Impressions of North Korea

We’ve added our photos of the North Korea trip to Flickr. This is our tour group at the Mansudae Grand Monument. Our impressions of the country from our visit:

  • Everything smells musty.
  • Nothing is properly lit – restaurants and shops are dark (and musty).
  • Statues and portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il are everywhere. In our group we started asking each other ‘who are those two?’ whenever we saw one.
  • All adults wear a pin showing either the great or supreme leader, or both. Failing to wear it and being spotted by an inspector can have dire consequences.
  • The standard working week is Monday-Saturday, and there are self-improvement activities to be done on Sundays.
  • The people are very sombre in public – not much talking, no laughing or joking. Could be related to the points above.
  • Ordinary people cannot own a car or move freely within the country so there is almost no traffic on the roads.
  • Only the elite with flawless family histories live in Pyongyang.
  • Apartment blocks, even in the elite capital city, look very dilapidated.

  • Some buildings seem to have been abandoned mid construction eg. an apartment block with some inhabited floors and other floors of bare cement, no windows etc.
  • Health and safety on constructions sites is not a high priority (one of the things we are forbidden to photograph is construction sites).
  • There is a lot of menial physical labour going on everywhere eg. manual weeding, cutting grass with shears or even scissors, laying concrete boundaries along roadsides.

  • There is no rubbish anywhere, public spaces are spotless.
  • Groups of students can be seen marching and singing in public squares.
  • As foreigners we get a lot of looks from local people but it’s impossible to know what they are thinking. Some (but not many) wave back when we wave.
  • The city is dark at night (our hotel runs on a generator).
  • The people do not like their country being referred to as North Korea – if you try to send a postcard mentioning those words it will not be sent. It’s either Korea or DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).
  • Engineering projects that seem standard or dated in the West are celebrated beyond all reason.

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