How did the general citizens of North Korea treat you?
They treated us without exception with utmost respect, kindness and generosity.
What did you like and dislike about the country?
The general people of Korea are definitely the brightest jewel in the country. We couldn’t find any cynicism, sarcasm, irony, vulgarity and other “Western characteristics” in their eyes, on their faces and in their behavior. It was nothing but sincere modesty, kindness, proudness and respect. There was no military parade for the 70th Anniversary of Freedom, only people dancing gracefully instead everywhere on the streets and parks of Pyongyang.
Traffic policewomen are big fun to observe. They perform the most intriguing biomechanical, almost robotic ritual in the middle of the crossroads, probably all day long.
What we didn’t like is the fact that we were not allowed to move around freely, but in a country that is almost hermetically isolated from the outside world and thus from all the media pollution, foreigners are toxic subjects that could potentially spreading their ideological disease to the inhabitants of this communist Utopia, the collective “Truman show.”
“What misconceptions don’t Westerners have about North Korea? It’s a country everybody in the West loves to hate.”
What misconceptions do Westerners have of North Korea?
What misconceptions don’t they have? It’s a country everybody in the West loves to hate, but most of the tabloid stories about the DPRK are utterly false: They don’t eat their own children, they don’t throw people to dogs and they don’t starve because of a lack of food.
Americans in North Korea are, for instance, not hated at all, but welcomed. And Koreans do not equate the American people with U.S. governmental policy. Entering North Korea is not that difficult at all. As a matter of fact, it is generally easier than entering U.S.
Pyongyang, which was completely bombed and erased during the Korean war — of course by the American warheads — is today a beautiful, clean, well-kept and colorful city with impressive architecture and parks.
North Koreans laugh, smile and joke a lot and people across the country are incredibly well and “dignifying” dressed. They learn foreign languages; children begin to learn English at the age of seven. Koreans are keen to open up to the outside world, but they want to do it slowly, on their own terms, and in a very different way than the Chinese.
What would surprise people about North Korea?
They produce excellent beer. It is actually considered a soft drink and microbreweries there are popular. You can also drink beer freely from an open container outside on the street and smoke inside hotels and bars without a risk of prison. Pyongyang, with the rest of the country, is also probably the safest place in the world to walk around — if they let you walk around, of course. And for those who are into cannabis, North Korea is a very liberal place, where possession of cannabis is in fact essentially legal.