Friday, September 2, 2011

Democratic People's Republic of Korea - interlude

We took an elevator up to the top of a very very tall monument, and looked out across modern Pyongyang. It was foggy (read: smoggy) and far less populated than I expected. Ugly buildings rose up along the shoreline of the river - everything seemed dirty and rundown, as though it was simply incredibly poor. Through it all I spotted a playground. Looks great, huh?

When you visit the Pyongyang Military Museum, you will enter and immediately see this massive mural of Kim Il Sung and his supporters. The day I was there it was particularly hot, so Kim and his peeps needed some fans. Yeah they did. There were real people there too, sweating and sighing, but I guess Kim feels the heat even past the veil...

The proudest and most appreciated display at that military museum was a 360 degree diorama complete with mini cars and flashing lights. There were a few other dioramas, too. Not just one. Teaching adult citizens about history - with dioramas. The video they played us was insane propaganda - complete with fuzzy VHS lines, waning music and a dramatic narrator saying things like "... and all the world rejoiced when the imperialists were put down!" The whole experience was so surreal it almost could have been a parody.

I shot a gun while I was in North Korea. It was pretty cool. It was a little pistol and it was surprisingly heavy and also surprisingly loud. Some people paid extra to shoot at some pheasants. The birds were kept, starving, in a netted area at the end of a shooting range, and men lined up to prove their prowess. If you hit the bird, it was yours. Unfortunately for the bird this man is patting, it was only hit in the leg - and so it's wings are broken and it is rolled into a plastic bag and kept alive until he takes it home and his wife is ready to cook it. What a man! What a big strong man! Shooting a starving, caged bird in a controlled situation and then leaving it in agony until he makes his wife cook it!

Just one example of the real-life billboards in DPRK. There isn't really any product advertising at all, instead signs just like this are everywhere. It almost looks cool, in a kind of retro and hipster way. Unfortunately it's absolutely real.

Sometimes I really think that I'm not really cool, and that I'm actually just a big geek who reads and studies and likes Harry Potter way too much, and then sometimes I get to do things I think cool people would do. Like this.

And to finish with something softer, this was taken at a performance for us at the children's school. They train kids from very young in all manner of traditional disceplines. The classes are also all strictly gender separated. Girls spend hours doing needlework and dance and singing lessons, whilst there were only boys in the rooms with computers and mathematics/loigc games. We saw primary school children doing Mozart concertos on the violin, and crazy good gymnasts, and all manner of other child-genius type things. I found it sad, to be honest.

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