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.

SPY and SUSPECT – all in one

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

In North Korea, everybody is a spy and at the same time a suspect. Even if there is no reason to believe that something is wrong, to suspect something behind something, it seems to me, is an “official duty” that drives the system. We tourists are constantly watched, but we are not the primary suspects in this game. Tourists are the fat cows that have to be milked and guided through the “idyllic pastures” of KIM’S make-believe world. Total national isolation from the outside world, suspicion, mistrust and denial within the country, self censorship and total restraint – based on severe punishment – make this illusory world survive.

From afar, looking over the “facade”-city of Pyongyang from the 37th floor of the Yanggakdo Hotel, I get the impression that the KIMS are in a private war with practically everybody. In this treacherous spiderweb world of paranoia where emotions are enslaved to the communist party everyone is suspect.

It is the main task of all our guides, “permanent” and local ones, to keep up the myth that DPRK is a normal country and Pyongyang a modern almost western like capital. But whenever we engage with someone they cut off contact. If we don’t give in, pretend not to understand they threatened us that all our material, fotos and films, would be checked and deleted at the airport upon departure – because in case of problems the guides are the suspects, they will suffer and maybe their family members too.

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