An Inside Look at North Korea

North Korea is the most reclusive country in the world today. The government goes through painstaking measures to make sure that nobody knows what exactly is going on behind its doors. What’s worse is that they go through even more painstaking measures to make sure nobody inside knows what’s going on outside its borders. But every once in a while, you’re presented with an opportunity to step behind the curtains and see North Korea through the eyes of a North Korean. Actually, scratch that. The North Korean government would never allow that. But in the least, we’re sometimes able to see North Korea through the camera lens of a foreigner, whether it be tourists or news agencies. What we see through such pictures may not be exactly what North Korea really is, but at least we get an idea.

I was reading through the Washington Post a few weeks back and came across some photos of North Korea that I thought were stunning. These photos are the work of David Guttenfelder, the chief photographer for the Associated Press Asia, and I’d like to share them with you.

This is the Pyongyang Airport. I guess this would be the first thing you see of North Korea if you enter by plane. I read an article about Air Koryo, North Korea’s official airline, and it was ranked as the worst airline in the world. It is the only airline in the world that has been rated with 1 star, with the reason being a lack of safety.

This is my favorite picture from David Guttenfelder’s collection. I’m not an artist but I do have an appreciation for art, and this is art to me. There’s something about the lines that the buildings create and the general hue of the photograph that makes you look at it for a little longer than you would have otherwise.

Here’s another beautiful picture of Pyongyang’s cityscape. The pyramid-like tower that stands out in the middle of the picture is the Ryugyong Hotel. Construction for this massive building began in 1987 but all building came to a halt in 1992 due to lack of funding, electricity shortages, and the growing issue of the Great Famine. It is 1000 ft. tall with 105 stories and 3000 rooms, making it the tallest building in North Korea and the 18th tallest building in the world. Once it’s completed, it would be the world’s tallest hotel. Construction for the Ryugyong Hotel has started up again and it is scheduled to go into business this year. Here’s how one blogger described this massive structure, before construction was restarted: “It is a physical representation of a good idea gone wrong, much like communism itself.”

A North Korean woman looks down at the city of Pyongyang from the top of the Tower of the Juche Idea. Seeing pictures like this, I’m surprised every time at how many buildings there are in this city. At first glance, this could be a picture of a city in South Korea. But a closer observation would show that the paint on the buildings is crumbling off, some of the windows have no glass, and many of the buildings are not even being used.

Whenever I see pictures of traffic officers in North Korea, I wonder what they might be thinking as they attend to their job. Just the fact that North Korea has traffic officers amuses me. Can you imagine being stuck in traffic in North Korea? Is that even possible? As you can see, this traffic officer stands alone in an empty street directing no one.

The subways and buses in South Korea get extremely crowded during rush hour. This just is not an ideal situation to get stuck in, especially if you’re claustrophobic like me. But I think I’d take a South Korean bus over this North Korean one any day. It looks like people are literally spilling out of it.

This is a North Korean supermarket but everything is so perfectly arranged that it doesn’t look like it’s for sale. And has anyone else noticed that a lot of the same products are on display in different shelves?

North Korea opened its first fast food restaurant in 2009. North Koreans can now get a hamburger and some fries at their desire… that is if they’re willing to spend more than half of a day’s wage for it.

At first, I didn’t understand. But then I realized that this is an effort to keep Dear Leader Kim Il Sung from getting hot. Yes, I am talking about the Kim Il Sung in the picture.

Maybe the love of soccer runs in the Korean blood. If it wasn’t for the North Korean soldiers’ uniforms, this could well be a picture of some South Korean men enjoying a game of soccer.

This may be the emptiest highway in the world.

North Koreans still use cows and old technology to farm. It makes the process a lot longer and much more difficult.

This was originally a railroad track but with no trains running on it, North Koreans use it as a shortcut to and from work.

A North Korean street vender. I’m thinking this would be the equivalent to South Korea’s Pojangmacha.

Every time I come across pictures of North Korea I always end up thinking about how deceiving they can be. At first glance, many of the photos look completely normal, like it could be anywhere. But a closer look shows you that something is off. Either the buildings aren’t occupied at all, or the streets are too empty, or the items on the shelf are just too perfect to be real. Even though North Korea puts on a pretty good show, they’re not fooling anyone.

There were a lot more photos that I wanted to include but I didn’t want this article to get too long. But I do encourage you to go to David Guttenfelder’s website and check all of them out. He’s taken some amazing photographs.

All photos in this article can be found here.

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