Having spent a number of days in North Korea it was time to visit the Korean Feature Film Studio, or more specifically the outdoor film sets as we did not get into the studios themselves.
This got me thinking. Join me in my thoughts.
In many senses, and outside our stroll in the Moranbong Youth Park and a few other isolated exceptions, it had felt like we had stepped onto a film set the minute we boarded the Air Koryo plane in Beijing and every thing we had seen and experienced since was make believe – a good attempt at reality but nothing, in fact, real.
Before you think, ah yes I have heard that everyone in the subway, everyone in the streets, etc are paid actors, I hasten to add that this is not what I mean and I do not accept that this is the case.
My sense that everything was unreal and I was an extra on a movie set arose from many factors (please do forgive my generalisations here) including:
• The streets are empty and lack colour compared to cities of comparable size in other countries. This is because North Korea is not a consumer society – there are no colourful shops, pubs, cafes, etc, there is no advertising and there is a dire shortage of fuel. As such there is no reason to be in the streets apart from going to and from work and the shortage of fuel keeps cars of the excessively wide boulevards and streets
• The only urban areas we got to ‘experience’ (and I use that term in a broad sense), as opposed to skirt around or drive through were Pyongyang and Sinuiju (on the Chinese Border). Entry to Pyongyang by locals is controlled – you will not see the impoverished or beggars there so to a degree it is a show city. So, rather than being filled with actors, undesirables are not let into Pyongyang. Sinuiju is a bit different – here given its size you do get to drive (through necessity) through poorer parts of the city which are similar to poorer remote cities in neighbouring China. Sinuiju is probably not a typical North Korean town as is economy is, to a degree, linked to is proximity to China – hard to say though as I can’t compare it to other rural North Korean cities
• You are under the constant surveillance of your guides and other minders so you cannot stop and have a look in street A and you will be shown street B. You are shown exactly what your guide (aka the Party) wants you to see and their presentation is scripted. Off course this is the case on every tour, anywhere, but in most cases this regimentation is done to keep tours on schedule and ensure you see the highlights as opposed to being a positive effort to stop you seeing things
• You will hear nothing negative about the country, its leadership or the Party. You will hear loads of negative things about the US and nothing positive. If only the real world was so black and white
• Everything is done for, or aimed at, a single purpose – glorifying the leadership – anything else is not necessary and often not permitted
• The Pyongyang Traffic Police (beautiful young ladies) stand in the centre of intersections directing non-existent traffic. This admittedly is a bit of an anomaly. The lady traffic police were created by the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung to improve drivers’ concentration in the city
• Entertainment is, to a large degree, provided by the government –I exaggerate but it is a bit like – today you will watch the Marathon, today you will dance, today you will attend a military display in Kim Il-sung square, today you will come and admire the Kimilsungia and Kimjongilia (both flowers) at the flower show, today you will have a picnic, etc
• People seem not to think for themselves – why do they need to when the Leaders provide everything they need? If the leaders decree they need or don’t need something then they basically accept that they need it or they don’t. Frankly they know no better.
Given the above and much more you could conclude that the whole country is a film set for a movie called “How shall we praise Kim Il-sung today?” You could otherwise conclude that you are in a totalitarian dictatorship and what you see is real but that you are not seeing everything, indeed far from it.
Not much difference really?
This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries providing general and background information on The Rambling Wombat’s trip to, and travelling in, North Korea which I recommend you read in a particular order. I suggest you continue with my next entry – Enjoy the Darkness and Bring a Torch. If necessary, go to my North Korea introduction entry – And now for something completely different – to start this loop at the beginning.