Continuing writing about my North Korea trip…
One of this trip’s major themes was the difference between expectations and experiences; also recognizing that expectations — Americans have wild expectations of North Korea — say things about yourself, not them. Experiences say something about the interaction between others and yourself.
Americans, myself included, know little about North Korea and North Koreans. Our expectations tell us about what gets past the filters of their media and ours.
The dominant expectations I hear Americans having of North Koreans are
- North Korea is dangerous and lawless
- The North Korean government jails westerners frequently for long times and tortures them
- The North Korean military is huge and omnipresent, goose-stepping about frequently
- The country is dreary and the people lifeless
- People are starving and crops are flooded
- You might not be able to get back out
My experience did not bear out most of these expectations. In particular, I found the people vibrant — not all the time, but then neither is anyone. We all have to drudge to work in crowded trains or highways (well, people like myself who have crafted other lifestyles for themselves don’t, but that’s a whole other topic, and what my seminars are about) — so do they. But when they dance they smile like we do. When their children play, they beam with pride, and so on.
The other overriding difference between expectations and my experiences was that their military interfered or even appeared far less in regular life than I expected. Even their quasi-militaristic (and unbelievably amazing) Arirang Mass Games had far less military presence than a peaceful demonstration in New York City (I’m writing during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, where the New York City police implemented a strategy of overwhelming domination surpassing any military or police presence I saw in North Korea) or a stadium event like the Superbowl or a NASCAR race, which often feature fighter jets flying overhead and Marines performing.
The next difference was that the land seemed green, which I could see even as our plane descended toward Pyongyang. Crops seemed abundant as we drove from Pyongyang to the Demilitarized Zone.
But I expect looks deceive. Besides a few apples at breakfast and one small slice of watermelon, I saw no fresh fruits and vegetables on the entire trip. I’ve been to India and even in the most impoverished areas the fresh fruits and vegetables exploded with intense color and beautiful smells. North Korea had nothing of the sort. Also, recent news implies more hunger this year due to more weather and distribution problems.
Tomorrow: some simple, basic observations of North Korea
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