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So. What's North Korea really like?

A look inside the DPRK

By Andrew Orlowski, 14 Oct 2016

First hand accounts from The People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) are very rare - only around a hundred outsiders get to see it each year week. Simon Buckby spent two weeks exploring the secretive state, and have reported back with a fascinating, 8,000 word account which is by far the most detailed you’ll have ever read.

(Unless you work in espionage, when these things land on your desk).

The visitors are monitored throughout. The skyscraper zone includes the tallest building in the DPRK, the Ryugyong Hotel, started in 1987 but still unfinished.

Some of it might you suspect: monumental public art and traffic wardens directing ghost traffic. “Pedestrians have to use zebra crossings or risk losing their jobs,” notes Simon. There are Potemkin control systems (that don’t appear to be connected to anything), and lit rooms go dark after visitors have passed through.

The Party Monument: featuring the hands of a worker, an intellectual and a peasant.
Photo (C) Simon Buckby with permission

Have a close look to discern the scale of the piece. “When I asked one of our guides whether the country had changed much in recent years, he just looked at me confused; he could not comprehend any notion of the country changing. It really is still 1953.”

When it comes, the direct human contact is astonishing and moving.

Enjoy the read (you won’t regret it) here. ®

Footnote

If you want an even stranger glimpse into North Korea’s history, a recent documentary The Lovers and The Despot tells the story of Kim Jong-il’s obsession with rivalling Hollywood - enlisting the South Korean director and movie star he covets by kidnapping them. It's doing the rounds of the streaming services. (Trailer here)

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