Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Report from North Korea (III) 去北朝鲜旅游:报告(III)

The day after it’s Panmunjom (Military Demarcation Line)’s turn. It’s at the border line with South Korea, two hours by bus from Pyongyang. The highway is always full of holes and army check points. The border line which divide the Korean peninsula is 248 km long and 4 km wide. After the war in 1950, the two parts managed an armistice, discussed and signed it in a small house here in Panmunjom. The two countries are still officially in war. According to DPRK, U.S. army and corrupted South Korean government don’t allow the reunification of the peninsula, ruling a dictatorship against the interest of Korean people and menacing the north and free part of Korea with military actions. Mr. Jin and some soldiers brought us to the border line, telling us to not take picture of military stuff and pay attention to American and South Korean army, cause it’s not a safe place. The Military Demarcation Line is the area in the world with the biggest amount of soldiers.
Unfortunately, there were not American or South Korea soldiers, maybe because it was Sunday and it was cold. There are no eagles in the sky of Democratic Korea

After a few pictures with our “safety” DPRK soldiers and some cigarettes we took the bus back to Kaesong, the first city and industrialized area you meet leaving Panmunjom. It is considered a rich city with a glorious past, but it’s just an horrible town with tall empty building and bare countryside around, farmers and a couple of temples. In Kaesong, from the bus, we saw something I wouldn’t have seen: thousands of boys and girls in military clothes, holding fake rifles, running and singing behind a truck with the DPRK flag. I mean boys and girls from six to fifteen years, behaving like soldiers, ready to the war. Really horrible. In this occasion our bus driver and Mr. Jin seem really embarrassed and nervous, the latter demand us to not take any picture, absolutely. It was so horrible, and hard to describe.
Once out of the bus, we were in the middle of the town, with common people not much surprised of us but still with many kids always scared of me, a bastard western imperialist.

We had lunch in a courtyard and than visited Gaoli Temple, the first University in Korea. Even inside the temple there were soldiers, or at least, people with military clothes. And newlyweds taking pictures with family (and soldiers!). Some shopping in a stamps and book shop, before leaving to Pyongyang and Kim Il Song’s birthplace.
It’s 12 km north of Pyongyang and it is amazing how similar is to ShaoShou village in Hunan (birthplace of Mao Zedong). We had a walk around the park and saw the places Kim grow up before leaving his family at age of 13 years.

Next stop has been the subway of Pyongyang. Not bad, really beautiful to say the truth, really cheap for Koreans, free for us. It’s in Stalinist architecture, a mix of Beijing and Moscow’s subway style. Amazing was the silence inside the subway. People walking without saying a word, someone reading. No one was talking while we were sitting inside a cabin. I mean no one, and there were at least fifty persons around us. Maybe they were scared of us. Or maybe scared, but not of us.

Next, always in the center of Pyongyang, the Juche Tower. Juche is the socialist political philosophy set up by Kim Il-sung. It’s a sort of Confucian Stalinist Dictatorship, with high respect for authority, Workers’ Party and Kim’s family leaders. It focuses its economy on agricultural and technological development, gender and class egalitarianism, cooperation between workers, farmers and intellectuals (Juche’s symbol is an hammer, a sickle and a brush crossed together) on the way to the socialist paradise.
Every year on Summer, Workers’ Party organizes Mass Games at the May Day Stadium (the biggest in Asia with 150.000 seats), to celebrate Kim Il-sung, DPRK and its leadership. It’s a two weeks performance with more than 50.000 artists and acrobats taking part on it.

After Juche Tower, on my Chinese fellows’ demand, Mr. Jin brought us to a “hot pot” restaurant, in front of the embassies of Jordan, Iran, Romania, and Malaysia. “Hot pot” is a common way of cooking and eating in Korean restaurants, especially in China’s Korean restaurants. But maybe it’s not that common in DPRK, in fact the food was not that good, and my Chinese friends not happy at all. They ran away to the hotel to eat something of their feed and cold noodles. A final drive by bus for the central no-lights streets of Pyongyang and a last watch to the main square of the city, between the National Library and Juche Tower, with two huge portraits of Marx and Lenin.

On the hotel we invited Mr. Jin to have a beer with us; he looks happy to share time with us, never stopping to talk us about his wonderful socialist country, his people, habits, leadership and socio-economic situations. Everything works until one of us starts to ask questions or Mr. Guang starts to jeer DPRK and compare it with China before 1978’s reforms. Mr. Guang told me that the life in South Korea is completely different and told Tom to have a deep look to nowadays’ DPRK if he wants to know what was the life of his parents when they where young. Maybe in the head of Mr. Guang (and not only of him I guess, but of all the other Chinese friends) DPRK is just waiting for the death of his leader Kim Jong-il and a new era of reform and economic development, de-militarization and peace. Discussing with Tom and Wu about our impression of DPRK we realized that Mr. Jin and Miss Ki gave us different info about their own life and education, and how they could speak a so good Chinese. We discovered that there are soldiers holding machine guns all around the hotel. And someone stole Mr. Guang’s carton of cigarettes in his room. Maybe he was just drunk and forgot where he put it, or maybe it was just a little revenge from DPRK’s people.

I spent the last night watching TV serial about Korean farmers’ life. The last day, we bought some souvenir… I bought a big flag of DPRK (just to make my South Korean friends in Beijing feel angry), a book written by Kim Jong-il about Juche in 1982, Pyongyang city map, the weekly “Pyongyang Times” in English language and a VCD documentary of DPRK revolution. “Pyongyang Times” gives some propaganda news about Kim Jong-il visiting factories, farms and foreign leaders, economic accomplishments in the field of medicine and science, brief news about China and opposition forces in South Korea, Women’s International Day and stuff like this. But having a look at the recent pictures of Kim Jong-il, I think professor Toshimitsu Shigemura (from Tokyo Waseda University, a scholar of DPRK) is right when he asserts that Kim is dead in 2003 and now replaced by some other stand-ins. In these pictures he look different, never smiling, holding big and black glasses and a Russian style fur hat to hide half of his face…. Who knows!?

Fortunately, this time we left from Pyongyang railway station on the morning, so no problem of power shortage. Mr. Jin helped us with tickets and food. The station was crowd of people, but mainly Chinese workers. In our cabin we drank the last Korean beer; Tom and Wu were a little bit scared because they still have some Korean money (it’s forbidden to bring them outside, they said) and many pictures of army stuff and soldiers in their camera. Fortunately we had no problem at the customs, and we spent only a couple of hours this time. Customs police and soldiers just took our passport, gave a look to our pockets and bags. No dogs. So no way to discover drugs or weapons I think. A couple of policewomen (beautiful women!) I met four days ago in the same customs greeted me with a smile. DPRK soldiers haven’t been bad with us, after all. In spite of their “famous brainwashing”, they were not so many as I saw in Turkey or Sri Lanka, and not so ass hole like in Romania, U.S. or Russia. DPRK is a country in war. Or at least this is what their leaders tell to the people. And the result is that one person each ten is a soldier.

It has been the first time in all my life I haven’t seen at all any track or sign of capitalism (expect in the hotel, of course). Nothing. No beggars, no homeless, no bars, no shopping mall, no commercial, no fashion, no drug sellers, no banks, nothing. Nothing even on TV. No pubs, no disco, no rich people, no money, no shopping. Silence, clean streets, no cars, power shortage, soldiers, poor farmers, ambiguous walkers, ambiguous digging in the countryside, ambiguous guides. Many slogans and portraits of the two Kim.
Well, I think Mr. Guang is right when he suggests me DPRK is 1970s China, and they are just waiting for a new era of reforms and open relations with foreign countries. According to Mr. Bei, Mao’s era was not completely bad for the people, but he made big mistakes like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Tom and Wu are too young to say something about that period. But they, like me, think there’s something fucking strange in DPRK, like the lack of freedom and this atmosphere of fear and silence.
DPRK should be really similar to last Mao’s China. And to 1950s Soviet Union. In other words, I think DPRK is still living the Cold War. And educate its children to the war and to hate Americans, South Koreans and Japanese. At the moment, I just want to know and read more about DPRK contemporary history, Juche and economic planning, but I do hope Kim Jong-il era will finish with his life.

And now I know how to answer to the previous question, “Why I decided to go to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?”. The Cold War. I decided to go there to have the opportunity, twenty years after the smash of Berlin’s wall, to have a look and to feel the crazy atmosphere of Cold War. At the same time, I hope this “atmosphere” will end soon.

Beijing, March 17th 2009

Daniele Massaccesi


At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Panmunjon,quasi un gioco delle parti.Ci andai l'anno scorso proveniendo dal sud e le guide sudcoreane accompagnate da soldati degli eserciti sudcoreani e americani ci dissero piu'o meno le stesse cose che penso i nordcoreani abbiano detto a te:stare in linea,non indicare con le dita(testuali parole),e ci hanno accompagnato nelle "capanne"dove si svolsero i negoziati...neanche un soldato nordcoreano nei paraggi...una delusione.

Kaesong?La nuova mecca asiatica:casino',campi da golf e shopping mall per tutti,almeno a sentire quel pirla del catalano...tristezza.



At 2:54 PM, Blogger Massaccesi Daniele said...

qualcosa su riforme economiche nord korea nel 2002 e "zona speciale" di kaesong:

"Real Reform in North Korea? The Aftermath of the July 2002 Economic Measures"
Christopher D. Hale
Asian Survey, Vol. 45, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 2005), pp. 823-842

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