Sunday North Korea – Language Differences

My dear friend Scot “The Author” Stevenson regularly sends me links that relate to my experiences in North Korea. Today he came around with this article on Language Log:  “Is Korean diverging into two languages?

I can’t really tell as I am not fluent enough, but one of my fellows during the trip shared some experiences from her past travels with the Goethe Institute. I was wondering why she never spoke Korean with anyone during the trip.

When I asked her why, she gave two reasons: One was the strange behaviour people showed towards her as a Korean-looking woman (she is German with a Korean background), so she only conversed in English with the North Koreans. The second reason was that the language was so different that she could only barely understand half of what was being said. We had a special translator from the embassy.

(The picture is a photo I made of the automatic translation software that was developed at the Pyongyang Informatics Centre to ease access to information.)

Sunday North Korea – Lost in Translation

The challenges of a country in isolation is access to knowledge. They seem to cope pretty well. If you are the casual traveller and get to see one of the libraries, you will find many books that were written and published in North Korea.

Behind the scenes, however, is a shadow world of knowledge. Only accessible to the privileged. Interestingly they have literature that should not be available to them.

In addition to many books that published in the South I found many standard books on computer science in English. These books, are a challenge to many, though. That is true for the wealth of information on the internet, which seeps through the information firewall as well.

Thus, one of the projects shown to me proudly was a translation software. Fortunately I had a translator with me I trusted, and my simple test seemed to work pretty well. However, I am sure it helps a lot for the formalised science books out there.

Sunday North Korea – Winter Inside

Spring in Korea is not actually cold. However, March in North Korea is a difficult month for visiting. Due to energy shortage it can be quite cold inside. The thermometer above shows the temperature inside the reading room where the librarian also has her desk*. Not really a good place to work, even though for books it’s perfect.

During the preparation, our delegation lead warned me to not take off my coat inside buildings. And he was right! Try to sit in a room at 15ºC (~59ºF) in a meeting for an hour.

* Actually, the Goethe Institute had organized a gas-powered heater for her.


Sunday North Korea – Cuisine

I will just let the pictures speak. Imagine, this is not what the average North Korean citizen has access to. A special highlight was that one breakfast. The jelly was a little over its best before age and still edible, but I couldn’t bring myself to use the butter. As I remember, just about a year over it’s age. The beer was good, though. A relic of german missionaries. Continue reading Sunday North Korea – Cuisine