Life in Pyongyang

A grim and grimly amusing article, beautifully written, about a “vacation” spent in the utopian paradise that is North Korea’s capitol. Some samples:

If you are very lucky and honored, you may penetrate the Kumsusan Memorial Palace. This was the home of the Great Leader when he was ordinarily alive, kept going in his later years by a special diet of extra-long dog penises. Today, it is his mausoleum, where he lives forever in the extraordinary fashion devised for him by whoever actually controls this country. This is no mere Lenin’s Tomb but a temple of awe, where devotees must have the dust blasted from their clothes and shoes before approaching the sacred body and bowing deeply.

I was not considered worthy to go there, but was allowed to lay flowers at, and bow to, the bronze image of Kim that gleams on a hill above the city – and used to gleam a great deal more before the gold leaf that once adorned it was stripped off. It is widely believed that the extravagant coating was removed in one night after the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping remarked dryly that if North Korea could afford such a display, it surely did not really need the Chinese economic aid for which it was asking.

North Korea is a small, isolated, stagnant pond left over from the flood of Marxism-Leninism, which long ago receded. But it has nowhere to drain away. Far too many people, not all of them in Pyongyang, have an interest in keeping it as it is. It still has the capacity to do terrible things but mainly to its own citizens. A serious policy would aim to find a way to help it escape from the political and economic trap in which it finds itself. Threats, name-calling, and the pretence that this shambles of a country is a serious world power are unlikely to achieve this. It is more to be pitied than to be feared.

Do read it all; it’s long and there’s lots of good stuff. Yes, we all know already how surreal life is over there, but this is a good reminder that it’s still just as god-awful as ever, and maybe even a bit worse than the last time we checked.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

I always thought that Albania was going to last longer than North Korea. I can see now how wrong I was.

It will be interesting to know what is inside the psyche of the guys in power there. Any psychologist in this blog?

China could do a great deal to pressure that regime to evolve, but i have the feeling they are afraid of having a collapse “a la” German Democratic Republic. I do not think they CCP will feel comfortable of a collapse that could lead to a reunification, fall from power of the (so called) Communist Party there and creation of an unified (truly) democratic country at such sensitive border for China

It could also surely wake very bad memories an sensitivities in the minds of the powers that be in China. For example that incident which begins with “T”, very easy to guess….

I also have the suspicions that they are also are interested in keeping both countries divided for economic reasons. It is a good way to keep a possible strong competitor weaker. One Japan is enough to compete in the technology/engineer markets.

In the meantime, the people in North Korea are living a miserable life, and those willing to escape out of that “workers paradise” have no easy place to flee. To china to be without pity turned back? Through the DMZ to be shot?

Even worst than killing your own people, is making them live a wasteful life. I have seen this in East Europe. “Our life was wasted” they told me.

Have absolute not respect for this Kim Jong Il. Could tell him a couple of things if I met him on the street. May be even ….. I have to confess I am a bad politician ;-)
But he is just the tip of the iceberg anyway, those who support and profit from that regime, inside and outside North Korea, are the ones who are really to blame.

Hope one day North Korea will not look so dark on the satellite photos taken at night!

November 29, 2007 @ 7:48 am | Comment

I love to show CCP members pictures of the Korean peninsula at night, and ask them who really won the Korean war. Lovely reaction, every time.

November 29, 2007 @ 9:19 am | Comment

Look how prosperous China’s longest continuous ally is!

November 29, 2007 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

Christopher Hitchens found a nice name for the system of government there when he called it a necrocracy. He also noticed that they are only one entity away from getting a real holy trinity. Father and son are allready there.

Very good film to understand NK a bit better is “A State Of Mind” http://www.astateofmind.co.uk/

I think I recomented it before but I think you can’t mention this film too often. It showes very well how a totalitarian system works by trying to control every bit of it’s peaoples life, body and soul.

November 29, 2007 @ 1:02 pm | Comment

“He also noticed that they are only one entity away from getting a real holy trinity. Father and son are allready there.”

One of the sons has been chosen to lead, but apparently he is a wet noodle. Nevertheless, the trinity will be complete.

November 29, 2007 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

As the most distinguished blogger said in his post: the one’s charmingness is determined by the number of the ignorants surrounding him, I think the reason that the communist leaders like Kim and Mao Zedong were worshiped, is the ignorant people.

November 29, 2007 @ 9:22 pm | Comment

Born into manmade darkness I was once blind but now that I am in the light I see that many who were born with sights are becoming blinded by artificial light
– CK

To swallow and follow, whether old doctrine or new propaganda, is a weakness still dominating the human mind.
–Charlotte P. Gillman

Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.
–Denis Diderot

November 30, 2007 @ 8:39 am | Comment

If I remember rightly I thought china won the korean war…. Or so they are taught at school anyway.

November 30, 2007 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

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