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May 06, 2005

Vacation in beautiful downtown Pyongyang!

After some thought, I've decided that this blog will largely be ramblings inspired by books I've read recently. This decision was arrived at for the following reasons:

  1. I read a lot of books.
  2. Most everything I've ever felt like posting to this blog has been somehow related to those memes transmitted to me through books (maybe they make me do it?).
  3. I'm an awfully lazy blogger and this is a good way to make sure I post semi-regularly.

Today's entry: North Korea (Bradt Country Guides) by Robert Willoughby

Since I'm a US citizen, I am currently barred from visiting this particular arm of the Axis of Evil. While my Canadian friends could visit anytime, either through tour operators in Japan or China or by official channels, my imperialist ass is forbidden to see firsthand such Orwellian wonders as the Tower of the Juche Ideal or the eerily beautiful Pyongyang subway. Good thing Bradt guides has put together this tourbook, or I might never have known about all that North Korea has to offer. Since the guide is meant to be used in-country, it had to pass muster with censors and is thus not as objective as the author would have liked. Instead it repeats, tongue-in-cheek, the official accounts of the world's tallest, fastest, biggest, most splendiferous public works. (Did you know that Pyongyang's "Arch of Triumph" is several meters taller than the Parisian version?) Not every area of the country is covered in the guide, as Willoughby hasn't been allowed to visit much of the interior. Highlights are Pyongyang, Panmunjom in the DMZ, and the "birthplace of the Great Leader".

Accounts of trips to North Korea suggest that everything a foreigner does is recorded on video, audio, and by personal shadows who check into adjacent hotel rooms and take notes on his activities. Everything you see and everyone you meet will be intricately staged for propaganda purposes, even down to the sharply dressed businessmen sitting in your subway car. It's like your own version of The Truman Show! Tempted yet? If you go, be aware that you'll basically have to do everything your guides tell you to do, including paying homage to Kim Il Sung with flowers and a respectful bow. And keep your opinions to yourself: A woman who asked her guide why Kim Jong Il was the only fat man in North Korea was reportedly detained for three days.

Posted by The Greatness at May 6, 2005 02:11 PM