Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
36 hours in North Korea without a guide (vienna-pyongyang.blogspot.com)
124 points by mike_esspe on Jan 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments

In the comment section of the travelogue, one of the authors of this post wrote the following in response to another's remark saying that what they had done was very risky:

  First of all, I know that our trip was a risky experiment and in some way egoistic.
  However, if you have a difficult aim, you just must not think so much about the
  risks involved and about failing. A mountain climber also must not think about what
  might happen if he makes a wrong step and falls down. He has to concentrate his
  thoughts on how he can achieve his aim, otherwise he has already lost before
  starting. Adventures don't happen if you're too afraid.
I think this summarizes what type of person the author is pretty well.

Mountain climbers think a lot about what would happen if they took a wrong step or fell down. They spend a lot of time training for it, they spend a lot of money on equipment in preparation for it, and they spend a lot of effort setting up backup systems. When a mountain climber goes out on a glacier they typically do not go alone, with minimal equipment. They go in a team, each person wearing a harness and roped together. They each have an ice ax and have trained in self-arrest on snow and ice. If one person were to fall they have been trained to arrest themselves and save the faller by means of the rope. They may have practiced this many times. If one climber were to fall into a crevasse they will arrest, set up anchors, and set up a rescue system (using pulleys and extra gear that they have brought). Meanwhile, if the climber in the crevasse is still conscious he or she will attempt to do what they can to aid in their own rescue (up to and including ascending the rope). And this is just a small part of the training and preparation that experienced mountaineers take on when they set out to climb a mountain.

It does nevertheless take a good deal of courage and determination to work your way up a glaciated mountain, but the idea that there is no safety net or that the climbers do not think what will happen if things go bad is very misleading. It is perhaps the single most pressing topic of thought for any mountaineer.

Of course climbers think about and prepare for falling and other dangerous scenarios. In the "heat of the moment," though, too much mind paid to the negative can certainly outweigh concentration on the positive.

In the same way that nauseating conversation can disrupt a meal, I've had a few of my attempts at technical bouldering problems disrupted by friends conversing nearby about climbing injuries. In one case, hearing talk about dislocated shoulders and elbow injuries while I was working on a problem involving odd shoulder and elbow orientation made progress very difficult.

I think the central argument of the author was that despite the huge dangers involved in climbing a mountain people do it regardless. The author could have stayed at home or gone on a package holiday to some sunny Caribbean island but that would have not been nearly as unique or as personally fulfilling.

I feel that the danger of doing this trip was probably miss represented, overwhelmingly the experience of people who undertake huge journeys tends to be that the majority of people the world over are kind and generous. This is often truest of people who have the least.

Climbing mountains isn't foolhardy adventure. Success is getting back and the summit is only half way. Turning back is the part that takes courage and discipline, because the mountain will always be there. There's an inscription at Camp Muir on Rainier, at the foot of one of the glaciers,

Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.

I don't disagree that maybe that's the type of person the traveler is, but I don't think mountain climbing is an apt analogy. Danger is always being assessed and never being ignored.

I'm struck by the enormous amount of agriculture. It's easy to forget how, not so long ago, the average human spent most of his time trying to generate food.

The amount of agriculture seemed least surprising to me, those were actually the photos that looked most familiar. Agriculture is everywhere whenever I look out of the window of a train in Germany and fields with crops look the same no matter where you are on the planet.

It’s unlikely that you actually know anyone or are related to anyone working in agriculture in Germany (only two percent of the labor force are working in agriculture compared to 36 percent in North Korea) but I don’t think that the area used by agriculture has gone down in Germany. We still need all that food, it’s just that we have become super-efficent when it comes to farming it. Very few people can today farm huge swaths of land when they have the right infrastructure.

I did not see much special about those fields, either, but crop yield has gone up dramatically due to the use of (artificial) fertilizers, plant breeding, and genetic modification. Most of those may not be available to North Korea, for example because they cannot afford to buy or do not have the oil to produce artificial fertilizers.

Following up on my earlier response: drawing conclusions from these photos isn't possible without correcting for the sampling bias. On the one hand, one would find more fields near train stations, not the other, the north of North Korea does not have the best climate for agriculture, and, I guess, does not have the population density to work any available fields, either.

Don't forget the massive famines in North Korea, not long ago (1990s)


It's interesting how the same (or worse) environmental conditions would produce a slight dent in production (or perhaps a greater demand for irrigation), or at worst a need to import, whereas in a subsistence economy it produces starvation. Things are so good, comparatively, that we can afford to pick & chose, and throw away more than half the food.

The average human still does so. We, the wealthy, get a lot of our wealth (such as food) from those other people.

I posted this link in a comment:


Nice to see it show up on the front page.

Yeah, I think a lot of people clicked on the link when you posted that comment. It's definitely something everyone should take a few minutes to look at.

Absolutely amazing. It does sound like it would be very difficult to travel in N. Korea if you don't speak Russian, Korean, or surprisingly, German.

But, the French speaker was especially surprising, and I would have expected more Chinese influence than there seemed to be (linguistically).

I forget where I read it but I'm pretty sure as part of their education they have to learn a foreign language. I think they mentioned something about this on vbs.tv they had a special called Vice Guide to North Korea http://www.vbs.tv/watch/the-vice-guide-to-travel/vice-guide-... Where they traveled around and filmed for a few days.

That's a hell of a trip, everybody should do something like that at least once in their lives if their situation permits it.

One more from my N Korea bookmarks: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2158524

Its Awesome

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact