A Brief Visit to North Korea

by on October 14, 2012 at 7:35 am in History, Travels | Permalink

Tyler is in North Korea, Alex is in South Korea.

Alex is in North Korea, Tyler is in South Korea.

If we look a little tense it was because it was tense, perhaps even more than usual since just days before a North Korean soldier had killed two of his commanding officers while defecting to the South. North Korea also appears to be undergoing greater food shortages than in many years which no doubt adds to the tension. I had not realized, by the way, that you can see North Korea from a major highway in South Korea and the land is clearly stripped bare of trees which have been cut down for firewood and what little nutrition the bark offers.

Here are the North Koreans watching and photographing us to put into their permanent records.

 

Tyler Cowen October 14, 2012 at 8:56 am

You will note that I look happier in South Korea.

Yogesh October 14, 2012 at 9:15 am

Unlike Alex who seems happy on either side.

Zachary October 14, 2012 at 10:59 am

+1 :-P

Mark Thorson October 14, 2012 at 9:01 am

You both look thinner when you’re in North Korea.

Dan October 14, 2012 at 9:39 am

As Alex said, “North Korea also appears to be undergoing greater food shortages”

Rahul October 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

Perspective

Brian Donohue October 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Heh. Well-played.

Jacob October 14, 2012 at 9:41 am

If we didn’t know what you each look like, then which side is north and which side is south?

Swedenborg October 14, 2012 at 9:56 am

Move your monitor until its screen is shining to the west. Now look at the monitor in the usual manner. You should be facing east. You now share orientations with the photographer. North is to your left.

chris October 14, 2012 at 10:09 am

The economist who looks like they’re stifling an urge to break into an impromptu “Gangham Style” dance is standing in South Korea.

dearieme October 14, 2012 at 9:57 am

” two of his commanding officers”: socialism always leads to overmanning.

“stripped bare of trees which have been cut down for firewood”: even feudalism managed to come up methods to protect timber tress from being used for firewood.

Rahul October 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

The firewood explanation is plausible. OTOH “Bark for nutrition” sounds far fetched.

prior_approval October 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

The Great Leap Forward – ‘“The memory of the famine is still very fresh in my mind, eating wild weeds, peeling the bark off trees, and we were very lucky to have a sip of thin porridge with rice every few days. My mother couldn’t open her eyes because her body was so swollen with starvation. These are facts, which I experienced in person,” one Internet user from Sichuan province, the epicentre of the famine, posted on sohu.com web portal. By Monday, the thread on sohu.com quickly had almost 3,000 responses, including many others personal stories of hunger and horror.’

http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/worldview/is-china-finally-confronting-its-dark-history/article2445203/?service=mobile

What makes this article more interesting than its references to bark eating is the fact that this information is now finally becoming available in China –

‘So it was a shock to readers of Southern People Weekly magazine to see the front page of last Monday’s edition: the words “The Great Famine” in a bold-lettered headline, over a graphic showing the plunge in China’s population over those terrible four years.

It was followed by 18 pages of in-depth coverage, including black-and-white photographs of sobbing famine victims, and of farmers gathering leaves and tree bark for food.

“History [in China] is sometimes divided into two parts: history itself, and ‘admitted history,’” read the editorial that accompanied the reports. “The famine, which is unparalleled in human history, has neither an official record nor a reasonable explanation.”

If the famine is allowed to be forgotten, the magazine argued, “we will be despised by our offspring.”

Just as remarkable as those words was the response from China’s normally lightning-fast censorship apparatus: nothing. The magazine and its provocative front page was delivered intact to its 760,000 subscribers (something that doesn’t happen when a publication is deemed to have tread on politically sensitive turf).

In China’s tightly controlled media world, such topics aren’t suddenly raised by accident; they’re brought up with political support. It now seems someone wants to put the Party’s unaddressed history onto the agenda just months before a sensitive transition of power that will see the current Standing Committee of the Politburo, headed by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, give way to a new one headed by Vice-President Xi Jinping.

Ape Man October 14, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Sadly, the bark for nutrition is pretty well attested to.

Not sure of the tree types over in Korea, but you can make a survival flour from the inner bark of a pine tree. You have to kill a lot of pine trees to stay fed.

kb October 14, 2012 at 11:54 pm

i have several hundred acres of tamarack trees stripped for their cambium layer by bears

David N October 15, 2012 at 7:03 am

The use of bark soup during widespread famine in North Korea is also documented in “Nothing to Envy” by Barbara Demick.

mkt October 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm

You may not have seen the TV commercials from the 1970s (or was it the 1960s) featuring Euell Gibbons saying “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.” The inner bark of pine trees is edible, evidently best if fried.

gangnam October 14, 2012 at 11:03 am

That stretch of land behind the border is probably a minefield. I wouldn’t go prowling for firewood there.

Dave Barnes October 14, 2012 at 10:13 am

Tyler & Alex,
Did you get your passports stamped by North Korea?

Bob Knaus October 14, 2012 at 10:25 am

I’d look to military strategy near the DMZ, rather than bark-eating, as a reason for stripping the land. This FAO report, while admittedly of poor quality, does state that in spite of a great deal of deforestation in the DPRK they still have more forest than farmland:
http://www.fao.org/docrep/013/al489E/al489E.pdf

Jay October 14, 2012 at 10:53 am

“they still have more forest than farmland”

Any acreage of forest is greater than no acreage of farmland.

Ape Man October 14, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Maybe I a missing something, but I don’t think that report shows what you think it does. If I understand the report correctly, they are calling forest any land that could have trees on it over 5 meters in height. In other words, by the standards of that report, field with a bunch of baby maples on it counts the same as an old growth forest.

All other reports I have read make it sound like the North is pretty much cut down all their standing timber. That does not mean the cleared land became farmland (as much of it is on slopes that is unsuitable for that anyway).

Joe Smith October 14, 2012 at 3:57 pm

There is also the possibility that the land has been cleared to make it easier to see and shoot anyone trying to leave North Korea.

rpl October 16, 2012 at 6:10 am

The FAO classifies land by intended use. If you harvest all the trees on a patch of land, and you intend to let the trees grow back, then it counts as “forest land,” even though it currently has no trees on it.

CGG October 14, 2012 at 10:35 am

North Koreans eat bark?

Brian October 14, 2012 at 10:49 am

But which side is the photographer on?

Happy Camper October 14, 2012 at 10:58 am

You did “My favorite things Korea” in reference to the South. Anybody with an internet access can cull similar list.

Let’s add value, shall we? Could you do a list of your favorite North Korean things? Curious about your favorite writer, cuisine, composer, movie director, etc?

thanks.

Totally Not a Korean Propagandist October 14, 2012 at 11:41 am

Favorite writer: The Great Leader Kim Il-sung
Favorite dish: anything cooked by The Great Leader Kim Il-sung
Composer: The Great Leader Kim Il-sung
Movie director: The Great Leader Kim Il-sung

prior_approval October 14, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Re-education camp for you –

Favorite writer: The Great Leader Kim Il-sung

Favorite dish: anything cooked by The Great Leader Kim Il-sung

Composer: The Great Leader Kim Il-sung

Movie director: The Great Leader Kim Jong-il, Juche film school

(‘Kim was said to be a huge film fan, owning a collection of more than 20,000 video tapes and DVDs.[104] His reported favorite movie franchises included Friday the 13th, Rambo, Godzilla, and Hong Kong action cinema,[105] and any movie starring Elizabeth Taylor.[106] He authored On the Art of the Cinema. In 1978, on Kim’s orders, South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok and his actress wife Choi Eun-hee were kidnapped in order to build a North Korean film industry.[107] In 2006 he was involved in the production of the Juche-based movie, The Schoolgirl’s Diary, which depicted the life of a young girl whose parents are scientists, with a KCNA news report stating that Kim “improved its script and guided its production”‘ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Jong-il#Cult_of_personality

So Much For Subtlety October 15, 2012 at 2:33 am

Dont’ forget Greatest Golf Player Ever: Kim Jong-il only played golf once but he got something like 18 holes-in-one.

And perhaps weirdest of all, the World’s Greatest Anal Retentitive given State-media reported he never defecated.

paul October 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm

You both look the same in both photos. Institutions are irrelevant!

Nigel October 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm

“Here are the North Koreans watching and photographing us to put into their permanent records.”

Haven’t you just put them in our ‘permanent records’ ?

mulp October 14, 2012 at 6:07 pm

That Korea is divided is the result of an American failure to trust democracy and the refusal to allow the elections the armistice called for.

Vietnam was similarly divided with a different path takes by Ho Chi Min that led to anti-democratic Americans dying in large numbers until Vietnam was unified, and today is freer than North Korea. South Korea did not become a democracy because of American Korea policy, but in spite of our policy.

And if Kim had won and ruled all of Korea as he did the DPRK, we would have far fewer Asian imports that displace American workers. Americans don’t really care about the welfare of others in the world, given the many dictatorships and authoritarian governments supported for global corporate profit, but a unified Korea would been unlikely to evolve as the DPRK did because it would have hardly been able to blame the US oppressors threatening on its southern border.

TGGP October 14, 2012 at 7:01 pm

I always thought mulp was better than this. As an isolationist, I don’t want America intervening in such events, but South Koreans are clearly better off for remaining in the orbit of the First World, and if South Vietnam could have been preserved as well the same would be true of it. Vietnam is better than North Korea, but that just reflects how spectacularly terrible North Korea is.

maguro October 14, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Yeah, I’m sure a unified Korea under Kim Il-Sung would’ve been just peachy. Without those threatening capitalist running dog Americans, he could’ve let his inner humanitarian shine through!

Taeyoung October 15, 2012 at 12:51 am

Yes, lovely. Meanwhile, my grandparents would have been shot.

So Much For Subtlety October 15, 2012 at 3:19 am

I find mulp’s comment vile and wonder why we are so tolerant of people who suck up to Communist mass murderers and so condemning of people who suck up to Fascists. Mulp would be having a harder time if he claimed the poor little Nazis were forced, just forced, to gas so many people because the nasty Americans made them. It is not much better as arguments go.

However a case can be made that preventing reunification was a mistake. It meant America was drawn into a land war in Asia which is not a place where America’s strengths work well. Besides, it is not as if the South Koreans have ever shown much gratitude or appreciation. We saved them from becoming a Soviet puppet only to see them throwing themselves into China’s sphere of influence.

South Koreans have been the main beneficiaries of America’s sacrifices. They would have been the main victims if America had chosen otherwise. We would have lost some K-Pop, which would have been tragic, but that is about it. And, I suppose, some interesting uses of octopus via Old Boy. But not much else. And South Korea’s intellectuals would be happy as they would be part of the glorious Northern-led unified Motherland which they have yearned for all these years.

tylerh October 15, 2012 at 1:37 pm

“it is not as if the South Koreans have ever shown much gratitude or appreciation.”

bulls**t.

Go read some memoirs of the Viet Nam war. S Korea maintained the second largest foreign contingent int VIet Name (second only to the Americans) and impressed the American generals with how well they fought. Wikipedia claims over 300,000 South Koreans served in Viet Nam.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War#South_Korea

South Korea has been an unfailingly fierce geo-political ally. I can’t think of an American military adventure anywhere in Asia that the Koreans didn’t join .

More Broadly, the Korean people have whole-heartedly embraced “American Values,” right down to a labor unions, a largely peaceful transition to Democracy and rap videos. I’ve never met a Korean who bitched about American Truman’s intervention.

“South Koreans have been the main beneficiaries of America’s sacrifices. ”

NOT EVEN CLOSE.

The South Koreans have sacrificed for “the west’ in ways we spoiled Americans can’t even begin to grasp. This is Seoul during the war, and those are Koreans fighting alongside the Americans.
http://img.ezinemark.com/imagemanager2/files/30002494/2010/06/2010-06-28-11-30-39-5-seoul-was-devastated-in-the-combat.jpeg

So Much For Subtlety October 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm

I don’t see how your first comment on the Vietnam War is remotely relevant. Yes, the South Korean military dictatorship was totally reliant on the US and as such sent soldiers when ask – and paid – by the Americans. An unpopular move in South Korea. That doesn’t even begin to dispute what I said.

An unfaillingly fierce geo-political ally? Among the military dictators perhaps. But other people, like virtually all educated Koreans, have taken another view. South Korea did join the US in the Gulf War for instance. Which was unexpected but nice. But the embrace of American values? You mean cheating the US military on sub-contracting work? They do indeed have labor unions. Of varying political orientations, but many at least a little ambiguous about the North. I don’t see Unions as particularly American and anyway you ignore the long history of struggle between the government (often military) and Union activists who were usually on opposite sides of the Cold War.

I have never met a South Korean who bitched about Truman’s intervention either. Everything else? Yes. But not Americans dying to keep South Korea free. Americans remaining in Korea? Sure. Americans asking for fair trade terms? Absolutely. American Cultural Imperialism? Totally. Americans not allowing the North to unite Korea? Half Korea’s intellectuals and artists are still producing works bemoaning the horrors of not being liberated peacefully. Well, OK, I have met Koreans who bitched about Truman then.

The suffering of South Korea in the war was not for the benefit of America which would have been just as happy if the North had won. It was for the benefit of the South.

I have no particularly desire to argue with Korea’s diaspora on this. Especially as the quality of the response is so low. You have an utterly unconvincing case. And I am happy to leave it there.

HSI October 16, 2012 at 9:42 am

Please, can you drop the pseudo-intellectual facade? You’re obviously not here to make any thought-provoking comments regarding the causes and consequences of a divided korea in response to mulp’s statement. I can see that you’re obviously a troll masquerading as a proud american in how you flaunt true american sacrifices and accomplishments so blunderingly. I would like to give you some perspective on historical events, but the substance of your post doesn’t deserve to be addressed. Simply, If you can’t see how South Korea provides economic, political, and cultural (beyond your facetious example of kpop) benefits to the international community, then all i can say is: good luck and I hope your prejudiced mindset doesn’t confine you to a life of failure.

dearieme October 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm

So one of you can take small steps toward a much better world, and the other toward a worse.

Deke DaSilva October 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I did the same DMZ tour about 12 years ago, booked directly with the USO in Seoul and avoided using a middle-man tour group.

One thing I was told on my DMZ tour, is that if the North Koreans think there is someone important in a tour group, they will actually walk down to the buildings at the border, look inside, and take photographs.

So, fess up Alex and Tyler – did the Norks think you two are important?

MattW October 16, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Tyler looks like he’s the muscle for their crew.

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