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Photos from Inside North Korea (2014) (earthnutshell.com)
205 points by iamjeff on Apr 9, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments



Related: A YouTube channel [0] dedicated to videos of "everyday life" in North Korea, from an Indonesian expat living there.

Couple of random examples:

* Walking around Pyongyang in the winter. [1]

* Going to a computer store in Pyongyang. [2]

[0] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzvCf_q10UZkUJE0lOav0ag

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If2ZkXz_1U8

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtDWYzwwuUs


Regarding [2] - in Poland during the communist times, there were government-ran stores called PEWEX: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pewex

They used to sell imported goods like TVs, bicycles, cameras, typewriters etc etc, but only in exchange for American Dollars.

You couldn't legally buy American Dollars in Poland - the only way to legally obtain them was to have them sent over from abroad by a relative(you could buy them from the national bank for business, but it was a massive pain to get the necessary permissions).

I just think it's interesting, as the experience looks similar, except that the korean store takes korean won. On the other hand, I imagine only members of the korean elite are allowed in that store, while anyone could at least enter a PEWEX and marvel at the imported goods.


Thanks for sharing these. They're fascinating.

In the winter video, a few things jump out at me:

- The environment seems depressingly spartan and utilitarian. Everything is drab. And yet this it he capital city.

- Virtually no one is walking with anyone else. There are a few exceptions, but it looks as if conversation is essentially absent when out and about.

- In a manner, it's boggling to consider where all of these people are coming from and going to. With no commerce, every building looks like it might as well be an apartment building. The feeling I get is like watching the rote movement you would see in a computer simulation of a city. A lot of movement, but with what purpose?

- Even though there is only very minimal traffic, it seems like crosswalks are not common, so the Youtuber keeps using pedestrian underpasses.


> Virtually no one is walking with anyone else.

They're walking for transportation. Consider that in the US most cars on the road have only one occupant.


Wow. I'm surprised, it all looks so... normal. If not for lack of advertising noise, this could easily pass for a small city in Europe.


Not really, more like some ex-soviet city suburb.

Big roads with lots of space between high rise building blocks. Not a lot of shops or other activities on the side or roads designed to move people, not keep them "idling."


Whoa. At 2:59 on [2] (https://youtu.be/FtDWYzwwuUs?t=179), it looks like that camera is 100,000 won? Thats $111 according to google.

Any idea what's up with that? Am I interpreting the price wrong?


This video also caught my attention. The camera looks like a Canon EOS 600D and its priced at about 100,000 Korean Won. According to the XE Currency Converter, that is about USD765 [1] compared to USD400 at Amazon [2]. Looks like capitalism is alive and well in the heartland of Juche-ism.

[1]- http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/convert/?Amount=100000&F...

[2]- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Canon-18-55mm-3-5-5-6-discontinued-...


Actually, Google is quoting the official rate.. but the official rate is basically impossible to convert at. You'd need to convert at the black market rate, which is supposedly about 8,000 north korean Won to $1. If it's actually priced in North Korean Won, that would make it $12? I think we're missing something.

http://www.foxbusiness.com/markets/2017/02/05/north-korean-e...

https://www.nknews.org/2015/04/north-korea-the-most-expensiv...


In the USSR there was a chain of stores ("Березка" - "Birch tree") where imported goods were sold for restricted currency. The currency was denominated in "rubles" but could only be obtained in exchange for a hard currency. The rate of the exchange has been arbitrary and the prices were too. The whole system had been set up to incentivize citizens who earned foreign currency (sailors, touring artists, diplomatic corps etc) to give it to the government. Giving it to the government had been mandatory, of course, but if they got nothing in return (or something as useless as regular rubles) they would be trying harder to hide their earnings. I'd imagine something like that could be going on here. It's hard to imagine an imported camera being offered for sale to regular citizens.


More on this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beryozka

We had something similar here (former Czechoslovakia, Tuzex shops) and probably in most of the other socialist countries (eg. Poland, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pewex).

The only way to pay in these stores was to use special cheques. These were obtainable only in exchange for "western money", typically US Dollars, British Pounds, or German Marks.

And of course, there was a black market for them, with prices going as much as five times their nominal value (80s in Czechoslovakia, don't know about Poland and others, but I imagine it was quite similar).


It might be for the elite, or it might be literal window dressing; they did build an amusement park that appears to be largely for show after all.


The cigarettes section of the "Privileged Store" [1]. At least Kim Jong-un cares about your lungs. (Also, the electricity goes off and nobody bats an eye [2]. They must have the POS computer on a battery.)

[1] https://youtu.be/uLvJgOgW4hk?t=245 [2] https://youtu.be/uLvJgOgW4hk?t=505


Nice to see the winter biking craze has reached Pyongyang.


Well, that was unexpected. How is this even possible?


Look in the comments of the computer store video, he is a Diplomat so he can "roam freely" as he puts it. Somewhat interesting anyway!


Yeah, I don't know what to believe. Anyways, streets that aren't littered with advertising is certainly an interesting sight!


>...streets that aren't littered with advertising is certainly an interesting sight!

Personality cult propaganda doesn't count as "advertising"?


https://youtu.be/A8T-kesKvC8

"#NOTE: I am not a diplomat and didn’t work for embassy.#"


I am curious as well.

I have no doubt that a small number of foreigners live and work in North Korea, move around freely without minders, and are allowed to have cameras and make videos, but how do they get the footage out? Even if they work at some university and have access to the internet, I very much doubt it's unrestricted like that.

I am willing to believe some of them might smuggle it out, but this guy walks around and behaves like it's nobody's business.


I'd bet on the fact that if he has a gopro strapped to his chest, most people won't even know what it is.


Any person on earth who is familiar with a camera can identify a gopro as one on first sight (rectangular parallelepiped + lens). Unless you're suggesting most North Koreans don't know what a camera looks like, your statement is likely false.


North Koreans aren't idiots.


This documentary has real footage from inside north Korea, not the usual 'north Korea show' you usually see everywhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csI1EoMOXXk

Secret footage shot by an activist inside north korea.

eg:

markets inside a north korean town https://youtu.be/csI1EoMOXXk?t=1366

dead bodies of people who tried to escape in the yalu river

https://youtu.be/csI1EoMOXXk?t=1145


As an African (hardship implied), this hit hard- indescribably heartbreaking.


The photo and caption about the spectacular paintings in North Korea remind me of how much I regret going into the country without a good amount of cash. On the tour, we visited several galleries and artist studios stocked full of large and exquisite paintings—most not propaganda—at what I remember being very reasonable prices.

Obviously, they were unable to accept Visa, MasterCard, or American Express.


That is the most capitalist regret ever.


It strikes me how expensive these visits must be for NK. It seems that every tourist gets a dedicated guide, while someone (or multiple people) is probably also monitoring them remotely. Then, consider the little details like that empty restaurant they cleared for the sake of a tourist. In terms of manpower it's probably a factor > 1 relative to the number of visitors.

Imagine every visitor to the US was escorted by a government employee, with background surveillance attached. It would cost a fortune!


"'Best Jobs In North Korea' Pay $62 A Month"

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/04/03/176121772/...

NK is not exactly resource-constrained on labour. As others have pointed out, the visits are a valuable source of foreign currency. (And propaganda - the number of people in this thread uttering variations of "that doesn't look too bad" is staggering).


North Korea tours are also very expensive, about 1300 € for 3 nights (http://www.koryogroup.com/tours/dprk-north-korea/group#itine...)


Not when the tourist themselves has to pay for the tour.


I had already read a couple of blogposts relating travels in North Korea, but this is the first one that made it feel like a gleeful adventure. The corn fields, the countryside cities, the small picnic and barbecue parties with food and soju... It reminds me of good times that I had in South Korea. Of course, it always has to be considered that it's also NK's propaganda machine/tourism industry in action, but some of those pictures warmed my heart up.


There is an element of adventure to these pictures. Some of his pictures are clearly illegal, disallowed, or uncomfortable in the North Korean context. There are examples of these especially in the second instalment [1]. Having spent some time in small-town Russia, I could almost taste the soulless architecture. The sense of adventure is further heightened when watching vlogs from Jaka Parker (noted elsewhere here), including this one video of him travelling almost 200km outside of Pyongyang along North Korea’s major highway [2]. There are remarkably few cars on the road and at several points, it felt like B-roll footage from a movie set a-la The Walking Dead: the desertion in the roads of this nuclear power is simply astonishing.

On a related note, several tour companies across Africa offer overland tours including a 73-day journey across 10 countries in Eastern and Southern African countries [3] and a terrifying 27-day trip across the western edges of the Sahara Desert [4, 5, 6].

[1] 100 Photos Inside North Korea – Part 2 (http://www.earthnutshell.com/100-photos-from-north-korea-par...)

[2] 100kms outside Pyongyang - North Korea (https://youtu.be/zCjpxZDTyqs)

[3] Nairobi to Cape Town Overland Tours (https://www.absoluteafrica.com/The-Absolute-Safari/AS71)

[4] (http://www.overlandingwestafrica.com/trip-overview-availabil...)

[5] Mauritania 2013. Exploring West Africa by expedition truck (https://www.flickr.com/photos/128667255@N04/sets/72157649867...)

[6] Overland West Africa - MAURITANIA - 2013-2014 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRHiAXjyHTk)


Those overland tours are surprisingly affordable.


Wasn't sure whether to take you literally, but the quoted cost does not include the cost of tours/etc bundled up as the Kitty. However, the price for the overland tour over Eastern and Southern Africa (the Safari route) are comparable to a round-trip plane ticket from Nairobi to Johannesburg and a 3-day stay in Jo'burg. The overland is about 73 days long and, from past testimonials, adventure of a life time.


Keep in mind these are photos of the capital, in areas that tourists are allowed to see.

There's a fascinating photoset from 2008 by some Europeans who through a bureaucratic miracle were allowed to enter and cross North Korea by train: http://vienna-pyongyang.blogspot.com/2008/09/khabarovsk-khas...


Did you read the first few lines of the page? Or pretty much any of the captions?

> Most tourists only experience the political smokescreen of Pyongyang; I had the privilege in visiting all corners on one of the longest tours ever executed (no pun intended) for foreigners into the hermit kingdom.

Photos from an officially supervised tour, yes, but limited to Pyongyang, definitely not.


It's not quite that straightforward: through exploitation of a bureaucratic loophole, they managed to enter the DPRK through a border that's supposed to be closed to foreigners and had quite a bit of time essentially unsupervised (although most of it was on a train).


My mistake; thanks for the correction!


Was just about to post this! Highly worth checking out if for the story alone.


My favorite part about it is that the blogger is a rail nut, so even in the North Korean part of the travelogue—photos from a place almost no one gets to see—there are tons of locomotive beauty shots. It's pretty charming.


(2014), and posted to HN before: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10003615

But still fascinating!


It's immoral to visit such a country. It has concentration camps. It tortures on a large scale. It's citizens suffer and visiting the country gives money to an evil regime.


We've had a strategy of isolationism towards them for 50+ years, and it doesn't seem to have worked. If you wanted North Korea to be as free as possible in 20 years, what would you do today to help enable that? I think visiting might in fact be a net positive. Also, Jimmy Carter went there, so maybe you should too!

That said, I struggle with this question. In some ways you're absolutely correct. My personal struggle: North Korea has a chain of restaurants abroad, and I walked by one quite often while I was in Bangkok. Out of (morbid) curiosity, I would have loved to dine there and talk to the (very attractive) North Korean waitresses. I couldn't stomach giving the regime the $3 for the meal though.

In some ways, going to the NK restaurants supports the quazi-slavery of the workers in the restaurant. But in other ways, that spending enables the restaurant workers to live in Thailand and not North Korea. In the end, I decided not to visit, as I couldn't help but think of how I would feel about someone dining at a Nazi restaurant in the 40s. Difficult ethical questions though.


I am in agreement. Especially considering they put up a front and try to show visitors a fake / happy version of the country.

People often boycott and don't like visiting circuses or shows that generally abuse and exploit animals (elephant shows in Thailand come to mind). I can't see why visiting NK is any different.


This is absolutely a valid criticism and should be debated rather than down-voted.

EDIT> Is it moral to give money to a regime that has killed millions of its own citizens? I mean, unless you're secretly giving medical supplies to the poor, your money is only benefiting the elite.


There's a very recent and pretty interesting series of interviews with Thae Yong-ho on Arirang. He's the highest ranking North Korean to ever defect (he was the Deputy Ambassador to England and defected last year). He provides some pretty fascinating insights into life in North Korea from a North Korean perspective.

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Thae+Yong+Ho+Sp...


The female tourist guide may have problems after the leakage of these pictures.


Are NK citizens having complete access to the regular Internet? If no, then it wouldn't matter to them


Here is also a recent (2015) sequence of dashcam photos through Pyongyang: https://www.mapillary.com/app/?lat=39.02463076010619&lng=125....


>Even military officers traverse the streets of Pyongyang by bicycle. Cars exist few and far between, reserved only for the wealthy and elite.

This is really fascinating, albeit being an unintended consequence of disproportionate wealth distribution.


I also recommend to check out this one [1]. It's about someone who has traveled to North Korea for 8 days. His travel documentation is awesome because he told us from start to finish. Beside that, he attached photos inside it.

[1]: https://medium.com/swlh/8-days-in-north-korea-5c651c3883de


One thing I always think when seeing images of NK towns and cities is how clean they look. They seem to be immaculately maintained.

Though I suppose that is all for show and another word could be sterile.


Fascinating pics -- however, his guides in North Korea will likely get in trouble due to their publication.


No they won't. These are the views every tourist gets shown. Some are nearly the same as pictures I took on my visits. These are the parts of the country for show.


"Isn't it stately and above board national defense, not subservient to outside forces?"

of course why do you ask!


Already seen these. As another poster has bred, this is not the first time these have been posted.




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