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

Highway “DECORATIONS“, DPRK

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

Monumental concrete structures “decorate“ the highway

Ever so often we pass concrete structures on the left and right side of the highway from Panmunjon to Pyongyang . Ursula’s questions about the purpose of it, Tung Hui answers with “highway decorations“.

The entrance gate to the DMZ is made of concrete slabs which can easily be dropped as roadblocks against advancing South Korean tanks

The concrete slabs don’t look like sculptures though. They remind us much more of the entrance fortification to the DMZ. They can easily be toppled by hacking away the bottom part.

Another sample of roadblock on the way to the DMZ is the following.

Concrete road block - The wooden wedge can easily be removed

learn from BIG BROTHER

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

It pays off to walk behind a Chinese. This invaluable lesson I learned in DPRK. Chinese in groups are a friendly bunch, they laugh, are loud, say hello and often ask to make a photo with you. They care less about restrictions, take pictures we are told not to make and walk around more freely. Moving behind a Chinese or a Chinese group of travelers is like moving your boat behind an icebreaker in the Arctic Zone. Chinese seem to be “naturally“ hearing impaired, easy-going and not responsive to every whim of their guides.

I quickly understood that if I wanted to make contact with local North Koreans I had to hang behind my guides at least 20m – and behave like a Chinese.

“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