Monday, May 08, 2017

Life in Pyongyang

NPR talks to an American back from a recent second visit to Pyongyang, who says that life seems relatively normal, at least in that city:
On what has changed since Lee's last trip to North Korea

I have to point out that I've only been in Pyongyang, which is the showcase capital. This is a city of elites, and so I'm only getting that side of the picture. It's like only going to Manhattan, rather than seeing the rest of the United States.

That said, it's surprising given what we hear about the sanctions how things have progressed. Everybody has a smartphone — sometimes two. Everybody is on their phones. They're all playing video games. They're doing what we do with our cellphones as well, they're checking the news, messaging their friends.

There's quite a bit more English, which is interesting. English is the main language that children learn here. There's certainly a lot more cars, which is surprising given the concern about fuel shortages.

I did some shopping today ... and it's just amazing the kinds of products that they have on the shelves. [That] certainly wasn't the case when I started coming to North Korea. So, in some ways, life has improved for the people of Pyongyang.

That said, I think that things are still incredibly difficult in the countryside. They have a chronic food shortage, and that's only going to get worse, of course, with the tightened sanctions.

I didn't expect that bit about English, either.

And even with state controlled media, it seems they are not being whipped into a frenzy (or if the attempt is being made, it's not working?):
It's amazingly calm. You would be surprised at how calm things are here, and I have to say that like most North Koreans, I've been largely cut off from the screaming headlines that we've been seeing. I didn't have Internet access for several days. And, as you probably know, most North Koreans don't have Internet access. They get their news from their own state media, so unless they read about it in their own state media, or see it on the evening news, they're not very aware of it.
To be honest, it's remarkable, we are not seeing people who are preparing for war. They've had a month, really, of some big anniversaries. They celebrated May Day. I did go to a May Day celebration in the park, where they were singing and dancing and drinking.
But they're getting ready now for a busy season of rice planting in May, so they're gearing up for that. They are completely unfazed, it seems, by all the rhetoric that we're hearing overseas.

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