Listen, forget about all of those grim, depressing pictures one sees coming out of North Korea for a minute… It’s not always like that. No place is grim and depressing all of the time.
Keep reading this post if you need to be convinced…
Having been under the close supervision of our North Korean minders for every moment of our trip up to this point, we were astonished when they dropped us off at a crowded beach and just told us to be back in a couple of hours.
Not about to let an opportunity like that pass us by, we set out to meet as many North Koreans as we could and to try and get an unfiltered sense of what North Korean people and their lives were really like. Although we were not prevented at any time from speaking with the people of North Korea during our visit to the country, they would be shy and cautious when the guides were around. Now was a chance to see what things were really like and the contrast was remarkable.
This is the scene that greeted us when we arrived:
Not exactly the first image one conjures up when thinking about gray, authoritarian North Korea:
Behind us are small shops selling ice, drinks, popsicles and snacks:
This particular beach was created by a mushroom-shaped spit of land that juts out into the sea. The space between the “mushroom” and the mainland creates a sheltered bay where the sand settles (forming the beach) and the waves are mild (making it good for swimming and for kids).
Past the man enjoying some oysters and a cold beer, is a good view of the small bay:
A small road leads down the spit of land to an increasingly anarchic parking area:
Headed toward the action:
People aren’t too selective on their mode of transportation to the beach – dump trucks, military vehicles, cargo trucks, commandeered buses… Whatever gets the job done.
Commandeering a bus would get one arrested as a terrorist in the West, but in North Korea when a group of villagers commandeer a bus to take a trip to the beach on a hot day, this is considered a sensible and entirely appropriate course of action. It’s tough not to respect that:
As I mentioned above, the parking area is fairly chaotic and looks somewhat like a refugee camp, but this is where most of the action is. People swim, play and splash around in the water and then retreat from the sun back to makeshift camps they have set up with tarps and umbrellas:
Ha, it’s funny how you only notice some things after reviewing pictures later… At the time, I was completely oblivious to the girl changing her clothes on the left. Now she probably thinks all Westerners are pervos:
Some people suggest that every single stop on a visit to North Korea is carefully staged and managed like a theater production. The visitors arrive, everything looks neat and nice. The visitors leave, the nice things are put away and life returns to normal. I can assure my dear readers that there was nothing staged about this visit. We saw drunk North Koreans staggering around, drunk North Koreans passed out, men fighting, women fighting, men hitting their wives… You name it. There is no way this was staged:
It was fun to walk around and see what all of the different groups of friends and families were up to. Some groups were barbecuing, some were just sitting around drinking, some were dancing, some are doing all of the above and more.
North Koreans dancing… This group was quite insistent on us joining them in the dance routine, which the girls eventually did:
Not a single group that we passed did not invite us to come and dance, eat, drink or just hang out with them. North Koreans are tremendously hospitable:
So, yeah, basically The Velvet Rocket crashed a big North Korean beach party…
It took us a while to get to the far side of the beach because we did not want to be rude and stopped to talk to so many people along the way, but we finally made it.
OK, so it’s not like a beach in Miami, but cut them some slack… They’re in North Korea:
This is where the waters from the sea enter the bay:
There’s a concrete barrier at the end protecting the land (somewhat) from erosion by the sea:
The end of the spit of land jutting out into the sea… Those are fishing boats anchored in the background.
Overall, yet another reminder that people are essentially the same wherever you go.
Thank you, Rus.
I shared this article on my fb wall; and immediately had people saying that the only people allowed at this beach would’ve been upper cadre types and their families, but I think the photos show otherwise. I’m correct, right?
Also Justin, feel free to touch base on stalkbook, /rusty.hayse
Love your work mate.
Thanks for sharing it, Rus… Yes, you are correct in that the people at the beach were ordinary North Koreans. This beach was many hours away from Pyongyang, or even any major cities, so even if the beach had been restricted to the elite, there wouldn’t have been many people there to occupy it. There were certainly people there that were better off than others, but it was definitely open to all and we saw the full range of people.
Very interesting Justin. Good story. What was the purpose of your trip?
That’s pretty cool. Great article. Let’s face it, the MSM (Main Stream Media) mostly show only the negative aspects of North Korean (or any communist society like Cuba for instance), it’s all typical negative western propaganda and the MSM dutifully toe the line in that respect. For instance, you could run a news service that only shows the poor run down ghettos and quasi-slums in the United States where African-Americans and Latinos live, trailer parks were “white trash” live and only show the police brutality (such as that recent case were the NYPD killed a black guy selling cigarettes with an illegal choke hold) and make out that the USA is a police state where minorities and unemployed white people all live below the poverty line. I’m sure that’s akin to what the western MSM does with socialist countries or any countries that their respective governments think of as “bad”. It’s good to see that at least someone these days is keeping it real. I’ve even seen blogs where they do the same thing the MSM does and only show the negative aspects of particular societies. Rus’s fb wall reaction is typical of western ignorance fostered by the MSM for example.
Outstanding article. Very well done.
another great post, Justin – your posts are never just ordinary
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Doesnt look too bad really and doesnt look managed.
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This is one of the very rare occasions to see and feel the real North Korea. I’m glad you made the experience :-)
Nice photos, well done!
More pics of North Koreans outside the gulags: http://northkorecapitalist.tumblr.com
So commandeering buses to go to the beach is legal in a totalitarian country but illegal in a secular democracy? This is NOT the real North Korea as you have suggested. North Koreans face severe malnutrition; they live in a repressed dictatorship with little to no human or political rights; and they are constantly told to be submissive to their leaders. I’m glad you think the regime allowed you to see “real North Koreans” but let’s face it, you 1) presumably weren’t aware of the beach trip before hand 2) didn’t choose the location or time or day 3) didn’t see another beach with happy Koreans 4) the fact that EVERY group invited you to join them even though North Koreans are quite reserved around foreigners smells of a semi-staged event and 5) only went to the beach once, for a few hours, why not go back? Do you have any pictures from other parts of North Korea that aren’t from the beach? Every other part of you visit was carefully supervised by your handlers, yet somehow you have convinced yourself that YOU, yes you Justin Ames, had the honor, the privilege, to be allowed to see the “Real” North Korea and Koreans. Those BRAND FUCKING NEW rafts just happened to be there? I think picture of the two gentleman dressed as soldiers explains everything: this is a military unit at the beach with staged people. North Korea sent actors to root for them during the world cup, they can easily pay or force people to go to a beach for a few hours. Still love the pics though, nice to see other parts of the world even when they are staged events by secular demo.. totalitarian dictatorships.
Ha, it’s funny because comments like these are ONLY coming from individuals that have never been to North Korea… How are you such an expert on what things are like there? How do you know what the “real” North Korea is like?
This is just one scene in North Korea and there are an infinite number of others. If you had bothered to look, you would have seen that I have shown some of these others as well.
You have to get your mind around the fact that the North Korean government is not an efficient well-oiled machine that runs everything with German precision. Communist governments seem to breed dysfunction, corruption and inefficiency and North Korea is no exception. One is given a loose itinerary that changes frequently. Often, the guides are scrambling in the morning to figure out what to do that day and how to arrange things. We overheard many tense conversations as they struggled with the logistics of this.
Yes, there were a couple of soldiers at the beach. There are men in uniform everywhere in North Korea. A huge percentage of the population is in the military. You see men in commander’s uniforms pulling weeds in the fields, taking naps along the road, working on fishing boats, etc. The same goes with military vehicles – they are everywhere. This is because outside of Pyongyang, they are some of the few vehicles around. As such, they get put into service for everything.
Use your critical thinking for a moment and contemplate if your scenario really makes sense… Thousands of government employees gathered from across the country, intensively trained for weeks in how to act like they are having fun, mustered into place at the precise time before our arrival and then the grand finale – the great conspiracy – to convince a handful of Westerners that the average North Korean has a bit of humanity…
The North Korean government is chronically strapped for cash (one of the reasons they permit the tours in the first place) and the Kim family certainly enjoys the good life. Why would they possibly go to that much expense and hassle (again accepting your premise that a broken-down, corrupt, dysfunctional government could successfully execute such an operation so flawlessly) for us?
This is not a defense of the regime in North Korea, nor am I attempting to say that life there must be wonderful. However, North Korea, as with most things in life, is not as black and white as many seem to want to think it is. Instead, there is a lot of gray in the middle…
The underground economy is fairly large in North Korea and they’re not all eating grass and living in the gulags.
Well said,and an awesome and informative article thats very eye opening,it certainly makes a nice change from the usual msm narrative of the dprk as 1984 made flesh or else something to laugh at
Is that in Nampo? I think I can see the sea barrage in the background of one one of the pictures. If so, I can guess that a lot of these people might be day trippers from Pyongyang given that its the closest beach.
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To all those “useful idiots who watch Murdoch’s Fox news” like Hans who swallow all that negative western propaganda hook line and sinker…
An outdoor concrete and steel skate park has been built in Pyongyang
Do a search and you’ll find plenty of other articles to back it up….
Read it and weep Hans, you’re dead wrong about a lot of things! >:)
This was really interesting. I’ve read a lot of articles on the web about North Korea, but I haven’t seen anything like this before. Thanks for the look around. Good work.
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