North Korea Uncloaked: The Movie!

This documentary was created through a large assortment of amateur footage taken during the April 2012 trip. We hope this provides an insight you’ve never had before about the DPRK. I’ve spent most of the summer editing this thing, and I hope you enjoy it.

Note: Not the perfect cut. Some minor footage bugs near the beginning of the film are noticeable. And YouTube has a tendency to make the audio go out of sync 🙁

North Korean Wins Olympic Gold, Praises Crazy Religion

http://in.news.yahoo.com/north-korean-weightlifter-credits-kim-jong-il-world-064942329–spt.html

This article continues the mystery of whether or not North Koreans believe in their own Kim Jong-il mythology. Om Yun Chol won a gold medal in weightlifting this week, and credits the spirit of Kim Jong-il with his success, who was “looking over him”.

Kim Jong-il, in my opinion, viewed his country as a giant ATM machine to horde his own profit and maintain his luxury lifestyle, hardly different from Moammar Gadhafi and other world-infamous dictators. Somehow, I don’t think Kim Jong-il’s spirit is a fatherly figure that cares about the well-being of his countrymen.

The belief in the Kims-as-supernatural is reinforced from an early age, and it’s possible that anybody with enough prestige in DPRK society to make it to the Olympics is living a comfortable enough life to attribute their higher living conditions to some kind of divine presence in their lives. And for North Koreans, a divine presence equates to Kim Jong-il or Kim il-Sung, even in a post-mortem condition.

But do North Koreans really believe in this stuff? My feeling is the further one gets from Pyongyang, the more disenchanted North Koreans are. if you’re privileged enough to live in the big city, eat real food, dine at restaurants and have a nice life, it’s not hard to be swept into your own country’s propaganda-religion. So, fortunate Pyongyang citizens ‘might’ have some belief in this most bizarre faith, but I suspect much of it is a bit of a dog-and-pony show.

By praising the Kims and professing faith in their religion, one gains party favor and loyalty points, helping ensure one’s place in the high-status upper-echelon. There must be a fear lingering in the minds of big-city residents that their position on the totem pole could be taken away from them should their favor be lost, but by swearing fealty to their leaders at every opportune moment, it reinforces that they– and their families– will remain safe and happy.

Having experienced Pyongyang, and Hamhung, I can safely say that most people in these cities ‘seem’ happy. In fact, on a friendliness scale, North Koreans were way more personable and happy to see you than the people I’ve met in, say, Beijing. And, I don’t feel anybody was starving, over-worked, or anything like that in Pyongyang and Hamhung. It’s a myth that everyone’s lives are absolutely miserable. This is not the case at all. And, if you’re fortunate enough to have a great lifestyle in North Korea, paying homage to your leaders and following the Kim-religion in exchange is not a bad deal.

On the other hand, if you live somewhere like Chonjin up in the northeast corner of the state, you eat 1-2 small meals a day and your life is fairly miserable, the praise and admiration of Dear Leader is probably replaced by fury, frustration, and hatred, with the exception of those people who decide to begin kissing Kim il-Sung ass in an attempt to show party loyalty, and perhaps someday be recognized by the People’s Committee, and moved to Pyongyang to enjoy the fruits of amusement parks, modern condominium high-rises, restaurants, film-festivals, and so forth.

 

North Korea’s Silent Revolution?

Here’s an article from ARS Technica about testimonials indicating that North Koreans everywhere are now watching South Korean TV and music from Seoul.

“The report also quotes several people who say that families and friends often gather together to watch the latest episodes of the most popular South Korean shows. Soap operas from the South are incredibly popular—and the gap between what they’re told about the South (that it’s poor and repressive) versus what they see (young people in designer clothes having parties) is contributing to widespread disbelief in the regime’s propaganda.”

This could hopefully be the beginning of a type of silent revolution. Given the situation in the DPRK, this is probably the best type of revolution that could occur. There’s no way a poor, malnourished country could rise up in aggression against one of the world’s biggest militaries, however never underestimate the power of a new generation of disenchanted young people.

Unlike a military revolution, it’s impossible to kill an idea, and if the idea is that our country is a piece of shit that needs improvement, it could spell the beginning of a gradual change in the DPRK, hopefully without violence.

The adding of a mobile phone infrastructure into the country was a gamble. It seems to show that the government is trying to be “progressive” in the loosest definition of the word. If they begin to tolerate foreign media, North Koreans could start to break out of the bubble.

The problem is that if too many North Koreans “wake up”, it could cause dissent. In which case, plenty will be shot and sent to gulags. At the same time, if the government tries to oppress the information that’s already leaked–and begin a crackdown on young adults listening to South Korean music, it could also cause dissent and make North Koreans even more bitter. This places the regime in a tough situation to figure out.

North Korea, which has a massive cyber espionage program, is probably reading this post. In which case, I’ll offer some free consulting advice for whatever DPRK spook may eventually arrive at this page: go ahead and let North Koreans enjoy foreign media. If you treat the citizens kindly, they’re less likely to revolt. By slowly opening up the country and ending human rights abuses, you have the best chance of becoming a truly prosperous nation. And, prosperity means the ability to eat food that’s not rice, kimchee, and soju every single night. How about a nice sirloin steak with mashed potatoes? Doesn’t that sound good to you?

A Big North Korea Photo Collection

For a journalistic tour of North Korea by an American with exclusive access, see North Korea Uncloaked.

(Please be patient and wait while some of the images load)

This gallery should hopefully cover the spectrum of life in the hermit kingdom. Included:

Kim il-Sung’s 100th birthday parade in Pyongyang (April 15th, 2012) plus the enormous fireworks show.
Shots of the countryside.
Shots of the coastal areas
Images from Wonsan and Hamhung.
School-children in far away academies, summer camps and even preschools.
Life in Pyongyang
Propaganda art and monuments.
Close-ups of locals.
The Pyongyang Friendship Fair
The Children’s Show
Candids of tour guides and museum officials.

If there is any repeat images in this gallery, my apologies!

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Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

An Example of North Korean Propagandizing of School Kids

For a complete journalistic tour of North Korea by an American, please see North Korea Uncloaked


Every spring North Korean school-children whose parents have loyally served the party may be sent to one of a number of recreational ‘summer camps’ near Pyongyang. Although classes stay in session for these kids, at least the children of the privileged few can enjoy boating adventures, play time, and some level of ‘normal’ child-hood activities.

Exploring one of these camps, I did not see deliberate evidence of kids being subjected to the typical array of propaganda art of dead Americans and Japanese imperialist invaders threatening the nation’s independence. However, I did notice a classroom with an inconspicuous globe on a table.

On these globes, the United States and Japan are both “grayed out”.

It should also be noted that North Korean maps always show a single Korea. Part of the storyline is that the South Koreans are a horribly oppressed people who are longing to be liberated by the prosperous DPRK.


Not a massive revelation, but it’s a small detail that gives you an idea about how almost everything North Korean kids are taught goes through the state-sponsored storyline.

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

How to Really Experience the DPRK

DPRK Girl

I’ve had a lot of questions about gaining entrance into the DPRK and experiencing the level of access that I had. I think it’s possible for most people, but there’s special things you need to do, including how you behave–or else the country will become shut off to you, and your trip will not be enjoyable.

The first thing I’m going to discuss are ethical dilemmas of going to North Korea, then how to get in, and finally how to behave once you arrive.

Ethical or Moral Problems

There are two reasons NOT to visit North Korea. The first is that you are supplying revenue to the DPRK. The same government that massacres its own people in concentration camps. The second reason is because reports suggest North Koreans can be sent to the concentration camps in question for interacting and having fun with Western tourists.

I would say it would be wrong to visit the country as early as two years ago. Today, I have a strong feeling that the country desperately wants tourism, and it is inevitable that tourism brings Western influence. For them, economic reform is more important than the consequences of imperialist influence. They have placed a huge amount of their struggling GDP in recent years investing into their own tourist infrastructure. I know they’re nuts, but I don’t think they’d compromise their tourism revenue by hauling away North Koreans who inevitably interact with Westerners.

I personally feel supplying the DPRK with revenue is worth the opportunity to help expose the reclusive country to the world beyond their shores. This is a very important step that will lead to the subsequent generation of North Koreans assuming power, and perhaps reforming their country with an understanding that the rest of the world is not so bad.

In addition, there’s a small chance their new leader King Jung Un is telling the truth, and that his priority is to bring an economic recovery to stop the famine in his country. If that’s the case, I think it’s a good thing to help their economy. However, be mindful that if North Korea had more money, they may only use it to perpetuate more evil in the country. So, it’s your judgment call.

Reasons to go There

It’s irresponsible to go to North Korea just to chortle at their Kim-cult and point and laugh at the strange customs of North Koreans. Unfortunately, I feel some people go to the country with this mind-set. Those that do find the country is off-limits and very unpleasant. It’s no surprise.

You should go there specifically to connect with the people and make a positive difference, or else you are wasting your time and missing the point. If you just want to create another sensational amateur documentary repeating the same themes about how terrifying the place is, don’t go. If all you see are the negative sides of the country, then you need to learn how to connect with people and look past what’s on the surface.

Certain Western tourists, especially Americans, Canadians and British, have a reputation abroad of being very disconnected when they travel to new cultures. In other words, we tend to hang our heads out of tour-buses, snap intrusive photos, and interact like we are aliens in space-suits learning about some bizarre, primitive race of people.

This is not how you should travel, and especially not in the DPRK.

Finally, you cannot enter if you belong to a major news organization, like CNN, or MSNBC, or if you’re a known journalist. They don’t want journalists to come in disguised as tourists. You can still be a journalist in the country if you go through a different route, but it’s certainly harder than entering the country as a tourist.

With all of this taken into consideration, now we can talk about going to North Korea.

Going In

I went in with Koryo Tours. I began exploring the options roughly 5 months before our departure. This was important, not only do their limited tours book up fast, but there’s a lot you need to do before you go.

The first thing you should do is be in touch with other people going. Our group had a Facebook page setup. We had others who had been there previously, and this was a great way to get help and have questions answered.

If you are American, or Japanese, you can now go to North Korea. There is some considerations, for instance you cannot take a train into the country. But, you can still enjoy the same levels of access.

Ask the awesome employees of Koryo Tours if they have any “off the beaten path” tours available. They sometimes provide these. They have a great connection with the country, and certain tourists are given access to cool places that few other people go to. Showing enthusiasm about this is the best way to land on a more exclusive tour package, as well as by asking months in advance.

You will need to do a variety of things before you go, including applying for a double entry Chinese visa. You will also need a fresh new passport photo for your specialized North Korean passport that will be provided through the tour company. You will be given materials to study about the country, and various other things leading up to the trip.

You will need to book your own flight to Beijing. I suggest staying somewhere like the San Li Tun Hostel (just look it up at Hostelworld). This hostel is in walking distance to the Koryo Tour group office. I’d book a couple of days there in advance and maybe check out Beijing a little bit first because it’s a cool (albeit smoggy) city. It’s nice to be in walking distance to their office because you don’t want to miss their important informational meeting because you got stuck in Beijing traffic.

That being said, if you hang out in Beijing, avoid rush hour at all costs, and always negotiate flat rates with Chinese cab drivers or else you’ll get meter-raped. Actually, the Chinese love negotiating, so don’t feel shy. The city was a little intimidating at first, but I found it to be very pleasant, especially the airport.

Arriving in North Korea

At some point you’ll be taken back to Beijing airport, and you’ll have to catch a flight with Koryo Air, the North Korean airliner.

Some of their planes are apparently fossils from the Soviet Union, but ours was quite “normal”. A little cramped, and the staff are less concerned about things like safety regulations (seatbelts? who cares, put them on if you want, pussy!), but it’s not a bad airliner by any means.

You’ll arrive at a huge military warehouse that’s their equivalent of an international airport. If you’ve been paying attention to the rules about entering the country, you won’t have problems here. You’ll want to make sure that you packed fairly basic stuff. The more strange digital devices you have, the more paranoid they’ll get. I had a simple global plug adapter that an officer at the airport got really suspicious about. After some translation difficulties, he figured out what it was, and laughed at himself for being so paranoid about it. I imagine if I had something hard to identify, like an external hard-drive, it would have caused some difficulty.

You can bring a laptop. They had no problems with my tiny netbook. A professional camera is fine, too. But, you must make sure it has no GPS capabilities, or it will end up getting held at the airport until you leave. Not good. In addition, no cell phones are allowed. Yours will be held until you return. I had mine held, and it was returned to me without any problems.

Overall, North Korean customer service at this airport was not bad, despite how intimidating the place looks. The female customs officers were way more friendly than, say, Los Angeles International, or even Beijing. The guys appear a little more stone-cold, but they’re actually pretty chilled once you get to know them. If you feel tense, just smile and wave at one of the ladies, and once they start blushing you’ll immediately feel less tense about being around North Koreans.

Behaving in North Korea

The next part is extremely important. There needs to be a consensus among yourself, and your group, how to act while you’re in North Korea. If one or two people are severely out of line, the quality of your experience is going to go way, way down.

Remember how I mentioned to stay in touch ahead of time over Facebook? This is one of the most important reasons why. Everyone needs to be on the same page and agree to be on their best behavior. The reason is because you most definitely want to befriend your tour guides, and any other official. The more they like you, the more your access to the country goes up, until you can practically do anything you want. But, this must be a very slow process.

The reason people report such negative experiences in the country is because the government tries to shut off tourists who “don’t get it”. They clamp down on their photo-taking abilities, limit their tours and they make the whole thing very impersonal. Certain tourists have described their guides as “gestapo”, and i have no doubt this is a reflection of their own poor behavior in the country.

What NOT To Do

– Take photos of stuff that paints the country in a bad light. If you travel in New York City, and you encounter a dead homeless guy under a bridge, would you take photos? No. Don’t do the same in North Korea. Their justification is that too many tourists come back trying to hype up the negative sides of the country, and this hurts their image and tourist revenue. I actually agree with them.

– Take photos of North Koreans without asking. It’s not that you’re not allowed to take photos of, or with, North Koreans. It’s just that pushy tourists think they can do it without asking first. You simply consult your tour guide to see if the people would like a photo, and then you snap it. As the tour guides become more and more comfortable, it will become more possible to take spontaneous shots of citizens and North Korean lifestyles.

– Take photos of North Korean infrastructure. This includes military sites, harbors, etc. The reason is because the U.S. and other countries send spies into the DPRK fairly regularly, and they often arrive disguised as tourists. Their purpose is to chronicle their infrastructure locations. They have perfect reason to be paranoid about this.

– Ask sensitive questions. You can learn more about North Koreans by getting to know them on a personal level. You don’t have to get to know them by asking their opinions about the West, or if they hate Americans, or if they secretly hold a grudge against the Kim family. Such questions are extremely awkward for tour guides, and it will even make them fearful. You can guarantee they’ll shut down from you on a personal basis if you ask things like this. You don’t want this. It will kill your experience in the country.

– Be drunk and obnoxious. You need to be respectful. Don’t cross boundaries or be blatantly impolite.

Things TO do.

– Bring a couple of personal gifts for the guides. IF you have a guy and a girl guide, bring the guy some good alcohol. For our female guide, I brought her a turquoise bracelet from my home state of Arizona. They’re very humble when they receive a gift, they often say nothing and simply accept it. I was a little put off by this, but as it turns out she thought the bracelet was very special and wore it for the rest of the trip.

– Express genuine appreciation for their country. There’s a lot to appreciate, from the beautiful scenery, their historical temples, and even parts of Pyongyang are very nice, including their amazing subway system. You don’t have to swallow the Kim il-Sung kool-aid to like their country, but appreciate their people and culture and they’ll be really happy.

– Joke, be lighthearted. The more you banter, the more they’ll open up to you. It’s amazing the power of being playful. I think this is the single reason our group had great access, and it certainly helped that we had “banter experts” and dating coaches on the trip with us. North Koreans have a good sense of humor. Try to make the experience fun for the tour guides, and they’ll reward you for it.

– When you can, interact with North Koreans. Be, as we called it, an “Ambassador of Fun”. High-five North Koreans in crowded areas, play with children, and bring games and magic tricks to show off. Our tour guides loved that we did this. But, if we hadn’t followed previous steps, I don’t think we’d have been able to do this type of stuff. It’s kind of like being trusted by your girlfriend’s parents.

– This also helps to instill the idea in future generations of North Koreans that westerners = fun, good people. This is a very important message to convey to the country.

– Be respectful. This does not mean kissing Kim il-Sung ass. Respect, to me, is more like a fondness or curiosity about them. Treat them like people, no different than anyone else you meet. Humanity is universal, and no matter how alien your environment is, humans still largely share commonalities. You can joke about things that affect all of us, from the complications of relationships to doing embarrassing stuff when you’re drunk. Find these commonalities, and it will be very beneficial to you.

In Summary

Going to North Korea as a westerner, especially as an American. places you into an important diplomatic role that you cannot take for granted. Excessive amounts of poorly behaving western tourists will only reinforce their propaganda stereotypes about the rest of the world. Your job is to break past their programming and represent your culture in the best light possible. If you cannot do this, do not go to North Korea.

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

Funny, Badly Translated Notice at North Korean Hotel

A classic Engrish moment when I noticed this bulletin posted in an elevator at a cheap hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.

For more information about the country, visit North Korea Uncloaked.

North Korea engrish

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

North Korean government projects weird anime on massive TVs in Pyongyang

Residents of Pyongyang sometimes get a little bored.

One way to keep the citizens in line is to play weird, propaganda enriched local TV shows on these massive television projectors in the center of town.

In all fairness, the animation is a lot better than “Yu Gi Oh”.

Learn more about the country at North Korea Uncloaked.

North Korea anime

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

Americans interacting with North Koreans at the subway

(Also check out my entire photo-essay at North Korea Uncloaked)

In North Korea, they kept us busy. From 7 AM until 5 PM we were shuttled to locations across Pyongyang, from monuments and museums to long expeditions across the countryside to distant cities. One of the first of many destinations in the country was the Pyongyang metro station.

We were told that this is one of the few occasions when a western tourist is in such close proximity to North Koreans, who are normally isolated from outsiders. For years, rumors have persisted that it’s almost impossible to interact with North Korean locals, and few people have ever done it.

What we found is that either our particular tour guides were exceptionally cool, or this is something of a myth. Aside from the metro station, we had plenty of other opportunities to meet the residents of the forbidden kingdom; from playing Frisbee along the docks of Wonsan to taking photos with entire schools of Korean kids.

Many of these people may have never seen westerners before. They are told from birth that Americans are the source of their woes, and the government discourages locals who are not authorized to greet foreigners. However, it’s easy to bring North Koreans out of this initial apprehension through being a bit enthusiastic and fun. They respond very well to playfulness, and you can quickly instigate huge groups of people to hang-out, play games, high-five and snap photos.

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

North Korea Weirdness Follows Me Home

For all of the weird stuff I experienced in North Korea, I did not expect to have matching levels of weirdness when I returned to the states.

This has come in the form of the unusual reactions from Internet critics and trolls about my trip to the DPRK.

Although most feedback has been very positive about my photo-journal, there’s that percentage of haters on forums, YouTube, and even real-life that want to paint my experiences and interpretations about the country in a bad light.

The first half are the people with preconceived notions about North Korea and claim that my positive experiences in the country must be a fabrication. After-all, it’s part of the “Axis of Evil” and so reports of happy North Koreans who love Americans is surely a lie. I’ve dealt with these people on various social media platforms, with at least one guy who initially tried to claim that I did not even go to North Korea–the entire thing was a fabrication; his proof being that a National Geographic documentary from 4 years go said that Americans were not allowed in the country. So, obviously, I shot photos of South Korea and combined them with existing photos of North Korea on the web to create a publicity stunt.

I pretty much expected that I’d have to deal with these types of people. You’ll always encounter haters no matter what you do, especially on the web. But, what I did not expect was the nature of the other half of the criticism I’ve received through comments and e-mails; people who feel I am being too harsh toward the poor North Korean government.

Despite the fact many of my reports show the country in a positive light, such as the Pyongyang Friendship Fair, there’s been a surprising number of critics who have told me that I am bias that the country is “evil”, and therefore my reports are not objective. This is primarily in response to my post about the Orwellian loudspeakers in Pyongyang, and how on a couple of occasions I’ve used livid language to describe the government of the DPRK (“dripping with evil”).

One guy I dealt with even claimed the North Korean government is wonderful, and every Western report is just propaganda… Now, politically I lean a little toward the left, but there’s no way I could relate to a position this extreme. Supporting the North Korean communist government and criticizing my report as being “unfair” to the DPRK is so far to the extreme left that it actually comes full-circle and becomes no different from extreme-right support of fascism. It’s the same thing.

I’ll say right now that I fully support any statement I’ve made that describes the country as “evil”. It absolutely is evil. Those loudspeakers on the street would not be “Orwellian” in a country that does not oppress it’s people. Yes, loudspeakers exist in other countries like Japan, but they’re not full of fascist propaganda. In a kingdom where criticizing the government is punishable by death, and the GDP is allocated toward massive parades and building giant monuments instead of feeding famine stricken citizens–you are dealing with some seriously twisted shit.

And this evil is isolated to whatever cabal runs the country. It’s not the North Korean people who are evil, and I don’t even think it’s Kim Jong Un calling the shots– it’s generals and military leaders who control the country from their upper echelon much like a mafia.

It’s up to the outside world to shed light on North Korea and help people learn about the wonderful, friendly people in the country, and to bring faces to those who are being forcefully oppressed by one of the worst regimes on Earth. We also have a chance to continue to make a peaceful effort to connect with the North Korean people, and to help them learn that the world beyond their society is not out to get them.

As for the people who believe North Koreans are all unanimously evil, or the bizarre regime defenders who flip out when I call a spade a spade–all I can say is I believe the Internet brings out the worst in some people. If you’ve actually been to the country I’ll listen to your point of view, otherwise all you’re really doing is trolling.

~
Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

Getting Drunk and Shooting Things in North Korea

(For a complete report and photo-essay about North Korea from April 2012, visit North Korea Uncloaked)

(Also check out our visit to the Pyongyang Friendship Fair).

North Korea offers certain tourists the privilege of Soviet-era comforts that you may not find at more traditional ‘vacation’ retreats.

After a long day of boozing at various restaurants, our group of mostly Americans made our way into a military controlled shooting-range that seemed to be occupied predominantly by North Korean soldiers looking to blow off steam. One of the veteran travelers in my group explained that this particular hovel is not always shown to tourists, so our group was lucky.

The first part of the shooting-range is a bar that sells large amounts of cheap North Korean beer (tastes a little like cider) plus imported junk food from various neighboring countries. I was already hammered when I came in, and after about another two pints I was finally ready to go shooting.

For the not-so-cheap price of about $.50 a bullet we could use a piece of junk Soviet rifle to aim at a few targets. I’m not a gun-aficionado so I can’t tell you what type of rifle it was, but if these are the guns the soldiers use–I can accurately report that Americans are completely safe if we ever go to war with this country. I used to a be a fairly good aim with my father’s .22 rifle, but this thing couldn’t shoot a dinosaur in a cage.

But the best part of the shooting range is that for an extra $5.00 you’re allowed to take a shot at the livestock wandering around along the edge, namely pheasants. If you’re a crack-shot and you kill a bird, you’re given the carcass.

Two of our group-members actually bagged pheasants. We brought them back to our hotel and handed them to the kitchen staff. The next morning, while all of the other tourists were forced to dine on excessive amounts of kimchee (pickled cabbage) and cold eggs, we were presented a nice pheasant stew.

Sometimes in North Korea you have to do what you can to find a decent meal.

I wish I had taken more photos of the shooting range, but I was too drunk to care. In fact, I’m surprised I was able to hold a camera let alone a gun. (In retrospect, maybe the rifle didn’t have such bad aim, and I was just really drunk. I don’t really know. In fact, I don’t really remember.)

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Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.

Pyongyang Friendship Fair

(Note: please take a moment for the thumbnail images to load).

There is plenty of weird things about North Korea, from the Orwellian loudspeakers that blast propaganda, the Kim-cult, their distorted versions of history, the forceful isolation of their people, and their obsession with slaughtering Americans as portrayed in their propaganda.

However, at the very least, the Kim dynasty is making a 1% effort to connect with foreigners and show they’re ‘not so bad’.

(Read: North Korea Uncloaked for a full recent report about the DPRK by an American tourist).

Recently (April 15th), around the time of the failed rocket launch, I participated at a ‘Friendship Fair’ held in a park near Pyongyang, loaded with beer and dancing. Many countries participated, including Americans and Japanese. The North Koreans separated the audience into red and blue teams and hosted various competitions that lasted all day.

In addition, talented Korean child-gymnasts performed, a marching band of lovely Pyongyang ladies made an appearance, and traditionally dressed Korean women posed with tourists. It was nice being at an event in Pyongyang that did not involve being force-fed Kim il-sung mythology. The vibe was more like a carnival or a renaissance faire. It also helped me to imagine what a free North Korea could feel like.

Does this indicate the beginning of a better diplomatic effort? It’s hard to say, considering this was the same week that North Korea once again boasted how they would reduce Seoul to ashes. The very conservative influence keeps the country swayed heavily toward their old tricks. But hopefully these types of events continue in a country that is desperate to bring in some tourist revenue to help feed the starving masses.

(Click thumbnails)

A performing girl at the Friendship Fair.

Pyongyang Marching Band

Some Western visitors compete.

More Westerners play.

Performing girls


Marching band

Children dance in panda costumes

Posing with a traditionally dressed North Korean woman.

Support my work chronicling North Korea and other places in the world by becoming a citizen photo-journalist yourself and purchasing a Canon Rebel t3i from my affiliate store below, and I’ll make a tiny percentage of the sale. Buying a good DSLR was one of the best purchase decisions in my life. Even with a cheap lens, I still produce great images on the t3i because this professional grade camera has such a good sensor.