Discovering North Korea

Posted by Crooked Compass

I have never been somewhere so confusing, yet so beautiful. A country with incredible landscapes, beautiful people but with an incredibly strange and unrelatable system in which the the country is run. Yes, I have now seen the inconceivable brainwashing for myself, but I have also learned the North Korean’s are so focused their people - having the best country for their population - although they live in an oppressed society, they know no different. 

Having just travelled through North Korea, I am not sure if I have answers to my many questions or simply more questions.

Pyongyang skyline from atop Juche Tower - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Pyongyang skyline from atop Juche Tower - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Thinking back to my travels through Greece and Bhutan where the mythology captivated me, here the mythology is real life to the people. Lost somewhere in a tangle between folk, ‘taught’ history and real history live the current generation of North Koreans.

The other side of Pyongyang - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
The other side of Pyongyang - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Stuck living somewhere between the liberation from the Japanese in 1945 and desperate for a reunified Korea, the locals are absolutely absorbed in living their life to please their deceased leaders.

Mosaic imagery of the leaders is found in every city - Photo credit: Crooked Compass
Mosaic imagery of the leaders is found in every city - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Pins of their portraits adorn every garment of clothing, cars slow down as they drive by the elaborate bronze statues.

Crooked Compass Founder Lisa Pagotto, lays a bouquet of flowers at the bronze statues of the leaders, Pyongyang - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Crooked Compass Founder Lisa Pagotto, lays a bouquet of flowers at the bronze statues of the leaders, Pyongyang - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Apparently tourists are not meant to have free time away from their guides but our guide let us roam free through a local supermarket and go off on our own strolling along the beach. For a country with no consumerism, we were surprised to see Pantene, Fanta, Colgate, Chivas Regal on the shelves. In the clothing department, there was sponge bob square pants and hello kitty children's clothing. In the furniture section, there was a mini Ikea actually called Ikea with items like the famed Poang chair.

Pyongyang Supermarket - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Pyongyang Supermarket - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

On the streets, the locals dress in mainly brown, black or army green. Pops of colour burst through on occasion mainly from the ladies showing they may be the ones starting to go against the state issued clothing. Perhaps we are on the brink of change?

I notice our guide has a ‘Prada’ bag. This thought deepens in my mind.

Pyongyang Metro Stations - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Pyongyang Metro Stations - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

I also note the almost lack of information regarding their current leader. After what seems like they lived the lives of the former two leaders, no-one seems to know anything at all about the current leader. No-one knows where he lives, his age, if he has a son... nothing. When they speak of him they simply just say our current leader, whereas speaking of the previous two leaders, their names are always addressed with Marshall, comrade, chairman, general or dear leader. Very interesting....

Arch of Triumph - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Arch of Triumph - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Driving past the Pyongyang apartment blocks at night, as lights slowly flick on as locals return from work, the two distinct portraits of the leaders sit perfectly on the same wall in every apartment in every block.

Juche Tower - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Juche Tower - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

The more time you spend here, the more you understand the socialist system. Yes it may be ‘fair’ across the board but the life these people live is way too hard and not fair compared to the freedom of the people of the rest of the world. They work 6 days a week with Sunday as their ‘holiday’ yet we did not see a decline in the amount of people working on a Sunday. Outside the capital of Pyongyang, deemed the city for the elite by books you read, (and you require a permit to get in), 99% of the population are farmers and work back breaking labour on the farms. Working from before the sun rises to well after the sunsets to earn points which covert in food rations. The elderly hobble around if they are lucky, others sit in rickety and rusty carts pulled along not by animals, but by grandchildren - or perhaps it is their children and the hard life has simply aged them well in advance.

The mind continues to boggle the more time I spent here.

FOUND!! Inside People's Study House - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
FOUND!! Inside the People's Study House - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

Yes, there are resources available for those who want to learn more about the outside world, but only in Pyongyang. There is no way any of the farmers would have access to this or even the means to get anywhere near this sort of knowledge - most people can simply only afford a push bike as a means of transport. The number of locals hitchhiking has baffled me.

Housewives cheering on the workers - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass
Housewives cheering on the workers to have a productive day - Photo Credit: Crooked Compass

We will drive for hours through empty rural countryside and then suddenly find random people walking with huge loads of wood or corn crops on their back.

The houses of the farmers are quaint from the outside - they have a traditional Korean feel about them. But they do not have electricity. Coal is provided by the government for them to have a burning fire for warmth.

Traditional Farm Houses - Crooked Compass
Traditional Farm Houses - Crooked Compass

North Korea - I won’t call it weird, I’ll just call it different. It is the most fascinating country I have ever visited. Nothing else comes remotely close. Stay tuned for part two - exploring Rural North Korea.

Does travelling to North Korea interest you? Crooked Compass offers small group tours to the 'Hermit Nation'. Click here for more information.