If you’re just tuning into this series and have never seen any of my posts before, welcome to my blog and you can find the previous parts to ‘My journey into North Korea’ here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
So, at this point in the trip we’d been in Korea’s North Hamgyong province for a couple of days and were travelling to various landmarks and attractions, driving through villages, country roads and through mountains, and I have to say the landscapes were some of the most beautiful and unique that I had ever seen and due to the lack of development in North Korea a hell of a lot of it was really untouched. In the next segment, I’ll be presenting the more natural side of North Korea, politics aside, just focussing on its beauty, but in this segment I’ll be talking about the people and the experiences we had.
As I previously mentioned in the earlier segments, the people accompanying us didn’t like us taking photographs of anything that was unapproved; photographs from the minibus were forbidden and if we wished to take a photo of anything we had to ask first, but I had come on this trip to experience the country and was not going to just sit there as the place passed me by, so I did whatever I could to secure some genuine photographs such as pretending to be asleep while taking sneaky shots as the clatters and clangs of the bus muffled the sound of my camera shutter, I even went so far as to keep two memory cards on my person at any one time, swapping my ‘safe’ card for my ‘danger’ card as and when I needed to, and this proved to be a good trick as I was caught once getting a sneaky shot and when we next got off the bus on of the supervisors asked to look through my camera which I agreed to, he deleted a few things from the ‘safe’ card, but the danger card remained firmly tucked behind my belt for the rest of the trip. The three men I have previously referred to as the supervisors can be seen in the picture above, from left to right (North Korean police officer, Mr Sou and Mr Lee). These guys were actually really friendly for the most part, Mr Lee was a little more hardline than Mr Sou, the police officer barely said a word, but we did have some good conversation with them and a laugh over a few drinks one night, they were all pretty friendly.
You’ll have to excuse the quality and angles of some of my photographs, as previously mentioned they were taken secretly from our moving bus. I have to say, whenever I took a photo of people on the road they greeted me with a smile, some waved and they genuinely looked like really nice people, most of the people we saw were either farm workers or other manual labourers.
These are some of the most genuine photographs I managed to gather of the real people of North Korea, they were friendly, didn’t seem to have any negative feelings towards foreigners and always greeted us with smiles and waves. Unfortunately it’s always politics that really make people suffer and this is what makes me pretty sad going through these photographs. The people we see here are no different than you or I, they want a few things in life: to have a healthy family, to have food, clean water and a roof over their head, to be safe, and most importantly to be happy. Unfortunately the human race has placed money and power as it’s top two priorities and as a result a lot of people will live lives which could have been so much more fruitful had empathy been in the hearts of politicians and leaders instead of greed and lust for power.
I felt bad for these fellas. If this picture had a caption it would be …”you absolute cunt” as I think that is what is going through that guys head as he gets sprayed by our bus.
Here you can see our ‘supervisor’ Mr Lee, proudly wearing his party pin on his shirt, to his left a random Korean lady working at the Hoeryong Seamans Club where we were taken for a nice banquet and a few beers. Here Mr Lee and his female accomplice serenade us with a cover of Get Low by the Ying Yang Twins…well they didn’t, but that would have been a glorious sight to behold.
The Hoeryong Seamans Club was pretty cool, we had a generous banquet that they laid out specially for us, which I felt pretty guilty eating as it would have probably fed a number of families there who don’t have much at all, but we ate it all and the food was good. We drank a few beers and had a good laugh with Mr Sou and Mr Lee while propaganda movies played on the TV in the background showing NK tanks firing missiles at the enemy. I should note that one of their beers was fucking fantastic, it was a wheat beer that would rival some of the best German wheat beers, it actually kicked the arse of any beers I got in Seoul, Busan or Daegu. We played some pool with some guys who were hanging around in the Seamans Club, which brings me on to my next point, the place was not set up in a way that it would be frequented regularly, it seemed like it was opened up for the rare occasion that tourists would come around and they needed something to show off. As you can see above, we had blackouts, about three in the space of an hour, these were pretty commonplace in North Korea to be fair and we experienced maybe a dozen in the week we were there, but aside from that, the people in their grey or beige uniforms complete with party pins seemed like they didn’t know what they were doing there, they weren’t drinking, they weren’t eating, they only played pool when we asked them if they wanted a game; they were friendly but I suspect they had been placed there to create the illusion that regular people just hang out there all the time.
Previously we had been to a rather grand building in Hoeryong which seemed to function as a library/resource centre. Dotted around were kids using the computers, and this message is hard to convey without actually being there but they seemed like they were doing nothing in particular, not there for studying or pleasure, they were mostly playing very primitive looking games yet seemed to be just hopelessly clicking the mouse or random keys as the character on the screen just kind of flailed about or did nothing at all. Call my skeptical, but it seemed to me like they had just been planted there and were told to look like they were doing something. One interesting thing that I did notice is that all of the computers were HP and were running Windows XP, funny considering there is an embargo on trading with NK although it is no big secret that China pretty much plays by their own rules when it comes to trading with North Korea. Anyway, this is what I am referring to when I say ‘props’ or ‘set ups’; there are a lot of people that seem to be doing nothing other than looking busy at the attractions that we were taken to visit.
It’s funny, they seemed to have gone to a lot of effort to show off the crown jewels of their country, but I really couldn’t give a shit about things like that because it isn’t real, what I am interested in are subjects like the photograph above, simply a man travelling from one place to another or these guys mending a train track. This is what travelling is about, seeing the real place, not some phoney setup.
I really wish it were possible to freely travel North Korea, but that will never be a reality, nobody will ever see inside North Korea freely and I am lucky to have even seen what I have of the country. It’s important to remember that you can’t choose where you are born, in some cases you can’t even choose what you believe, peoples minds are shaped by their governments, their communities and even their families. North Korea is an impoverished dictatorship and their citizens have no choice but to get on with life and obey, they are people who just want the best for themselves, their families and their country, they are not the enemy they are our neighbours.
Hopefully I’ll get the next part up tomorrow. So many photos to sort out, and not a lot of time to do it, hope you’re enjoying these posts even if they are a little rushed.
A photo of me and my two friends who I visited NK with. From left to right: myself, Tommy, Taylor.