In North Korea, a Western Journalist Appears All but Invisible

The studious lack of attention was the oddest part of an American delegation’s 28 hours in Pyongyang.


Comments: 20

  1. I have been to North Korea as a tourist about 5 years back.

    And this story brought back memories.

    While the caption of that photograph with two photographers does not say it, its amusing to see one "Korean" photographer taking picture of the "western" photographer while he is filming.

    We had a minder who took our pictures and video all the time. And they had promised to give us a CD of his shot before we left - but we never did get one.

    One of the things I did was run in Pyongyang marathon - I "ran & walked" a 10 K. We were warned not to take photos with folks along the route.

    But after exiting the stadium and security folks, no one seemed to care. Folks were happy to have photos taken with kids or without. While language was the issue, many smiles and posed for photos.

    But later in our travels - we had no such opportunity.

    While our "relations" are on the mend, it is still forbidden for Americans to travel.

    Please do NOT travel if you hold an American passport - despite Singapore. It is tempting but still dangerous for us.

  2. I'm not convinced the people are so normal. Every program I have seen that was filmed in the North, authorised or not, shows a people who for generations have been totally brainwashed into a Kim-worshiping cult. They are daily bombarded with anti-West diatribes, assurances of their leaders' infallibility, and demands for unquestioned fealty. Their functionality is dependent on their acceptance of deeply ingrained orders. When the reign of terror ends the average North Korean is going to need years, maybe generations, to adapt to a conventional productive way of life that will bring the country out of feudalism. Some may never.

  3. ‘I’m American why do you not notice me?’ A suppressed thought I carry about as an Expat in China. The Children universally do but by the late teens I disappear to the bulk of the population, and this in a town where I am the only non-Asian foreigner known it seems only to acquaintances. Yes, if marked as ‘watchable’ by authorities the eyes never depart as it noted by journalist but otherwise expect to be invisible. Factor in massive populations and it becomes understandable – how many NYCers observe one another?
    An aside: I cut grass with sheers in the Army – there it was a form of punishment Pyongyang other wise likely.

  4. When traveling to any foreign country for the first time things seem unfamiliar strange in comparison to America. The journalist injects as much negativity & Fear in a smooth way into the conversation according to his observation. Absolutely nothing was positive about his travel to North Korea. The man has somehow developed a introverted perspective.. I would have to guess that he wrote this article in a way that matches his political perspective.

  5. Armed soldiers, empty boulevards. How very positive!

  6. North Korea is arguably the highest order repressive militarily dictatorship in the world. Their methods include mass psychological and physical oppression. That the author found the place a bit “odd” is quite the understatement. This is not an an issue of Americans vacationing in some another culture they do not understand. This is a visit to Dante’s hell.

  7. The North Korean people ARE abnormal. Make no mistake about the fact that many of them all too willingly support the regime.

  8. They are abnormal for doing what they must to survive?

  9. So what? All too many Americans willingly support the trump regime. Does that make Americans abnormal? No, because it’s human to be gullible dupes who support evil people. To be a good human you have to fight to not be that. All too many fail.

  10. willingly? If they don't, they and 3 generations of their family gets sent to the prison camp for a TBD amount of time. Where have you been?

  11. “In this van, no fake news? No CNN or NBC?” he asked with a laugh.

    Even in NK they know Trump is an idiot.

  12. Much as I disdain Donald Trump as President, there is no moral equivalency here. North Korea is arguably the most repressive and murderous dictatorship in the world. Their citizens have been psychologically and physically oppressed and programmed to hate the US for 50 years. There must be no taking sides with North Korean views regardless of who sits the Oval Office.

  13. I seriously doubt that North Koreans "go to restaurants" with any sort of regularity. The average citizen in a regime like that can afford no such thing, believe me. I lived in one. I'm surprised that an expert would make such a comment to the effect that their life is much like ours.

    I also disagree with the reader who suggests that it's the writer's perspective rather than the place that made his experience so surreal. The experience was bizarre because North Korea is a bizarre and abnormal place. This is not the same as cultural unawareness or insensitivity on the part of the author. North Koreans are being oppressed, and are suffering, terribly. I would suggest that the well dressed people seen on the streets were staged.

  14. The idea from Times commenters (and chosen as a Times “pick”) that North Korea is just another vacation culture we Americans should strive to understand is abhorrent and frightening. North Korea is arguably the most repressive and murderous military dictatorship in the world. What’s next? Disney-world type rides so we can understand and accept the world culture flourishing in their concentration camps?

  15. But Trump told us just a few weeks ago that we could now sleep better at night, that he ended North Korea’s nuclear program, that Kim writes very nice letters.

    Trump’s remarks couldn’t have been premature, could they?

  16. The caption to the people bowing should be, "What does he mean, shine them again?" I'm no thief. Tom Fauls came up with that one in a 1961 study hall at Ithaca High School to a picture in a history book of thousands bowing to Mao Tse Tung. Some things never change.

  17. How is democratic socialism working out? I want more of that! What could possibly be oppressive?? Our founding fathers foolishly chose liberty instead of government dictat.

  18. Next time, go alone. You might actually learn something. Sitting in the back of a car and discussing the differences between Korean and Chinese weddings is an example. As is a discussion of the recognition of differences of opinion about 50/53 war, or the differences between the Pyongyang and Seoul subways.
    Next time, do it right.

  19. What's the 'over/under' bet for years-until-the-revolution ?
    This place is primed for it. The security of their nukes should concern us all...

  20. "... we saw perhaps a few thousand people in the capital of a country with 25 million residents. Many wore white uniforms, and some clipped patches of grass with small shears."

    When you're starving, grass clippings look pretty good, I imagine.