The magazine of the photo-essay
Oct back 2016 issue
Why Do We Love to Hate North Korea?
by Sean Hawkey
A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous! Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
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We've been told to hate Iraq, we've been told to hate Afghanistan, and our acceptance of the official narrative that encourages us to hate countries has paved the way to a terrible bloodbath of innocents. Then it turned out that the Iraqis weren’t so bad after all, there were no WMDs, and the Afghanis had nothing to do with 911. Today we’re told to hate North Korea, but I’m feeling a bit defiant. I took my boys to North Korea on holiday. I carried a big DSLR, and I took these photos openly, there were no risks or drama involved, I take no credit for being brave or daring, I had no need to be. The impression we’re given is that DPRK is a completely dysfunctional state, a forbidding and starving gulag that you have to take risks to see. Well, no. Everywhere we went we saw well-nourished and well-dressed people going about their daily lives, working, travelling on buses and trains and metro, chatting, joking, bringing up their children, going to the shops and restaurants, going to school and university. In many ways Pyongyang is much the same as London or Paris or New York. The main difference is that it is a socialist country, where education, health and housing is provided by the state. Do you have to be brainwashed to think that’s a good idea? Or could it, actually, just be a good idea? There is no advertising, it is not a consumer society, there’s a lot to be said for it. In many ways it compares favourably to many other countries I’ve been to. They have fabulous food and drink, music and art and sport, beautiful architecture, mountains and lakes, and it is a country where you can go on holiday tours or skiing. And get a bit of political education and learn about another culture. I’m not being ingenuous, but I think that a lot of the impression we are given about DPRK is deliberately false, and it is alarming to see how those impressions can become pretexts for terrible violence.
Passing through railway crossings and stations, people go about their daily business.
The Pyongyang metro is one of the deepest in the world. Here passengers travel on the escalators. It felt like escalators at Angel station on the London underground, without the advertising.
Pyongyang is a busy city served by public transport systems of metro, trams and buses.
With the Grand People's Study House in the background, the window of a bus reflects the Juche Idea Tower.
Downtown Pyongyang buildings lit up at night. Sustained aerial bombing by the US Air Force during the Korean war left 75% of Pyongyang destroyed, much of the rebuilt Pyongyang has a very modern architectural feel.
Ryugyong Hotel in the background at the the Museum of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in a classroom of children in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Like most visitors to DPRK, I travelled by train from China. Along the 240km trip from the border to Pyongyang, rural scenes show orderly and technified agriculture as far as the eye can see, rice bordered with soybeans and patches of maize, and fruit production reminiscent of Swiss orchard techniques. There is no advertising in North Korea but signs and posters across the country encourage patriotic and revolutionary values and warn against American Imperialism.
Koreans suffered Japanese occupation and colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. Aftewards they suffered the Korean war with the US, during which Pyongyang and other cities were nearly totally destroyed. Kim Jong Sung was a guerrilla fighter against the Japanese and led DPRK to victory against the US. North Koreans are proud of their independence and their right to determine their own future. This is a detail of a monument on Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang, celebrating military victory over the Japanese and Americans.
A young woman in traditional Korean dress wears a patriotic badge in North Korea. Everyone in North Korea wears these badges, all the time.
Traditional North Korean food is served in a restaurant in Pyongyang, North Korea.
A view across the Taedong river from the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang. High-rise buildings are pastel-coloured, the famous Ryugyong Hotel is in the background.
The Juche Idea Tower and surrounding building in Pyongyang are lit up at night. The backbone of North Korean political philosphy is Juche, which is about self-reliance and being in control of their own destiny.
Waitresses at the Pyongyang beer festival serve pints for locals and tourists alike.
There is no advertising in North Korea. Signs and posters across the country encourage patriotic and revolutionary values and warn against American Imperialism.
North Korean postcards encourage patriotic and revolutionary values and warn against American Imperialism.
People cycle past the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang.
At the Grand People's Study House in Pyongyang in a room for the study of the "Works of President Kim Il Sung and books on his greatness".
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