…

    • Anonymous

      Oh good, the token troll who’s learned nothing. Take the tour yourself dude, maybe you’ll like the place so much you’ll feel compelled to stay. Gotta be better than evil ol’ USA right?…the fact that you have the internet and are free to use it to bitch about any damn thing you please should tell you something.

    • Okay, you have a point–there are a lot of _qualitative_ similarities between North Korea and the US. HOWEVER, in terms of _quantity_, there’s really no comparison. It’s a huge difference in terms of quantity, if not quality.

    • Anonymous

      If the differences between North Korea and the United States are non-existent to the OP. Then, its safe to say he has a very limited sense of perception. You could not pick two greater polar-opposites in terms of freedom.

      …but then I wonder if he is a victim of the propaganda of his right wing social club. It’s just mind blowing to have someone read this story and come to the above conclusion without some sort of frontal lobotomy.

    • Seeing USA from outside (from Australia, in fact) I’ve always been amazed at how propagandised those in USA are, yet how they are convinced they are the most free people in the world. Those poor bastards in North Korea are clearly in a much worse state than you folks in USA, but you are headed in the same direction (unfortunately with our new prime minister we may be too). There are plenty of places in the world with *MUCH* more freedom than USA: most of Europe, Canada, Australia all have far higher social mobility than USA (people born poor can have great careers).

      USA scores so badly on so many scales these days, such as public health, education, poverty, infant mortality, longevity, that it is mind-boggling when its inhabitants believe that they are the most democratic and best, most free country on the planet.

      These days it is unfortunately fitting to refer to USA as the richest third-world country on Earth. It is crushingly sad because I see so much potential wasted on what has become a warrior culture spending more than half the world’s weapons budget. USA is the only place on Earth not inside a warzone where the statement “Yet another mass shooting…” can be uttered today. Your own Dept of Homeland “Security” in a chillingly Orwellian decision will have more than 30,000 drones in USA’s own skies by 2015 — that’s barely more than a year away (and they promise that they won’t have weapons on them at first because they will “only” be used for surveillance). Yes, it’s still not as bad as North Korea, but I’m damn glad I live in Australia.

      What saddens me most is that I love a lot of the culture that comes from USA (of course cool culture comes from all corners of the planet, and good, smart people live everywhere — Australia, Japan, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany, Finland, Sweden, China, South Korea… probably even North Korea). I fear greatly for many of my friends who live in USA, and who, like the frog in the slowly boiling pot, don’t see the slowly closing trap they are sitting in.

    • Anonymous

      Well the thing behind some Americans is that they are aware of the state that their country is heading in and they’re scared to think of where it will continue to go. This government shutdown we’re experiencing right now is part of our problem, and it’s creating many more problems while being a bigger part of a bigger problem. We realize that while we are told we can raise our voices, the voices of 1,000,000 normal citizens are seldom heard over the voice of one deaf, dumb, and blind politician (figuratively, of course). Instead of the voices that matter most, we hear the voices of the misinformed who would rather point fingers at the other political party rather than make a real attempt at compromise. Those who can afford it, use their money to make a difference. Those who can’t live in repressed silence no matter how loud their voices are.

  11. At least there is one thing they are definitely right with, in all their insanity:
    “Bastard Imperialist Americans” (political statement, not about the citizens per se)

    And I also ask myself, wether Americans can sense, that they are sorrounded by high-quality propaganda all day long or if they really dont see this… .

    • Speak for yourself. As a well informed member of the media, I am against the propoganda machine. No we are NOT the best country in the world. No we are not the smartest country in the world. We’ve even convinced the people here that the tree of Liberty can only be watered with the tears of our people. As opposed to the BLOOD that Thomas Jefferson spoke of. The lunatics are running the asylum, and we are all heavily medicated on television and blind patriotism. As a citizen of the United States, I am very disillusioned by the amount of nonsense that gets thrown about by uneducated people in the part I am living in right now. At least I can say all this tho. I can make fun of my president, my congress, my senate. I can point out the atrocities and stupidities. I’m allowed to question the government and all that I am told. And as a member of the Media, I can tell my listeners to do the same. I poke fun at the government shutdown, so that people will THINK about how we got into this mess in the first place. We need to do what Australia did in 1975. Fire the government and start from scratch.

    • Anonymous

      Eduard Snowden also thinked like that, and see where he is now!

      And just to mention, I’m not North Korean. I’m just an afraid person from a “democratic” country, where you can’t go to the streets to complain without being crushed by police.

  12. Anonymous

    “Of course, the real story is that Kim Il Sung (who was nothing more than a puppet leader installed by the Soviets because they knew they could control him) tugged on Stalin’s sleeve for years, asking him if he could attack the South with Soviet backing, until finally Stalin said “ugh fuck it fine” and the North attacked. The US, focused on other things at the time, was caught off-guard, and responded to the North’s attack by heading in with the UN and joining the South in the fight. It ended with nobody really winning and over a million dead.” I dunno man, that’s just the traditionalist view; maybe that’s how they teach it in America. Check out the revisionist views.

    • Anonymous

      What is weirder is why the average NK has not asked, if NK Army is SO STRONG, why is half of Korea under American control while in America only Koreans only control a handful or variety stores and sushi parlours?

  13. Who has seen those crazy comics depicting North Korean torture? http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/03/22/a-terrifying-look-inside-the-nightmarish-world-of-north-koreas-prison-camps/

    I really support your blog and I love reading an author that is clearly intelligent. With so many readers who enjoy your sharp content, your article had a huge opportunity to better educate the world about North Korea. You took a very misunderstood country and instead of challenging the conventional way of thought (as you usually do in your posts), you perpetuated the convenient and shallow ‘myth’ of the country. Every point served to reinforce just this idea: “I was only in North Korea for five days, but that was more than enough to make it clear that North Korea is every bit as weird as I always thought it was.” Looking at the comments, it just seems like we’re making the same tired off-hand remarks about old rivalries between the commies and the USA, even one that compares the US to NK as very similar.

    It really breaks my heart that most Americans still feel this way about North Korea.
    North Korea has been for decades a place of the WORST and most INHUMANE treatment of human beings ANYWHERE. In the ’94-’98 government caused famine, we can’t know how many died without good data, but most estimates point to the 1million to 3million range according to academics and human rights watch groupd (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korean_famine#Estimated_deaths). That’s 1,000,000-3,000,000 deaths, or 4.5%-13.6% of the population. Literally decimated. Compare to the Korean War, which had about 1.2million deaths on all sides (S/N Koreas, USA, and China). Compare to Syrian civil war currently, which is exceeding 100,000 now (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_Syrian_civil_war).

    Human rights violations anywhere are despicable, but it is crushing when North Korea is given a superficial treatment. Yes, it is a bizarre country. But it is also a place of “unspeakable atrocities” according to the most UN report (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24122854). Keep in mind NK still operates gulags, with upwards of 200,000 (mostly of its own people) in them.

    I understand you weren’t trying to serve as a journalist, but I think there are serious issues with how the world treats NK as trivial, as a weirdness that can be largely ignored.

    For those wanting to learn what’s going on in NK, you can start here (some repeated links for convenience):
    http://www.hrw.org/nkorea
    http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Envy-Ordinary-Lives-North/dp/0385523912
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24122854
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Korean_famine
    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/03/22/a-terrifying-look-inside-the-nightmarish-world-of-north-koreas-prison-camps/

  14. I just got back form 4 days in DPRK,
    I read this and figured there is no point me doing a write up, you got everything in here :P

    I even have the EXACT same postcard you have! http://i.imgur.com/FhQEKjj.jpg

    and also: http://imgur.com/O2H1ysv

    Still, an amazing place. I really loved it.

    One of my favourite tricks, regarding the misinformation from guides, was to ask both guides the same question a few minutes apart whilst making sure the other was not in earshot.

    usually 2 totally different answers.

    That, and so many numbers, “This tower is x meters high and z meters wide and it was built on x day of z year which is y years since the birth of eternal president Kim Il Sung…

    Also, wo betide you if you say “Kim Il Sung” or “Kim Jong Il” and not “President Kim Il Sung” and “Leader Kim Jong Il”

  15. Anonymous

    It’s actually completely normal for groups to walk in step with each other even without any military experience. The would point that out to us in bootcamp in America and it is quite noticeable.

    • Anonymous

      It is not normal at all. Maybe it is in North Korea but not outside of it. You sound like one goberment people. One of the few that were given access to Internet to say nice things about North Korea.

    • Anonymous

      You sound like you need need to learn some proper grammar. “The would point that out to us in bootcamp in America and it is quite noticeable.” I can’t even read that sentence, its harder to read than the dumb comment “Have you really ever even been as far as to do even look more like as?”

  16. Weirdly, I was in the country at the same time as you (I got back a couple of days ago, and the lady translating for the guy at the DMZ was our main guide!). I agree with most of what you’re saying, although we seemed to get luckier with the what we were told / could do (the massive Pyongyang hotel was pointed out to us several times) and we were allowed to ask questions on fairly sensitive subjects (freedom to travel, homosexuality…) which our guides answered as best they could (obviously they weren’t going to go off message).

    What I think your account is missing is the positives. I found the people to be so nice and friendly when they weren’t reciting the standard blurbs (and even that seemed to contain no hatred to the ‘imperialists’ if you followed how they said things and not just the words they said – I assume they didn’t actually call you bastards?). Obviously Pyongyang has it way better than the rest of the country, but we saw no evidence of starvation (probably because the country is 90% fields :P ), the people had nice, colourful clothes, raincoats and wellies for wet weather etc, people can and do go on holidays. We went to a few sites on the east coast (Wonsan, Mt Gungan) and it was the same there, and you can book with Koryo Tours to see loads of different cities / places throughout the country. We saw too many people, in too many places, not to conclude that that was (excluding Pyongyang) typical of the quality of life in most of the country.

    I’m not defending the country – they have no political freedom, gulags, so many vanity projects, that crazy personality cult, and they live in a massive lie (I don’t know if they believe it either) but I think painting the country in a totally negative way is unfair.

    • Anonymous

      the gulags tend to put a damper on things… but yah, as long as you don’t lose the special towel that the NK government consigned to you, in order to keep the portraits of the three Kim’s free of dust, things should be okay, if you do, you are off to the gulags.

    • Anonymous

      How you people can even compare this to America is laughable. (I’m Canadian)
      It’s a real sad state of affairs.
      Like a demented Truman Show
      Great article!

      If you wanted to see more on the topic i highly recommend the videos at Vice.com where you can see for yourself the absurdity of NK.

  17. Anonymous

    Boring, irrelevant rehashing of things we’ve known for at least a decade, but now smattered by your own inane opinions.

    Dictator-esque traffic directors ?
    Really ?

    Don’t quit your day job.
    Consider suicide.

  18. Anonymous

    I’ve read probably 100 North Korea articles in the last decade and learned about 15 new things in this one. What’s up your butt?

  19. Anonymous

    Good reason why they might be talking about the Korean War and not Americans – it entirely destroyed their country and decimated the population and the land. And what it do to the US, oh ya. Nothing. It was a colonial war taking place a world away from the US.

    This text is another example of American narcissistic bullshit. It makes it impossible to see the actual problems of Korea because of this insane american-centered racist trash. 5 days in a country and I can judge everything about it. Makes sense. I’ve spent 5 days in America and I can tell all Americans are racist shitheads.

    • Anonymous

      True. This piece of slanted propaganda is only meant to titillate those Americans that are already brainwashed. The biggest police state in the world is the USA. Only in the US would you be informed that you are being totally spied on and everything recorded and then not to worry about it! Mindless American bootlickers unite!

    • Anonymous

      Yea, USA is world police because if they didn’t do it other countries would be crying for help, but when they do help they get bashed on.. good logic my friend, go back to your cave.

  20. Anonymous

    no one ever seems to say this, i guess because no one either is offended or actually enjoys it, but this whole profane-laden culture on the internet these days is distracting, unnecessary, and extremely disappointing. what seemed like an incredibly promising article begins with a fun cartoon that, for whatever reason, decides to jump right into reddit-comments style vocabulary: ‘you brilliant .’ etc. its like when some PG rated horror movie needs to drop a minimum quota of F bombs so that it will receive an ‘R’ rating and appear scarier. is using profanity somehow meant to make this piece seem less family friendly, thus more hip, funny, edgier? it’s none of those things, it’s toxic. just consider the distracting nature of juvenile language, no one walks away better from it.

  21. Anonymous

    You say that everyone’s in uniform, so why are the girls walking in sync (in that video) wearing different colored outfits.

  22. Anonymous

    You absolutely nailed it with your last observation regarding the adorable school children who face such a dismal future. Having family that were enslaved in East Germany for two generations, these relatives and the country’s citizenry produced absolutely nothing of value be it culturaly, artisticaly, scientifically, or economically. It was a horrible waste of potential that humans should be able to experience and realize in our short lives. Thank god for 17th and 18th century enlightenment philosophers! They were absolutely right on.

    P.s. There will be Marxist socialists who will try to justift aspects of NK life here. They will even argue that the NK reality has nothing to do with Marx. Quite on the contrary. NK is the Communist Manifesto come to fruition in its strictest form (save for Pol Pot’s Cambodia). Marx’s ideas (his 10 tenets of the CM) lead to an extremely regressive feudal enslavement system in which the rulers are the not divine right aristicracy of old but, the political royalty instead. That’s NK in a nutshell.

  23. Anonymous

    It’s funny to see how the americans believe their life is so much better and the lies that surround them everywhere are so less significant. Good luck…

    Mike

  24. Amy

    Wow. Comments are fantastic. Liked some, found some perfectly insipid…

    I’ve never been to NK. Don’t really want to either. I’m sure that there are nice things there, as everywhere.

    but I went to the US last summer. And I know some things about politics and life in the US. Much of this making me happy to be Canadian. We’re far from perfect, but we do have loads of things that our southern neighbors don’t, and I couldn’t live without.

    Hurray for free speech.

  25. Anonymous

    It might not be actual love for their dictators that make them cry. In a society that repressed it might be a moment that they can show any emotion other that absolute elation that they are north Korean. I read a interview with a soviet guy about the death of Stalin and that’s kind of how he explained it.

  26. Anonymous

    All your smart-arse comments aside, didn’t it bother you JUST A LITTLE BIT that you’re in North Korea playing the tourist and spending money to keep these psychopathic murderers in power while c. 200,000 innocent people (3 generations of ‘enemies of the state’ including little kids…) are being brutalized in concentration camps???
    Or was that something that you didn’t want to consider as it might have made your little attempt at levity not quite as effective?

  27. Anonymous

    Kind of misleading and a little stupid and juvenile article, unfortunately. Not terribly surprising considering its written by one of the “indispensable” and “exceptional” people – Americans.
    Americans just love kicking people when they’re down. And if they try to stand up, then in comes the psychotic US army.

  28. Robin Tudge

    You got the names of the Kims right, then it’s downhill from there.
    You found going around the mausoleum ‘tense’? What did you think was going to happen? Did you find a chemical weapons’ lab on the fifth floor of the Yanggakdo perchance? I didn’t, because I was in the Koryo over in town, contrary to your claim that all foreigners are billeted on an island.
    You find the idea of Kim Jong Il using a Mac to be a headfuck. Really?!
    What else did you dream up during your existentialist breakdown, beyond that all the children in Pyongyang bothered to come play in the street just to impress you?
    Proof they all lie: someone misidentified a KPA officer’s rank. You mistake guides for Google, and they’re not, they’re people working in one of the most infamous black holes of information in the world.
    ‘Bastard American imperialists’ as a repeated mantra – really? I’ve been on several tours, and no the guides don’t refer to the American govt in favourable terms, but I’ve never heard that expression once, let alone repeatedly – unless Crazy O was your guide but he’s so named for a reason.
    Funnily enough the US isn’t entirely blameless in the plight of North Korea. As far as the North Koreans are concerned, the US undertook to cross the Pacific to divide Korea and then wipe the North off the face of the Earth, and millions died, and the North is not at peace with this nuclear-armed global hyperpower as the latter refuses to sign a peace treaty with the North or even talk to them one-on-one, and is behind all-swingeing economic and diplomatic sanctions against the DPRK.
    On those tours I’ve also seen a lot of poverty, a great deal, out the window of the bus, in the towns, in the countryside. I don’t know what rainbows and unicorns you were exposed to but I’m guessing they were imaginary, like much of your article, e.g: A tour would never be cancelled for want of hot water in the Yanggakdo, that’s just bollocks. Indeed I stayed in many hotels where there wasn’t running water, let alone hot water.
    And yes if you’re paying a lot of money for the best hotel they have, they’re going to live up to that. You could go on a cheaper tour and end up in a crap hotel, people do that. Your fault if you think you paid too much, you should have done some research
    So they call their own country the DPRK, so what?
    I saw as many people walking in step as I didn’t.
    What is there to say about the Ryugyong hotel apart from it’s neither finished nor open? A few people wanted to have a close-up look, in the same way tour buses in London are stopped by punters wanting to take close-ups of building sites – o no, they’re not, and it’d be weird if they were. Basically there isn’t the time to visit empty shells of buildings.
    Remind me, where is it that traffic cops slouch around in polo shirts?

    I have access to the Internet and I came across this page of rubbish.

    • So let me get this straight. According to Robin, North Korea is like any other country, and all shame upon anyone who thinks otherwise!

      Funny, I went on a similar tour to the author (7 days with YPT, over the summer, saw Mass Games) in 2012, and this article really captured my feelings about visiting North Korea. I want to know what tour company Robin went with that leaves visitors magically feeling like they might as well have been in Paris!

      And Kim Jong Il having a Macbook IS weird. And funny. Maybe try having a sense of humor?

    • Anonymous

      Well, Robin. I rather doubt the author even went to the DPRK. The article is just so shoddy, propagandistic and laden with profanity.

    • Robin Tudge

      Man has a Mac – that must be funny for PC people, or something.

      Sorry JoeS, I don’t see where you’ve read any claims about North Korea being like Paris or is like any other country, most likely because I’ve not made those points.

      My overall point which you’ve chosen to miss is Tim Urban’s piece is a rerun of the same old paranoid brainwashed ignorance that too many tourists mistake for insight when they visit North Korea.

      Do you understand?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, you imbecile, I’m sure the author didn’t even go, they probably invented all the anecdotes and created all the photos and videos with photoshop.

    • I think you’re missing the point Robin.

      I went to North Korea last summer and when I came home I spent the next week telling everyone I knew stories just like the ones in this article. The author never claimed to be an expert on North Korea. The message was “I was there for a short time as a tourist and it was pretty crazy, here are some of the craziest parts of my visit.” It’s a very unusual country and the author wrote a funny account of his/her impressions. Sure, it focuses on the most extreme and sensationalist pieces of the visit, the same way my stories focused on those things, because that’s what’s interesting to people.

      If you want to show off how much you know about North Korea, go find an actual news source and complain to them about everything you disagree with. Doing it on a humorous blog misses the point and just makes you look bad.

    • Robin Tudge

      I’m sure the author went. Yes, let’s look at the images and video, because the text’s not worth much. Now Looking beyond the cartoons and the elaborately faked Mac files, which I’m sure even the author won’t claim are real, and a Google Earth image, that’s satellitey and exciting, … what’s left?
      A picture of Pyongyang taken from the Juche Tower. Lots of flats. Some painted pastel colours. Pleasant.
      Then there’s another picture of girls wearing school uniform. Hmm…ok…not sure what that tells us.
      Then a picture of a boy playing in the street. That’s nice, or it would be, except Tim thinks this lad was phoned up and told to come play in order to impress Tim, or something like that, the author is by his own admission getting confused by that point.
      Then some photos of an unfinished hotel – Tim, sorry, what’s interesting about that?
      Aha – a file photo of an embalmed body, in whose presence Tim felt ‘tense’ as they went around, as if it were about to come back to life and smash through the glass and chase him down the hall, like in Scooby Doo.

      Hang on, we have some video. Mass Games, which someone’s alikened to what you see at a football game. Or the opening to the Olympics.
      There’s another video of a traffic policewoman. Police do do that, you see. Particularly in a country where there’s little electricity for traffic lights.
      What’s this other video involving threats to the US? It starts with ‘IF’ – and as everyone knows, the DPRK and the US aren’t at peace – the war’s not over, that’s possibly why the North goes on about it, and the US has a habit, along with the South, of regularly running war exercises aimed at the North. Now obviously there’s a great deal of hot rhetoric and aggro from both sides, but to present it all as if the North were just some paranoid enclave is disingenuous at best.

    • Anonymous

      Robin, do you speak Korean? Who is your visa sponsor while doing business in North Korea? One thing you failed to mention is that you have a vested interest in tourism in North Korea…..

  29. Anonymous

    I hope you haven’t been assassinated for putting this article up yet… this is priceless. It almost makes me want to go and visit Korea myself… ALMOST. But then again… why visit N. Korea to begin with, even just for yucks? Great job on this article, it really is funny how backwards a society can be in this modern age. You sir, deserve a medal.

  30. Robin Tudge

    “I was only in North Korea for five days, but that was more than enough to make it clear that North Korea is every bit as weird as I always thought it was.”

    The article’s opening gambit is an outright admission that it took only five days to reinforce every prejudice this guy every held about an entire country. Such a proud declaration of determined ignorance I’ve hitherto never encountered – bravo!

  31. I enjoyed this article, but was saddened by the lack of depth and the joyous poking fun at North Korea in the comments. I don’t blame the author for the lack of depth — it was just a 5 day visit and they were herded around on a for-show tour, but I wish he/she had looked a little deeper, perhaps later on arriving home. Depressingly, many of the comments just reek of the same kind of mind-control they’re pointing at in North Korea. Do folks in USA even realise how utterly saturated in propaganda they are? I guess not. It is appallingly obvious to those of us looking in from outside (I’m in Australia).

    What is most saddening is that the new head guy in North Korea, Kim Jung-Un, seems to be genuinely trying to build bridges and fix some of the damage done to his country by his predecessors. It will take time and a lot of effort, and some encouragement by us in the West, but for the first time in decades there is a ray of hope for North Korea.

    • Anonymous

      In what way is there hope? Nearly every single piece of new legislation or possible ideas has been tried before. There needs to be radical reform for huge improvements for regular citizens – that simply isn’t happening.

    • Anonymous

      Oh please. As a non-Anglo-Saxon I can tell you Australia has very few lessons to teach the US on tolerance and left-wing benevolence. How’re your immigration detention centers coming along? Have you reinstated the same-sex marriage laws yet?

      (And no, as a non-white I will not be singing the praises of the USA anytime soon either — I can provide you with a long list of past and present horrors — but come on people, with your chest beating and your pseudo sympathy.)

      I will give you major props your excellent health care system.

  32. Anonymous

    I have to say that this is their way of life. So it’s different from ours… why be so close minded and judgmental? So our way is “better” than theirs? They are a sovereign nation. You see how they all cry together? Thats a sense of community that I personally find amazing. Im not so far up on my high horse to hate their way of life… but FUCK THEM at the same time. :) USA

  33. The comments coming from both Americans and people from elsewhere that compare the problems such as human rights violations, gulags, no freedom of speech, movement, assembly, the right to an education, generational punishment, etc, etc in the DPRK compared to the problems in the US, I am guessing you believe the moon landing was fake and will give up your guns when your cold dead fingers are peeled from the trigger. Yes there are serious social problems in the US and you are being spied upon but so is Canada, Australia, NZ and the UK. Maybe it is time to turn off FOX news.

  34. Anonymous

    Next do 20 things I learned while in the U.S.A. #1 should be – Saw fat, sad, unhealthy, sloth people everywhere encouraging their kids to be the same. The rest are easy too if I used the same technique you used. I could have a great following like yours no doubt.

    Good on you, very intelligent, you succeeded in bringing in all the ignorant people to one place to make you feel better.

  35. Lol I swear this reminds me of Avatar the Last Airbender when they visited Ba Sing Se and they had the tour guide Joo Dee.. That was probably the inspiration behind it. Super funny though. :P

    Take Care
    -Iva

  36. Anonymous

    Only around 30% of our nation has college degrees thus only 30% know anything about anything the rest are as worthless as the N. Koreans.

  37. Robin Tudge

    One of the nastiest aspects of this article is the way he abuses those schoolgirls. What did they do wrong apart from smile, wave or say hello, like any well-mannered child might if spoken to? But no, Tim’s chosen North Korea as the venue for his paranoid breakdown, so these kids are simply bad actors and/or victims, their actions are sinister, they’re just part of the bad show put on for his entertainment, and through the Internet Tim gets to use his images of children – real children, real people, who are just hanging out in their school uniforms – and he puts them on show to the world, framed by whatever trippy conclusions his over-active little mind can project onto them.
    He didn’t ask their permission.
    He didn’t talk to them.
    He doesn’t quote them.
    He saw them waving at him … and that confirmed for him what a terrible place their country is.

    • Anonymous

      Huh? He took a video of cute kids waving and said they were cute kids waving and it made him sad that they lived in an oppressive country, which they do. You’re insane.

      • Anonymous

        At first I was really liking that Robin Tudge had some counterpoints to the views expressed in this article, but by now I have to agree that Tudge must be insane. He claims that the author was “abusing those schoolgirls” by taking their picture when they smiled and waved at him out in public.

        Tudge is also missing the point about the Ryugong Hotel: It’s an interesting thing because it’s a world-famous building, and the tallest building in the country. But Tudge dismisses it as “an unfinished hotel”. What’s weird about it is that it was started in the 80s or 90s and still isn’t finished, and may never be finished because it’s not being worked on. Its construction and failed planning have been an expensive spectacle on their own.

    • Anonymous

      Careful Robin. Timmy might accuse you of being a North Korean official just because you disagree with his slanted diatribe.

    • Anonymous

      He did not speak to them because like any other tourist there YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED TO SPEAK TO ANY LOCAL by minder’s orders

  38. Anonymous

    This article is very bad, try to trick you into think america good, 30% of america children die in korean occupation every day

  39. Anonymous

    This was disrespectful to Dear Leader. All hail Lord Un, defender of the universe and sex God! There is no one as fertile or endowed as he.

  40. Markus

    In all fairness, you could have saved a lot of money _not_ doing your tourist adventure. Why?
    Because you could’ve known at least eighteen of your points beforehand by using sources that are readily available on the ‘net.
    Mixing in some stick-figure comics in to suck xkcd’s di*k won’t do the work, either.
    Your ramblings and “witty” remarks are condescending and not the least entertaining because you tried waaay to hard.
    Maybe those people over there in NK are better off without internet access anyway.

  41. Anonymous

    look at a nightime satellite picture of the earth. every part of the world is brightly lit except for north korea which sits in complete darkness…that says all you need to know.

    • Anonymous

      That one should save electric energy and sleep at night?

      You cannot measure the level of civlilization just by having the brightest lightbulbs.

  42. Anonymous

    Would the NKoreans be insulted to learn that far from wanting to take them over, we are almost uniformly unimpressed by their sad little country? Not that we’re looking for new states to add to the Union, but if we were they would not even be on the list for consideration.

  43. Anonymous

    Oh yes, there are indeed countries where most people don’t go to work by using a SUV for one person alone.
    Some of those may suffer from malnutrition, but at least they don’t clog their arteries and suffer heart attacks?
    What would your life look like without internet access. – Would you visit your familiy more often and talk to them, maybe.

    Seems as if we could learn from those people.
    Well, apart from having a cruel dictator that they did not elect but inherited, like, Mr. George Bush?

  44. Michael

    The article failed to be smart and funny, as it was obviously intended to be. Poking fun at the misery of other people is so low. It’s called “Schadenfreude”.

  45. Anonymous

    As someone living SK, some notes for the author,

    The walking in step behavior is in SK too, caught me off guard at first. Natural step matching happens over minutes of mindless walking, can be easily unsynced by going around bends our terrain, and the moment you start thinking about your walk, it naturally goes away. The Korean version is a philosophical statement and intentional state. Walking out of sync outright irritates older generations. And is felt (not really thought of at all) as dissorderly or rambunctious behavior by most people. It is so prevelant, that its absence is the surprising part, and highly noticable. A group of teenagers not walking in step, it feels like they must not be friends.

    The “strange instrument” the kids are playing is a very common one. You have probably seen it, and certainly heard it before. The korean one, called a gayagum 가야금, is just one of many variations,. Historically it went all teh way to morroco and spain, but today I think is only as far as turkey into europe, but still stretches to morocco. You may know it as a zyther. Anyway, you can see this instrument being played in all silk road countries and Japan.

    SK has the shitty nice at same place thing too… and the older generations really like it… the younger generations are developing things in a style more recognizable to westerners (actually, they will spend a shit ton of money to make a business look like it was plucked off the streets of some western city, normally london or paris or new york)

    Except for the hero/god worship of their leaders, psychology is very similar (SK are highly critical of their leaders.) Lying is common and normal, particularly when speaking with people above or below you, especially people above you (and it is a very narrow group of people that are your peers, very narrow.) Actually, in conversation, the truthfullness of what is said is rarely the point, rather, the sense or direction of the comment is. And it will constantly feel like lying to western euros and north americans. South americans I have met seem to be on the same page though.

    A kind of pridefull nationalistic xenophobia and hypersensitivity to criticism pervades everything. SK’s seem to have both an inferiority complex and an insane drive to be percived as succeeding. Unfortunately, most of this perception is manufactured, in fact a GREAT deal of energy is spent on appearances here, it is something of a silent destroyer of real wealth. But the real success is huge, and just sitting on that accomplishment, they could stand proud and tall amongst any one else in the world. So, everything is the “greatest” “original” “representative” “great national blah blah” in Korean. In English the names are considerably more mundane…. But the really impressive things are the common. The city of Seoul, brilliant transportation system, productive and largely happy populace (coming from the depths can make any amount of comfort seem awesome.)

    And, the tears in the video probably were real and fake at the same time (if you can understand that…)

    • Anonymous

      P.S. Korea (all of it) is a country that is both proud of and ashamed by its past. Koreans also recognize that future success will depend on making a meaningfull contribution and stand (presence) in the international community. Obviously N and S’s governments are not in agreement about the details. But, the feeling of emotional pain due to “sucking it up” and “being shit on” is considered the normal state of affairs. But following the latest Japanese invasion, and failure to restructure a unified government… all Koreans agree, now, they will only suck it up for themselves, and getting shit on is unnaceptable. The S is playing the western world’s game, and the N is basically saying a big “fuck you!” to the US allied world (the US is an excuse, really, the anti Juche world, which, in practice, is all of it, who would sign up?) But, they both are thinking the same thing… “no one is gonna shit on us ever again.” and that is still the basis of their relationship. They don’t agree on many details.. but they agree that Korea (all of it) isn’t gonna get shit on.

  46. Anonymous

    These comments are saddening. I may not know much of the world, being 17 and all, but it worries me that so many people hold such negative connotation on other’s beliefs and the state of the United States and each other. Sure, the U.S is not the cream of the crop when it comes to freedom, and yes we have a lot of major flaws, but I feel that we are what we allow ourselves to be.
    I feel that the people who readily compare our not-so-great-but-okay country to North Korea and bash our population being “unaware” of our pressing predicaments should do something instead of complain and state their fears on the web. Why not utilize our “limited freedoms” even if our efforts only make a minuscule dent to national issues?
    The problems within North Korea is unfortunate and I hope that one day things will get better for the people, but at least we U.S citizens can do something about our struggling country.
    I enjoyed the article.

  47. Great read. One of my favorite books is Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle, which, despite being nearly ten years old now, is still painfully relevant because North Korea has no ability to evolve.

  48. Anonymous

    Some of these comments that are attacking this article are so incredibly stupid. What the hell!? I enjoyed reading this. It was informative. Good on you man.

  49. Anonymous

    North Korea has fine tuned the make believe and surreal to an extreme art but the rest of the world with pseudo democracies like India, US etc drink the same kool-aid but from a different can. The media, the rich and the powerful interest groups ensure that the people stay informed of what they feel they can be allowed to know. How else could so many atrocities, poor education, unnecessary wars, Government where its not needed and none where it is – be foisted on the people in the name of democracy. Its nothing but a plutocracy where nincompoops like Bush get elected twice and Nehru’s corrupt and incompetent progeny rule in the name of Gandhi. The Mahatma couldn’t have in his worst nightmares in hell imagined his name being associated with this dynasty even if he sets corruption aside.

  50. Anonymous

    I used to think Nigeria was a bad country!!!! we are definitely Living life. its so sad :( how can people be deprived of right to education by not having internet? i wish a world interference could take place and eliminate north koren leaders, because they might as well be working for lucifer.. so sad :(

  51. Anonymous

    I read much about North Korea (DPRK). I find this article refreshing because of the tone and truth about it. The people in Pyongyang are the elites. There is zero reason to go there. So many people have documented it, you can learn so much about it online. I still think there is lies circulated about it (unidentified South Korean (ROK) sources) but its a real arm pit of a society to live-in. The North Koreans still learn English because it is a way to get ahead and that always leaves them at an advanage. Underneath, it is a nasty and brutish place in a holocaust rat-eat-rat type of way.

  52. It took me a while to figure out what bothered me about the video of people crying over Kim Jong Il’s death. They’re all standing apart; no one is hugging anyone, putting a hand on a shoulder, talking it out. How I imagine first-generation androids might behave if trying to mimic human grief.

  53. Anonymous

    Hey fat bastards :)
    The USA did more damage to the world than North Korea ever will, go eat your GMO fed cows and think that all N.Koreans are forced to vorship there leaders surely not ONE korean is honestly likeing being there im sure eaven little Kim cant wait to get out across the fence, youre yust mad because you cant do shit against a nation that is dug in and cant influence them at all…Sorry for bad spelling im sure you understand what i said.

    • We tu lo

      Worship, liking, even, can’t, you’re, I’m, just, can’t, can,t I’m, and I’m pretty sure I saw the N word in there. I think you might be a Korean…..

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  64. Kim Sun

    Hello sir,

    I, on my mandatory research run on the web, have come across your article. I must say that you’ve proven everything we’ve said about you to be correct. You filthy dog, when the Great Korea destroys your petty little country, I’ll be sure to execute you personally.

    Sincerely,
    Kim Sun

  65. Abby Pennington

    Sounds a lot like the direction Venezuela is heading in ever since Chavez (& now Maduro) took over as Dictator. You’d think the intelligent members of society would eventually think, “You know, hmmm, I wonder if what I’m being told is actually true?” Then again, maybe the intelligent people do, but if they question authority, they’re immediately imprisoned or executed. Ruling through sheer fear…. wow, what went wrong in those childhoods? I’d love to see Maduro & Jong Un together in a room & wait for the explosion.

  66. Olga

    Described here reminds me Soviet movies shot in 30-50s – because when I was a child in Brezhnev’s times, we’ve had more freedoms.
    Yes, people had to lie each other all the time, even inside family behind closed doors. In 1937, if a child overhears their parents talking about Stalin or the regime without proper respect, he or she might tell on them, and they will be either shot without tribunal or sent to Siberia for 10 years without the right to correspond with family. In 70-s, we watched a movie and studied a story at school. It was about Pavlik Morozov , a young pioneer who told on his parents. A hero.

    In grade 1, I asked my teacher: “Teacher, you said everyone has shortcomings. What shortcomings did Lenin have?” She became red in her face. She told me, “His only shortcoming was that he likes little sh*t disturbers like you” ( I was an A+ student) . SHe called my mother to school, scolded her for failing to raise me the true builder of communism, and told her that in the old times, it wouldn’t be her talking, it would be a tribunal.

    Yet we were grateful to live in the country free of American imperialism. Hungry, lacking basics in life, but safe and proud.

    I know what people of North Korea are going through.

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  70. Kapi

    Your last para on kids was what I was thinking every time you mentioned the kids in NK. Sad.
    But i would want to make a small correction to the first picture story you have shown – about NK tourist route. The last statement from the Dear Leader should be – “Sorry you have to die since all brilliant ideas can be mine only”

  71. HAHAHAHAHHAHA

    This chat cracks me up. I am not American but people obviously take a country with rights and free speech for granted. If the whole world was like America, Britian, Australia and those countries then it would be party time and peace would be on Earth completely. The world would be a better place. But the shitholes like North Korea is holding us back. Just go in there and kill the leader and then its one less problem the world has to face. I HOPE YOU NORTH KOREAN LEADERS SO THIS BECAUSE YOU GONNA DIE!!

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  73. Pamelotta

    My husband and I just spent 2 1/2 hours in the car on a road trip while I read aloud of your adventures in Russian, Tokyo and North Korea. My two takeaways:

    1. We would like you to kindly do a blog post about every country in the world. Your take on just about everything is infinitely more interesting than most things I see on a daily basis.

    2. I’m now profoundly disturbed by the goings on in North Korea.

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  75. Andy

    I think it’s a very insulting articcle for koreans. May it’s a for a good reason that they aren’t allowed in the internet not to read such posts based on little information about the country.

  76. Andy2

    Yeah and im from russia and I know what means stereotypes about a different culture. Americans are so naive to think they have democracy and all in the world will be fine once everyone lives like it’s in america.

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  79. Bridgette

    Your style is unique compared to other people I’ve read
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  80. Lanre A.

    This should have been titled, “Why America is better than North Korea”. No one is saying it isn’t bad living in North Korea but I see a lot of “jumping into conclusion” in this article. I have read a lot of your articles but this one, I’m not impressed.

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