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.)
This is a rare look into Pyongyang which may be boring, but also shows the normal day life. While it’s interesting to watch pictures and movies like this, always be curious if it says “officially approved”. Journalists usually get to see only the good parts.
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.
A notable visit during my trip was the visit of a number of hospitals. Some looking like back in the 1950’s while the ones on Pyongyang were more modern. However, if you are looking for a relaxing bath, you might want to study this map of hot baths (in Japan known as Onsen). Looks like most of the sources are in North Korea.
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.
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
For those who don’t know, I was born in East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. Luckily that changed in 1989 and I can say it was a game changer. That was not long before we had “social networks”. Keeping track of friends was difficult, because many of my friends moved around.