I've been studying North Korea for a few years now. I became obsessed around 2010 and started consuming any media I could find about the Hermit Kingdom. I trolled the internet looking for documentaries, travel blogs and videos, even short clips filmed on the sly. I reserved piles of books at the library. I've spent hours on Google Earth hovering over Pyonyang and the forced labor camp near Yangdok. I am fascinated and horrified by the personality cult of the Kim family. Millions of people have died of starvation or execution in the name of the Juche ideal. It's mind boggling and heartbreaking that society more reminiscent of a fantasy Sci-Fi actually exists on planet earth in this day and age.
I've spent so much time looking at these videos and pictures that I've become very familiar with most of the monuments and landmarks that get shown to every tourist to is allowed to enter the country. The Yanggakdo International Hotel, the giant statues of Kim Il-sung and now Kim Jong-il, Juche Tower, the USS Pueblo, the DMZ, the Arch of Reunification, Rungrado May Day Stadium where they hold the Arirang Mass Games (and you thought the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics were creepy!), the empy Ryugyong Hotel, Monument to the Founding of the Worker's Party, the Pyongyang metro stations, the Children's Museum, the War Museum and the inside of the Koryo airplanes. Even though I've seen hundreds of pictures and videos of these landmarks I'm still curious to see them with my own eyes.
While threats of war with North Korea have been looming large in the news, I thought now would be a good time to share some of the better resources I've uncovered with my macabre hobby.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The best book I've found so far that really takes you into the lives of citizens who managed to survive the mass starvation of the late 90's and escape the country.
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Chol-hwan Kang
First hand experience of what it was like to be a child in a forced labor camp. North Koreans believe that you are guilty by association and relation for up to 3 generations so if your Grandfather commits a crime against the state, you, your siblings and parents are punished as well.
The World Is Bigger Now: An American Journalist's Release from Captivity in North Korea . . . A Remarkable Story of Faith, Family, and Forgiveness by Euna Lee
Do you remember when President Clinton went over to NK to rescue two female journalists that were imprisoned in there? Euna Lee and Laura Ling (sister of Lisa Ling) both wrote books afterwards. I prefer Euna's telling but I still couldn't help wondering "What the hell were you two thinking??" the whole time.
Born and Raised in a North Korean Prison Camp
Dong Kyuk-Shin tells his story of being born in a prison camp, watching his mother be executed and his eventual escape. This story is graphic and heartbreaking. He shows his scars and drawing of some of the torture he endured. Not for the squeamish.
Hyeonseo Lee: My escape from North Korea
Her accent is thick but worth it to hear her story. I just want to hug her!
DPRK: The Land Of Whispers (North Korea Travel Documentary) (2013)
(I just started watching this one while writing this blog. It contains the most recent footage it seems)
Also available on Netflix. The title is from a rose bred and named after Dear Leader and told through interviews with North Korean defectors.
Children of the Secret State
Undercover footage shot by North Koreans.
National Geographic: Inside North Korea
Lisa Ling (sister of Laura Ling) takes a film crew undercover into NK. They accompany a team of doctors who attempt to give hundreds of cataract surgeries in just a few days. When the bandages are removed the people weep, bow to pictures of the Kims and thank them for their generosity and leadership. Must be seen to be believed!
The Game of Their Lives
Mostly about the 8th World Cup in 1966 but has great footage and information.
Crossing the Line
US soldiers who defected to North Korea.
North Korea – A Day In The Life
In Dutch with English Subtitles. This feels more like state propaganda of how the North WANTS to be portrayed.
Other Blogs & Videos:
The VICE Guide to North Korea
3 Part Videos that you really, really should watch.
The Forbidden Railway
A train travel enthusiast managed to travel by train from Vienna to Pyongyang. A long but incredile journey.
American in North Kora
I just started exploring this one myself but I love the pictures.
Daughter of Google's Chairman on Recent Visit to DPRK
My Travel Adventure to the DPRK | North Korea
A Visit to North Korea
Yup, they have an official website. Also a Twitter account.
LiNK: Liberty in North Korea
A group that helps refugees escape.
Though with current tensions, tourism is currently shut down.
Helping Hands Korea
North Korean Refugees
Chosun Ilbo (English)
I know this is a lot of information to wade through and can't all be gone over thoroughly in one setting... I've been at this for a few years now and have read many, many more books and watched weeks worth of videos. These are the ones that really hit me the hardest. I have my own feelings about what's going on in the news right now. There's a bit of a tide turning and Kim Jong-un needs to prove himself a "tough" leader to his people. The best way to avoid a revolution is to get the people whipped into a frenzy over a common enemy. If you have any questions or want to discuss/debate further, please email me. I've love to talk more!
I really wish Anthony Bourdain could film a trip to North Korea. I so badly want to hear his take on it!!