Inside North Korea – September 2010 Observations

September 23rd, 2010
7

This report is from September 2010

Succession
When asked, locals seem familiar with Kim Jong Eun and the high liklihood of him succeeding Kim Jong Il.  However, there is allegedly still no official line on the issue from the Government.

Kim Jong Il’s China Visit
Throughout the DPRK there are currently signs depicting and promoting Kim Jong Il’s August visit to China.  These are hand-painted, vary in size and geographical accuracy and are located throughout the capital, all towns, villages and major factories.

In addition, the DPRK has produced English, Chinese and Korean language version full color, glossy propaganda magazines detailing the China visit.  These are available to both locals and visitors from shops across the country.

Pyongyang Traffic Girls Retired
Sadly the Pyongyang traffic girls are on their way out.  Modern, low voltage LED based traffic lights have been installed throughout Pyongyang and were functional throughout the stay.  The girls were allegedly laid off earlier in the year, however some have been retained in case of long-term power shortages.

Drivers of Pyongyang are currently learning about the new light sequencing system.  Some delays were experienced due to improper light phasing (i.e lights being stuck on red for long periods).  CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, PICS AND VIDEO.

CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Information Technology at Kim Il Sung University
The newly opened computer suites at Kim Il Sung University contain several floors of modern PCs installed with the indigenously developed Red Star operating system.

Upon checking on a wifi enabled laptop we managed to pick up the following wifi networks in service throughout the university computing area:


Whether or not any of these wifi hubs actually offer anything more than Intranet access is questionable.  That said, the following diagrams were displayed prominently in classrooms, suggesting there may be some internet access available to students:

The Kim Il Sung University computing department’s nuclear oriented logo suggests other areas its students maybe working in:

Preparations for October 10 Celebrations
Throughout the country students are currently practicing for mass rallies in all major cities to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Worker’s Party founding (October 10 1945).  Importantly, there seems to be no evidence of a major impending military parade, as reported recently in Western media.

^^ Above:  View from Grand People’s Study House over October 10 preparations in Kim Il Sung square

Development at the Ryugyong Hotel
Work is progressing at the Ryugyong Hotel with one side nearing completion and another still needing substantial work.  Limited areas are scheduled to be opened for mid 2013.  Orascom continues to work as the developer.

Street Cleaning in Pyongyang
Grass cutting with scissors and hand polishing of the sidewalk was visible on numerous occasions throughout Pyongyang.  Click here for video.

Crops and Farming
Harvest has started throughout the DPRK and crops generally look in good condition.  Limited flood damage was visible from the train at Sinuiju.  On the whole, people even in the remote countryside look relatively well fed – no evidence of abject famine.

Tourism
There is currently an abundance of tourism in the DPRK, especially when compared with recent years.  At the DMZ some 15 buses were visiting simultaneously.  Much of the tourism is down to the influx of Chinese visitors – allowed as a recent change in Chinese law which allows for visits to the DPRK once again for nationals.

Misc Observations:

2012 Propaganda:

 

Construction of a new university at Kaesong in full progress:

New vehicles visible throughout the country:

Pyongyang at Rush Hour:

Other Observations

- There is an increased police presence on roads in North Korea – in both the countryside and in main cities.

- Roads are generally in bad condition, despite being extremely under-used.   They seem to have all been half-finished, with no tar / asphalt to cover the large concrete ‘rectangles’ the roads seem to be made from.  The seams between these panels seem to be the main aggravation on wheels and chassis when driving:  On every drive we took throughout the DPRK there was on average two broken down vehicles per hour of road time.  All had punctured tires.

- Roads where incline is significant are in excellent condition with much more emphasis on smooth surfacing.

- In several areas teams of people were manually working to fill-in and cover the many potholes.  This extremely tiring labour involved breaking up rocks into aggregates by hand and then tarring over.  The tar is also manually produced and heated on the actual road using small coal fires.

- The roadside environment is extremely well maintained throughout all of the areas we saw.   Even in remote areas it was not uncommon to see people trimming back bushes and trees at the roadside.  People were even to be found sweeping the road several miles from the nearest villages.

- In Pyongyang power supplies were constant for the duration of our stay – in both hotels we stayed in.  Despite this the city remains eerily dark after about 11pm.  The Tower of Juche Idea, which I had been told stays alit at all times, was also put out every night we were there from 11pm.

- While most tunnels have no lighting, the long tunnel on the Pyongyang – Wonson highway is now well illuminated (compared to last year).  Sadly it has no air circulation, so is very polluted with less than 50 meters visibility in the deeper sections.

- Kaesong, near the DMZ, had significant power shortages whilst we were there.  In anticipation of this the hotel had a generator, although this was only sufficient for one light in the restaurant.  In our rooms there was no electricity or pumped water supplied throughout our stay here.

- Throughout the countryside are numerous long tunnels that cut through the extremely mountainous terrain.  As mentioned, only one is lit, despite most having light fixtures.  Upon closer inspection, all protecting glass in front of where the bulb would normally sit was smashed and the bulbs removed.  From the state of these light fixtures it seems the bulbs had been forcibly removed at some point.

- Despite an appearance of significant amounts of uniformed soldiers our guides told us that many of them are actually security guards.  These officials did not carry guns.

- Photographing the small military presence we were exposed to was strictly prohibited.

- There exists a large electric / barbed wire fence that runs along much of the east coast.

- Soldiers on the DMZ are noticeably taller and better built than the rest of the country.

-  On the Pyongyang to Wonson route there were no checkpoints whatsoever.  On the route to Kaesong there were two checks.  These checkpoints had only one guard and one simple wooden post blockade.

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll founded NK News in 2010. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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