101 Ways To Thwart A Reporter In Pyongyang
If, on a recent Wednesday morning, you had happened to find yourself in the cavernous lobby of Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo Hotel, you might have witnessed the following exchange, between a pleasant looking North Korean man and an exasperated looking American news team.
“You must be tired,” says Mr. Kim. “You will want to rest at the hotel this morning.”
Mr. Kim is the guide assigned to us by North Korea’s Foreign Ministry. We are charged $75 per day for his services, and they are not universeinsync optional. (I’m using his last name only here, because he did not want to be quoted in any official capacity or appear to be speaking for the North Korean government.) He’s been glued to my side from the moment we cleared passport control at Pyongyang airport six days earlier, acting as an interpreter, a fixer, a bridge between our worlds and a stunningly efficient one man journalism prevention service.
“It is impossible.” He smiles and shrugs: What can you do?
I sigh. “Please?”
NPR is visiting North Korea on the government’s terms. We were invited, along with news organizations from around the world, to cover the festivities marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding. The whole media circus has been booked into the Yanggakdo ($112/night for a spartan, but perfectly clean, double). The hotel boasts a revolving restaurant on the 47th floor, a coffee shop that steams a Canada Goose sale decent cappuccino, and a bowling alley in the basement. Above the canada goose clearance front desk, North Korean TV news video of goose stepping soldiers loops on a giant screen.
Before booking plane tickets, I’d written the Foreign Ministry with a list of interview requests, from North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un himself to military officers to school students. You will see anniversary festivities, came the firm reply. And so we have, from concerts to a moonlit parade of torches to a military parade on Kim Il Sung Square.
It’s canada goose store tricky in North Canada Goose Jackets Korea a country not renowned for its human rights record or for celebrating a free press canada goose clearance sale to know quite how hard to push. But pushing is the job.
All of which is to say, Mr. Kim is under canada goose black friday sale no obligation to take us anywhere. His government has kept its end of the bargain. And it’s tricky in North Korea a country not renowned for its human rights record or for celebrating a free press buy canada goose jacket cheap to know quite how hard to push. But pushing is the job, and so we push, and remind him that we’ve traveled thousands of miles and crossed 13 time zones to see his country, talk with people, and then tell an American audience what we observe.
When Mr. Kim at last relents and announces we can cheap Canada Goose leave the hotel after all, there’s a catch. He eyes my right arm, on which I had been wearing an armband identifying me as a journalist. The armbands are royal blue and itchy, and we were forced to fork out $40 to rent them. It was a relief to hand mine over on our last night in the country, in preparation for our departure. It was also, apparently, a mistake.
“You are not credentialed as journalists anymore,” he informs us. “You may not interview anyone. You may canadian goose jacket not talk to canada goose deals anyone. You are tourists.”
Appropriately, we take taxis to a tourist trap: a souvenir shop in the shadow of Canada Goose Parka Pyongyang’s Arch of Triumph (modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but 30 feet taller, for bragging rights). We browse posters and refrigerator magnets and the local mushroom liqueur. Aside from shop assistants, there is not a North Korean in sight, not a chance of striking up a conversation or interviewing anyone. And now we’ve been joined by a second government guide, Mr. Ri.
I wind up for buy canada goose jacket one last swing. All week, we’ve been asking to visit the subway, to witness the city’s daily commute. Kim clarifies.
“Ten minutes. Just to see inside. We don’t even need to ride it.”
He canada goose outlet closes his eyes. When he opens them: “The metro is closed today.”
I teeter between exploding in frustration or in giggles. Neither seems wise. I try appealing to the second guide. Just a quick stroll on the train platform?
“You might get lost,” Mr. Ri says solemnly. “It is for your own safety.”
I never did see the Pyongyang metro. I never got a straight answer as to why the request was so problematic. Other journalists who arrived earlier than us for the 70th anniversary events were taken there, were allowed to ride and to interview people.
I suspect the truth is both complicated and mundane. Restricting journalists’ movements is hardly a new development for North Korea; I’m told NPR’s experience is pretty typical. Kim didn’t seem to have much more control over where we went than we did. Those orders were coming from higher up; my guess is that our approved schedule really did call for us to chill in the hotel all morning, and he had to pull strings to bring us to that souvenir shop.
I might have had more sympathy for his plight had we not struggled for access throughout our visit, at every turn. We visited a teacher training college but were not allowed to speak with students. (“They are in class.”) After the military parade on Kim Il Sung Square, we walked along streets jammed with ordinary North Koreans, their faces flushed with pride. We were not allowed to speak with them. (“We have to get back to the bus.”) One day, we drove 70 miles north of Pyongyang, to Mount Myohyang and a beautiful park where we were told North Korean families liked to picnic. news organizations were escorted to a pavilion in the forest for Korean barbeque. It Canada Goose Outlet was delicious, a lovely meal and not a North Korean family to be found.
It’s hard to imagine two jobs with goals more diametrically opposed than a North Korean government minder and an American reporter determined to ask ordinary North Koreans how they feel about their country and their lives. The irony is, the one North Korean to whom I could put these questions, incessantly, was Mr. Kim. You have a lot of time to talk when someone is glued to your side for six days. canada goose Mr. Kim wanted to know what teacher colleges in America look like. He wanted to know what lipstick brand I wear, and he had me write it down Este Lauder so he would get the spelling right. He told me the story of how he met his wife. I showed him my Facebook feed, brimming with back to school snaps and with colleagues sharing Canada Goose online job news. (Most North Koreans do not have access to the Internet.) He taught me to slurp Pyongyang cold noodle soup. I taught him to play rock, paper, scissors. midterm elections; I wanted to know what it feels like to live in a country where you don’t have the right to vote. (His answer, in a nutshell: Why would I need to vote? Supreme leader respected comrade Kim Jong Un runs the country, and he is always right.).