“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

North Korea is indeed FRAGILE

Loggers loading stems on carburator truck

“deja vu“ PICKINGS from my NORTH KOREAN DIARY 11.–21. April 2011

Childhood memories appear from behind the couch. Korea takes me back to the 1950s. While for me it evokes nostalgic feelings, for North Koreans it represents decades of retardation ending in horrific poverty of today. To them it is a real tragedy.

The military has wooden carburator trucks too

It was in the spring of 1950 – I spent so many months of my childhood in the hills of South Germany that I became almost a native, speaking the local dialect – I was kneeling beside Franz who was fixing the wooden carburator of his tractor at the farmhouse, waiting to go to the forest with him and his brother Hans… .

Sixty-one years later in April 2011, hiking in the woods of Mt Myohyang 150 km

Loggers in Mt Myohyang

north of Pyongyang, I was taking photos of “deja vu“, six forest workers, uploading stems when back in 1950, there were two men who did the job and an infant watching… .

I came across many wood carburators on the highways we traveled, giving weight to my observation that North Korea suffers a severe transportation problem and energy shortage. The “Holzvergaser“ trucks

A mysterious fragrance contrasted by a dreadful reality

dating to the 1950s and 1960s of the former USSR often broke down on the highway.

I did not see gas stations in the cities nor on the highways. When our driver got gasoline, he dropped us together with one guide on the roadside and left for 15 minutes to fill up his tank. We were not allowed to be present at government gas stations, neither in Pyongyang nor in any other city.

“Holzvergaser“ truck on a side road we have no access

Gasoline shortage was clearly evident where ever we traveled on the East and West Coast. Transportation means for the lower level of the population are in a precarious state, 1950s UDSSR-made vehicles.

Wooden carburator, military truck

sudden snow in DPRK mountains

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

Ominous silence

SUDDENLY THERE was an eerie silence in our car, nobody talked any more, not even breathing I heard.

eerie silence

On our way to Wonsan on the East Coast of North Korea, we had run into a snowstorm and within 5 minutes everything had turned white.

The driver, glued to the steering wheel, changed gears driving more slowly but to me it felt much more like swimming. I had checked the tyres before we had left Pyongyang, they had no tread.

There was no oncoming traffic.

Broken down truck

Only a broken down truck was blocking the opposite lane in the tunnel. No emergency road box, no road service either. If we would get stuck we would be stuck till the weather would change. After we had put on our coats, the car heating was barely sufficient. I figured out that 5 more minutes of heavy snowfall and we would be mired in layers of sludge and ice.

Silence

sudden snow

Seeking shelter in the tunnel

It was a good time to make some photos, our two guides were tuned out there for a moment.

People were heading to the tunnel not to take cover but to cross to the other side. The tunnel on the photo was 4km long. It had light – the only one of the many tunnels we passed through – but only for 2 or 3 minutes then there was a power cut. The people walking in the tunnel were difficult to detect, some had stopped in the middle of the road… .

People heading for the tunnel

“entering DPRK” by rail

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

On my upper bunk bed of Sleeper Car Nr.12 I kept my camera rolling from the Chinese-North Korean border to the capital Pyongyang.

DPRK Railway, from the Chinese border to Pyongyang

These are some shots from my film “entering North Korea”.

Photo from my upper bunk bed in Sleeper Car Nr.12

We are traveling at 30-50km/h, the railcar window is dirty and locked but the landscape is fascinating.

My eyes are glued to the window

Huge rivers, bridges, rice fields. My eyes glued to the window, oxen pass by pulling carts and ploughs, people with shovels cultivating  the field right up to the rail tracks and roadside preparing for the planting season. I see no mechanized help beside one tractor. I keep to myself while I’m filming, the two Chinese business brothers in our compartment are sleeping.
“entering DPRK” was shot on DPRK Railway Sleeper Car Nr.12 from my upper bunk bed and shows uncensored footage from the Chinese border to the capital Pyongyang of North Korea.

He is tilling the soil with his ox close to the rail tracks

It is a train journey full of thought-provoking “Langsamkeit”.

Dry riverbed - view from my upper bunk bed

FAST HAIRCUT in a Cooperative Farm

The tools: 1 comb and 1 scissors

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

My hairdresser at the Cooperative Model-Farm

A visit at a hairdresser is a travel experience to me I’m always looking forward to. I enjoy the special attention that comes with a hair cut or a shaving. There is also a difference in style from country to country.

Hair Salon, Cooperative Farm, Wonsan area, North Korea.

AFTER SEVERAL UNSUCCESSFUL attempts to get a haircut in Pyongyang, I got one at a Cooperative Model-Farm in the Wonsan area on the East Coast of North Korea.

Tong Hui, our female guide told me I could get a haircut at the hotel in Pyongyang but I wanted one in the City, a local one. She refused. Due to the fact that I could not leave the hotel in Pyongyang (nor in any other City we stayed overnight) and was not allowed to go for a walk on my own I saw no possibility to find a local hairdresser.

I told Tong Hui that I could move freely in China and could go to the hairdresser as I wished. She was sort of surprised. She wore Chinese cloths and had a Chinese handbag but could not grasp how worlds apart China and North Korea are. I don’t know if my China-remark helped.

North Korea exists like a hermit. In our interconnected world it looks like a proto-hermit country, totally sealed up to the outside world and tightly controlled within.

But where there are people there is flexibility! Two days later, my guide Tong Hui surprised me with a haircut offer in a very special location!

Haircut in progress

She was elated when she received the Go-ahead! from the woman in charge at the Cooperative Farm and even made some photos in the salon herself.

She was in charge of the hairdressing salon at the Cooperative Farm in the Wonsan area

It was the first haircut  she had organized for a foreigner 250km outside of the hotel in Pyongyang. She took good care, asked me if I felt satisfied and instructed the hairdresser girl. Yes, I had not expected that!

On the way out, the hair salon had a romantic bar

The salon had a romantic bar with liquor, beer, candies and dried fruit from the Cooperative Farm. Ursula bought some dried fruit, they tasted delicious.

One of my "permanent" guides together with the local guide are waiting at the bar. Who has an eye on whom? The Guides on me or the guides on each other?

DEAD POOR SHE WAS but CLOSE to the PULSE OF LIFE

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

At the ascent to Mount Kuwol...

AT THE ASCENT to Mount Kuwol we had to stop at a cordon of police

...cordon of police...

and our male guide

Our male guide shows his papers

had to show his travel permit from the central tourist office in Pyongyang to the woman police officer in charge. On the way up to the pass I managed briefly to sit beside the driver – there were no cars nor humans far and wide.

On our way to Kaeseong City...

Down the steep slopes on our way to Kaeseong City we entered a very beautiful garden like area that looked like the bottom of an ancient crater.

...we enter a garden like area.

Two Girls from a nearby cooperative carried buckets of water from a nearby draw well. An old woman, bowed down by age, was working bent forward in the field. Ursula made the driver stop and, for a moment unattended, we got out of the car to the dismay of our two guides.

I hasten to the field not knowing that my guide is hard on my heels

I hastened to the field to watch the woman. She was hacking and collecting some roots. I managed to take a shot or two but Yong Hui was already beside me.

My guide was exasperated: "You are not allowed to take photos of her.“

As I took a Schwenk she got between my Sony-video and the old farmworker lady and shouted: “You are not allowed to take fotos of her.“

In the meantime, Ursula had joined us. The old lady was laughing and talking to her, enjoying herself like a teenager though she was most likely in her early eighties. The old farmworker lady seemed perfectly happy with our company. She did not give the impression to be disturbed or feel dishonored by me.

"Look what I have in my bag!" - Her grace inspired me with awe

She radiated kindness and sympathy, strong life-impulses. Dead poor she was but close to the pulse of life. Her background and lifestyle were ages apart from that of our guides, she was collecting roots in the field to have something for supper.

She specially took her hat of: "Look how beautiful I am!"

While I had an argument with my guide the old woman offered Ursula  her bag, proudly showing her what she had collected. It inspired me with awe how this gentle woman could strike up a friendship with Ursula in a second talking to her like to an old friend. This made Yong Hui even more furious. She called for help from our second guide. As I tried to side step her, she was shifting desperately from one foot to the other to block me from taking a foto of the old lady.

I felt sorry for Yong Hui, she was a city girl and didn’t want to make her shoes dirty. She probably dreaded the countryside.

SOVIET-style METRO stations

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

The same escalator like in the Moscow Metro

Metro in Pyongyang – soviet style splendor

We enter the 37km long Metro. There are 17 stations.

Metro pomp of UDSSR-times

Guide Tung Hui in discussion with Jürg

Metro passengers

From other travelers I heard that 3 stations are finished in old soviet Metro-luxury, the escalator is  soviet-style too. The ticket costs 5 wong (new exchange rate: 140 wong = 1 Euro), about 3.5 Cents Euro.

Metro readers show great interest in the latest news

We are not allowed to travel more than 2 stations. Are the other stations not finished? I get no answer from my guide.

Stationmaster

A NO! NO! made possible…!

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

I would have to lie if I pretend it took me no courage to sit down to them.

Getting the soldiers in line...

...some confusion...

...I took my chance...Military photoshooting with Jürg

 … had my chance because it was the 99th birthday of THE ETERNAL PRESIDENT KIM IL SUNG.