Tuesday, March 13, 2007

North Korea Observed

Upon first entering the country it was almost immediately apparent how controlled everything is. We said how 'scripted' everything was. We were only allowed a short way into the country and the whole area was very controlled. They only let us see what they wanted us to see.

If electricity is any indication, a quick look at this photo shows how poor the country is. S. Korea is lit up from top to bottom. That great black void is N. Korea. Looking out from our hotel, there was a strip of lights along the road that ran for a half mile. After that was complete darkness. I forgot to take advantage of the star gazing.

Roads were closed off when they were not in use, we could not venture from the hotel complex and any interaction with the North Korean people was closely monitored. They even went so far as to hire South Koreans as hotel staff.

We heard stories of family members coming to visit relatives in North Korea. The North Korean family would be moved to a nicer fully furnished house. Then they would have to sign documents claiming that is how they have always lived and that they would not reveal any secrets of day-to-day life to their relatives. As soon as the relatives left they would be moved back to their run down ramshackled house.

The trip was like taking a step back in time. Everything seemed as if it might have been in the 1950s. Only the army had vehicles and all of their trucks, motorcycles and tanks were from the war. (Kudos to their mechanic for keeping everything in pristine working order for over 50 years.)

Along the road, the soldiers were laying phone lines and I even saw one guard tapping into the phone line just like on M*A*S*H.
On the second afternoon, we went shuttle hopping and got up close and personal to soldiers albeit through the bus window. The poor state of development was apparent everywhere you looked accept at the hotels which were classic western design.

The road up to the hiking trails was apparently built by the Japanese and thus accounts for the numerous switch backs. It is interesting that they don't seem to be susceptible to frost heaves here and the roads are in good condition for being so old. Everywhere along the trails were carved huge scripts in the rocks. Some had to be ten feet tall and up 50 feet on the wall.

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