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.
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.