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

“KINGDOM of KIM“

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

Film City – "rea"l street cleaners

The film sites have a 1930’s Chinese street, a Japanese street, a US corner, a South Korean quarter and a bizarre selection of European architecture. They have three focuses: against the American Aggressor, the anti-Japanese struggle and the fight against the occupied capitalist and decadent South Korea. Watch out for signs of Massage Parlors that illustrate their South Korean compatriots’ decadence.

KIM IL SUNG visited Cinema City about 20 times in his lifetime to give on-the-spot advice to North Korean filmmakers. KIM JONG IL has a passion for cinema, thanks to his lifelong interest, the film industry is well financed. He dropped in over 600 times to give direction to the film studios.

Film City – American street corner, against the US-aggressor

But the North Korean filmmakers could not satisfy his vision. When their performance did not improve, KIM JONG IL didn’t hesitate to take other steps, orchestrated by himself.

Film City – Lactogen – Prepared in Austr...

Massage Parlors that illustrate their South Korean compatriots' decadence

Choe Eun-hui, a South Korean movie actress, was the first being kidnapped in HongKong by KIM JONG IL’S secret agents in 1978. Her husband, the South Korean film director Shin Sang-kowho flew immediately from Seoul to Hongkong to look for his wife, was soon after kidnapped and brought to Pyongyang too. The fanatic movie buff KIM JONG IL, who likes Rambo and James Bond movies, wanted the South Korean film director to make “good“ movies for North Korea. After almost five years in the Gulag for trying to escape twice, Shin Sang-ko made several movies. One of them is probably the most famous North Korean film called “Pulgasari“, a socialist version of “Godzilla“, though the North Koreans deny that he was involved.

In 1986, the couple were given the permission to travel for the first time abroad. They went to a film festival in Vienna and though they were followed by North Korean secret agents they managed to enter the US embassy and asked for asylum eight years after having been abducted.

Film City – Bizarre selection of European architecture

“over the rainbow“ – International Friendship Exhibition Shrine of KIM IL SUNG in the hills of Mt Myohyang

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

KIM IL SUNG'S spectacular warehouse of gifts of fellow communist dictators

The International Friendship Exhibition Shrine IFE of The Eternal President KIM IL SUNG is a vast traditional building without windows, containing 120 rooms with over 100’000 gifts presented to him by fraternal foreign leaders from many parts of the world.

The hills of Mt Myohyang are quite beautiful

The pompous building is located in a idyllic landscape in the hills of Mt Myohyang. Before we enter the vast shrine we have to put on plastic shoe covers and are asked to show reverential attitude. We have to pass a metal detector inside and to hand over all photo and video cameras.  Taking pictures is strictly forbidden. My iPhone was already sealed.

Ursula was “honored“ to open the huge doors that led us inside the temple like monument after she put on ceremonial gloves to protect the golden shine of the door knob. Beside our “permanent” guide we were joined by a local guide who took us – thankfully – only through some dozen of the 120 enormous gift rooms. KIM IL SUNG’s gifts are like Tales from a Crypt, especially the steel armoured train carrier by his mentor and protector Mao Zedong and the three limousine cars by his close friend Joseph Stalin are noteworthy (sorry no photo).

The presentation of the local guide is almost religious, the atmosphere in the windowless temple-like monument is sombre as we walk the over-polished corridors, our shoes in plastic covers. Suddenly, the tone of our local guide gets very serious and emotional. She opens the door to the most surreal of all rooms, to the final room of the exhibit. The over-life-sized waxwork of  “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG – a gift from the Chinese leadership – is standing in a bucolic 3D landscape with birdsong and shopping center music. We are asked to bow our heads respectfully before leaving the room. Our local guide is moved to tears. Steps to make “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG into a divine figure were highly obvious analogous to the Egyptian Pharao.

At the end of the tour through the windowless temple-like Palace, up on the terrace, we have a fabulous view of the surrounding hills of Mt Myohyang.

Below shot of the warehouse roof

Up on the terrace...

We are asked to talk about our experience with “The Eternal President“ and write down our feelings which Ursula dutifully did.

Our “permanent“ guide translates Ursula's feelings into Korean to be published in the eternal guestbook

Our “permanent“ guide translated Ursula’s handwriting for the “eternal“ guestbook of KIM IL SUNG’S International Friendship Exhibition Shrine.

On the other side of KIM IL SUNG’S “warehouse of gifts“ is a similarly pompous warehouse where KIM YONG IL’S gifts are stored.

We chose to have lunch

Lunch at Myohyangsan

We choose to have lunch at the government restaurant close by instead of visiting KIM YONG IL’S shrine of gifts. Sitting all alone in a huge building without electricity in a cold eating hall, being served by two waitresses and surrounded by a grand idyllic wall painting, I regret not having visited the second warehouse-temple-like building of KIM IL SUNG’S son KIM YONG IL.

They say that parts of the exhibit show row after row of wide-screen televisions and stereo equipment donated to “My Dear Leader“ by industrialists of foreign countries. Like KIM IL SUNG’S warehouse-temple , KIM YONG IL’S ends with his statue (which I also missed unfortunately).

Grand idyllic wall paintings are in many public buildings

The taste of the past was remarkably odd.

a Step FORWARD – this time it might be different

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

Coming by train from Beijing on April 10, having experienced the enormous building boom, industrial development, highway building and the extension of the superspeed train right up to the DPRK border town, my guess was that “Big Brother“ would tell the last Stalinist dictatorship of “My Dear Leader” KIM YONG IL, that time had come. When I sat foot in the DPRK, I was under the impression that only China had the key to the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. And so it was a reinforcement of my thinking how things would develop when Lukas, my son in law, sent me from Shanghai CHINA DAILY’s article on

Foreign and Military Affairs

China, DPRK to develop two economic zones

The SNAKE in the GRASS

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

KIM IL SUNG at the Grand People's Study House

It’s NOT a lie! No, I don’t say they lie at me. It is a different frame of mind, sometimes it is an anxious state of mind that dictates them and their actions, other times it looks like utter confusion or just paranoia in hiding.

It is the dictum of “The Eternal President“ KIM IL SUNG – the only statesman on earth who remains President even  after his death in 1994 that is of utmost importance.

KIM IL SUNG at the Grand People's Study House

KIM IL SUNG – The Eternal President

He and his son KIM JONG IL, called “My Dear Leader“, are telling Right from Wrong, Good from Bad. They decide what is real and what has to be banned, who is sent to the university or to the work camp, to the labor camp or to the gulag. KIM IL SUNG and KIM JONG IL have a six-decade grip on power.

KIM IL SUNG with local guide in the entrance of the Grand People's Study House

All in the Family - KIM IL SUNG “The Eternal President" and his son KIM YONG IL, called “My Dear Leader"

Our two “permanent“ guides work under the spell of this government-mind-set, they tell me that the local shops are closed when they are open, that people don’t like to make contact with a foreigner when in fact they wish just that. They change our itinerary every day but if we want to make an additional stop, it’s impossible.

This gentle local guide liked my questions, Agricultural University, Wonsan area

They make me feel like a disobedient child who doesn’t quite get it when I keep asking questions or like a snake in the grass when I make photos of simple life events.

Fear is guiding the system. The world of DPRK is under a delusion.

The hinge joint is the personality cult.

My guess is that “Big Brother“ will tell them. China holds the key to the future of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.