KO YONG HEE – the mother of KIM JONG UN

Family PICKINGS: Ko Yong Hee was born in June in 1952 in Osaka, Japan. She was the daughter of a Korean-Japanese judomaster professional wrestler, Ko T’ae-mun. The Ko family repatriated to the DPRK via Wonsan in 1960. Ko Yong Hee joined the Mansudae Art Troupe in the early 1970s. She met Kim Jong Il around 1974. Ko Yong Hee was a popular North Korean dancer.

Ko Young Hee was Kim Jong Il’s second mistress. In official propaganda she was called “Respected Mother”

Ko-Yong-hee and Kim Jong Il had two sons, Kim Jong Chol, 1981, who, according to his father, “was no good as a successor because he was too much like a girl” and Kim Jong Un, 1983. They also had a daughter, Kim Yeo Jong, 1989. Ko-Yong-hee was reportedly Kim Jong il’s favorite wife who could prepare his favorite foods.  She also did not tolerate his mood swings and fits of depression.

Officially she died of breast cancer in August 2004.

NO “wishi-washiness” says North Korea’s “Supreme Leader”

National Defense Commission PICKINGS.

Kim Jong Un vows NO CHANGE policy – the dynasty is promising "final victory"

North Korea issued two stamps after 14 days of mourning has ended

“We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us,” said the statement. “We will never deal with the traitor group of South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak.” The statement was carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the regime’s official mouthpiece to the outside world.

Hostile posture and typical bellicose attitude towards the outside world with a characteristically common threat to punish President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea for his “unforgivable sins” I read as a sign to rally its military and people behind the new leader KIM JONG UN who is believed to be in his late 20s.

“Don’t expect change from me!”was the slogan of the dynastic rulers. “The Eternal President” KIM IL SUNG used it, his son “My Dear Leader” KIM JONG IL ensured continuity with no change in policy and “The Great Successor” KIM JONG UN is promising “final victory” and presses North Koreans to remain faithful to the dynastic rule.
I register the confrontational behavior towards the external world as a tactic to extort large shipments of humanitarian aid from South Korea and USA.

Kim Jong Un during a memorial service for his father. On our extensive trip through North Korea, everybody I met or saw in the cities or in the countryside were slim, haggard or emaciated

KIM JONG UN inherits an extensive network of prison gulags. He faces a widespread food crisis, starvation,

an impoverished population and is confronted with an enormous fuel shortage and extensive daily powercuts all over the country, in tourist locations as well.

Traveling through North Korea, we met electricity shortages every day in the cities and in the countryside. Fuel shortage was visible everywhere, no gas stations along the highways or in the cities.

When our driver went to get gas in Pyongyang, we were dropped on the roadside at the outskirts together with our two guides and he disappeared for twenty minutes. My questions to our two “permanent guides”, why we could not stay in the car, were not answered.

Girl reading a book – she said hello

As Ursula stayed with our two guides talking to keep them busy I managed to cut myself loose and slipped away to the nearby river to see if  I could make contact with some people.  Away from my two guides I met this girl reading a book, she was a little shy but nevertheless she said hello to me.

KIM JONG-UN, the “Great Successor”

"The Great Successor" salutes his father

State news broadcasts PICKINGS: North Korea has been proclaiming KIM JONG IL’S youngest son, the Swiss educated KIM JONG-UN, the “Great Successor”. At the age of thirteen, he lived under an assumed name with an employee of the North Korean Embassy in Berne, Switzerland. From 1998 – 2000, he visited the public school “Liebefeld Steinhölzli“ in Köniz.KIM JONG-UN is to become the youngest leader of a nation with a nuclear arms program. Though he was not in his homeland known, he certainly will be feared.

KIM JONG UN, second right, and his uncle, JANG SONG THAEK, at far left

His uncle, JANG SONG-TAEK, is the husband of KIM JONG IL’S sister, KIM KYONG HUI.

Kim Jong Il's sister KIM KYONG HUI

She also appears to be playing a prominent role in the shaping of the new leadership.  JANG SONG-TAEK has been promoted to general of the armed forces of DPRK.

the ULTIMATE NO!

forbidden PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

There is an ultimate NO! beside other NO! and NO’S! in the Kingdom of KIM, an absolute ban on all fotos of “The Eternal President” and his son “My Dear Leader” that are not taken in full size. Pictures or portraits of KIM IL SUNG and KIM JONG IL shall not be photographed in parts. Cuts are forbidden as well as detail shots.

The KIMS live on a "different planet", the oxygen is an inane mix of mystification, paranoia and a bizarre utopia – They are totally removed from the harsh reality of daily life in North Korea

The KIMS cruel reign does also keep their lifestyle away from the screen of DPRK citizens. The inner power circle remains a mystery to the people and the KIM family itself is puzzling and elusive to the man in the street. Several times different people asked us what we knew about the women and children of KIM JONG IL. It was unknown to all of them that his youngest son KIM JONG UN – a lover of heavy drink – was named as his successor – most likely by the military commanders – and should follow in his father’s footstep. When I told them that KIM JONG IL’S second son KIM JONG CHOL was spotted at an Eric Clapton concert in Singapore they said I was lying and when I told them that I read KIM’S eldest son KIM JONG NAM was deported from Japan trying to enter the country with forged travel documents to go to Tokyo Disneyland they stopped asking…

KIM JONG UN was born on January 8, 1983. He was educated in Switzerland, as were his two older brothers. He is the son of KIM JONG IL'S third wife, Ko Yong Hi, a former dancer. She died under suspicious circumstances in 2004 – officially of cancer.

The absolute authority to exert power and the fear that surrounds the military dictatorship keeps everybody’s interest in check.

SWISS YODELING over Pyongyang

“Appenzöller”- PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

“If you act from the heart, you can’t make a mistake.” And DPRK is no exception.

Grand People's Palace – The Chinese enjoy KIM IL SUNG'S pet – The the largest selection of folk music in the world

Our guides didn’t like alcohol and went to bed early every night...

No easy task – Not for her and not for me...

Guides usually relax after some late nights with a lot of beer and wine but ours were different. They didn’t like alcohol and went to bed early every night. What was I going to do? How could I establish contact with “True Children of the Red Spirit”? How could I break the deadlock of professional suspicion without a lot of beer and wine?

Professional suspicion - Visiting the house of the local guide at the farm cooperative outside Wonsan, on the left: my "permanent" guide

Walking to the Lighthouse with my male "permanent guide

How could I avoid being made into a capitalist monster?

Film City – US corner – Capitalist Monster

Sometimes I felt like that when people reacted to me as if I had an infectious disease when our guides forbid me to make contact. Relating to someone looking at something not on the official itinerary was like spying for them. Our two permanent guides were true red spirit children of the the North Korean Communist Party.

I realized that Korean names were difficult to remember, I didn’t relate to the people by their name. So got myself to pronounce the name of my female guide – she was very surprised when I called her the first time by her name – it went some way but wasn’t quite enough.

Then, traveling through the North Korean Peninsula to the East Coast of Wonsan, walking from the port to the lighthouse, I bought a big bag of sea shells from divers on a rudimentary black market – not for her! but to make her mother a present. My spontaneous act turned out to be a useful gesture. Over her mother I could relate personally to her, she told me the next morning that her mother never got such beautiful shells before, that she would prepare them and the whole family would get together – but it was no ice-braker either.

Some time later we visited the Grand People’s Palace, the National Library. This enormous marble palace, a reading and learning center of North Korea, also had a audio department containing the largest collection of folk music from all over the world – KIM IL SUNG’S favorite pet project. The audio room was filled with dozens of desks and radio sets. From the vast selection of  Swiss songs we chose the yodel “Min Vatr isch en Appezöller…”.

Grand People's Palace – audio department

Ursula – surprised to hear Swiss folk music – immediately started to yodel too. Her voice was so catching that our female guide began to yodel too. This finally turned the page – Tung Hui was still yodeling the next day… . Swiss yodel finally broke the ice.

How to remove the sting of being a spy?

It didn’t mean that from this day on I could do what I wanted but it removed the dangerous sting of being a spy, a snake in the grass. Something in the emotional fabric had changed for the better as I found out when we departed from Pyongyang airport.

MUSHROOMS and OASIS

springtime PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Ryugyong Hotel, Construction start 1987, still vacant – Unfinished Mushroom

Monuments, statues, monoliths, murals to the KIMS, the North Korean military and the Juche Idea are sprouting like mushrooms in Pyongyang.

Relaxing after the relentless propaganda I take a few free, unobserved minutes to follow a mother and her child in a nearby park as they cross a bridge over a little pond.

TRUE CHILDREN of the PARTY

“hardcore” PICKINGS from my DPRK DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

"Koryowood", Film City – walking behind our two guides to the auditorium

It is impossible for me...

At the end of our tour through  – let’s call it KORYOWOOD (Film City), a favorite child of KIM JONG IL – we got a chance to watch a North Korean production at the auditorium. The two of us – with our two “permanent” guides sitting behind us – waited in the complete darkness while the technicians tried to start the film. It took them several attempts to get the screening going.

...to accept the promotion

In the dark I got my camera ready without being looked over my shoulders.

The love story turned out to be a pitiless propaganda piece with the purpose to drill emotions to follow the party line. It carried a wicked message for all those whose emotions threatened to override party discipline.

Indoctrination is everywhere. Sometimes it is annoying, sometimes it is painfully obvious but it can also be quite subtle. French people we met complained about constant propaganda by their guides. They wouldn’t miss an opportunity, they said, to shower them with anti-Western, specially anti-American and anti-Japanese warmongering German tourists said the same.

In this respect, our experience was different. Our guides had their hands full with saying NO to us and our appetite to make contact with North Koreans from all walks of life! They often were exasperated and didn’t know how to control our curiosity. They didn’t seem well prepared to deal with people who had no political agenda but travelled, eyes and ears open, looking for genuine life situations.

My repeated referral to China about missing travel restrictions helped to put them on the defensive too. China was the only point of reference that was relevant for them. When I told Jong Hui and Min Bing Gee, our two “permanent guides”, that in China I could could enter any supermarket and pay in local currency they were very surprised.

LIPS and LIPSTICK

Lips and Lipstick, local guide, agricultural university, Wonsan

cynical PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Quite a lady

North Korean lips and Chinese lipstick, Kaesong City

Hairdresser at a cooperative farm, Wonsang

Local guide, Wonsan

Traveling through DPRK I come to the conclusion that, first, without Chinese help a revolt is impossible and, second, China does not lend it’s hand for an uprising. Mobility in DPRK is strictly controlled, districts, cities, villages, cooperatives are hermetically cut off, people have only shovels… indoctrination is very effective. After a disastrous currency devaluation, most people feel a lot poorer now. Hardship stifles protest.

My impression is that the Chinese don’t want to topple KIM JONG IL’S dictatorship for cynical and pragmatic reasons. They may fear that, without his ruthless grip on power, it could provoke a serious revolt and North Korea could rush inadvertently towards reunification with South Korea. A reunited Korea under Seoul leadership and allied to the US, highly developed, democratic and western oriented would make the “Chinese Teeth feel very cold“ indeed.

The Chinese tactic and strategy, it seems, is to keep the KIM’S in power, their paranoia alive and DPRK’s economy in endless decline.

They don’t want to get unpleasant things – like KIM JONG IL’S dictatorship – over and done with. In fact they detest a collapse of the system. They seem to prefer to draw out the agony: “Besser ein Schrecken ohne  Ende, als ein Ende mit Schrecken”.

The end will come but in endless and invisible small steps, unnoticeably. Then the Kim regime will come under Chinese patronage. They will help but at a price. North Korea will move into China’s orbit. China is already now buttering up the North Korean consumer – not South Korea and the West. They will keep the KIM JONG IL regime afloat and secure KIM JONG UN’S succession

Lips and Lipstick, local guide, cooperative farm, Wonsan area

The Chinese want to make sure that their North Korean lips will have Chinese make-up on. China, it seems, pays great attention that North Korean and Chinese economies will be close-knit. Beauty products are a forerunner of this strategy, the lipstick a symbol of it.

Public kiosk (not private) in Pyongyang, street vendor selling water at KIM IL SUNG'S 99th birthday – She was not allowed to sell me a glass of syrup, my “permanent" guide said NO.

For the Chinese leadership governments, dictatorships come and go. Their goal is to penetrate systems and political structures by means of production, exert influence and strengthen ties at all levels through market domination.

North Korea will become a satellite of China. This is not what the KIMS want. But there is no alternative to the regime survival of the KIM family.

Primatologist, our local guide at the showcase maternity hospital in Pyongyang

Guns, Lips and Lipstick, local guide, Pyongyang

Signs of Things to Come?

private enterprise PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Nestle products

Having in mind that in November 2009, North Korea had devalued its old bank notes with virtually no advance notice by 100 to 1.  The old denomination of 1,000 won was replaced by the new 10 won. North Koreans were only allowed to exchange up to 100,000 won approximately US$25 to US$30 according to the then-market exchange rate of the old currency for the new bills. Many people saw their entire private savings wiped out overnight. North Korean Supreme Military Authority issued shoot-to-kill orders on the Chinese-DPRK border. Authorities were afraid of a massive exodus by middle class North Koreans with god.

I was looking for the old won and found prices in old won in Sariwon City at an ice cream seller.

Shell fishers refused to be photographed

I was also keen to find signs of private enterprise in this classic stalinist regime of KIM JONG IL. At the beach in Wonsan I met shell fishers selling their catch in small portions.

Apples from China

One day, traveling overland, our guides allowed us to make a toilet stop. We sat at the stairs of a closed down highway restaurant beside the road, bought a cup of tea, a brochure with the thoughts of “My Dear Leader“ and some apples (probably from China).

The dishes, tea and coffee they had brought in cardboard boxes. This stop was well organized and run by a group of women and men which must have had the support of the local bureaucrats (and our guides too) looking for Euros. It was the first and only time I saw Nestlé products in North Korea.

She was serving tea

Private traders selling their goods - Is this a sign of things to come?

Private enterprise dies last or as we say in German “Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt”. Are these traces of things to come?

When I look at the girl – she was quite a lady – who served us tea and coffee with Coffee Mate from Nestlé, I think these are indeed hidden signs of change, of “Big-Brother-influence” creeping up on North Korea from over the border, “brotherly touches” not even “My Dear Leader” KIM JONG IL, the last Gate-Keeper of Stalinism, can avoid…

But most astonishing to me were the North Koreans who sold and traded their goods in a remote area on the South coast 30km outside of Wonsan. I was able to take a snapshot while driving by at 08:30 in the morning after we had stayed overnight at an old Soviet-type sanatorium (with cold Fango) outside Wonsan .

more NO!…NO’s!… ways to look behind the curtain of DPRK

live PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

...only a few running cars

Highways like frontline airstrips

Highway roadside traffic

The NO!…NO’S! of our two guides are an everyday occurrence. I don’t work with hidden movie or photo cameras, my shooting activity is open but my focus I keep obscured by not looking through the finder.

Shooting from the hip

Since the guides don’t allow stops on the highway or in cities without prior permission from the central travel office in Pyongyang I shoot from the hip.

Army road block

I take photos or movie from all types of angles. My “luck“ is that roads and highways are often in poor condition and we roll by comfortably at 40-60 km, perfect to take snapshots.

Highway bikers - much more common than cars

Just as regular as pedestrians and bikes are oxen carts on the highway.

Man and ox - regular highway traffic

Broken down trucks on the roadside I see sometimes more often than cars driving.

Head transport on the highway

Driving overland on the highway from Pyongyang to Wonsan on the East coast, a distance of about 200 km, I count 25 oncoming cars while on our side I see 11 vehicles in need of repair.

The most modern trucks I have seen in North Korea

A NO! NO! shot. North Korean soldiers wait for the blow-out to be fixed

Hitch-hikers in the tunnels are a special experience.

Hitch-hikers are extremely rare

The NO!…NO’S! are an attempt to hide the harsh living conditions of the North Koreans and erase them from the travelers eye.

Crossing the railway tracks, our driver has to slow down... - In the background behind the biker people are walking on the tracks. This is very common specially in the morning and evening hours. Rail tracks offer the shortest link to the next destination. Trains ran not very often and when they approach the people on the tracks they honk early.

Our guides allowed the driver to make an unplanned stop only in a very remote area but even there Tung Hui followed me, stood in front of my camera to prevent me from taking pictures.

Woman transporting coal to the city

As a western tour operator, stationed in Beijing and in the North Korean tourist business for over 10 years, said to me: “We all know that the view KIM JONG IL’S dictatorship imposes on us does not reflect everyday life in DPRK.”

But there are ways…  …to look behind the curtain.

A moment to himself

Pushing uphill

Pulling wood along the highway