Friday, 1 November 2013

Korea - a world into its own

The four days went swiftly but has left a lasting impression of beauty and fear, while still flying towards Beijing I am still apprehensive of my impending freedom (?! I am still heading to China I have to remind myself). Korean tour guides have escorted us since arriving by train in Pyongyang, our only rest late night at the hotel on an island separate from the people of Korea - but even then I was unable to prevent myself concocting conspiracy theories of what mat happen next, and how the country runs.
Korea is a land I still know little of, unless we can spend more significant amounts of time in the country we will only ever be “aliens” descending on a land that has pretty much remained stuck in the time-warp. This however is not a country where oppression is very visibly evident, regardless of what the western media portrays. My people watching didn’t seem to reflect what I had seen on TV or in the news. They were sociable and engaged, if somewhat protective of their country and state. People do smile, they believe in their leaders and they have opportunities that many poor people in the west don’t have, for example children having access to free education and extra-curricular activities. Though I do feel that a lot of this is a distraction for the people from political thought – though there were many times in which I felt incredibly relaxed in the Korean’s company. I still find it hard to fathom the true culture and belief system in DPRK.

Their belief system is somewhat inaccessible as their leaders pretty much proclaim themselves as a god/king-like figure, and lying in state highlights how its been indoctrinated into the culture. A line of kings has ruled the country since 1953, promoting a story of rising from rags to riches, that has kept the belief of their plight alive. Time has shown the weakness of the country and its apparent keenness to demonstrate its strength and position in the world by developing nuclear arms. Our guide proudly confirmed that as recently as 2011 nuclear weapons were successfully tested. It is also widely believed the country has a real satellite; the truth here is still unknown. Yet it's international network has declined significantly, once flying as far as Morocco and Russia the national air carrier - Air Koryo - now only hops to China, Indonesia and Malaysia . Likely the result off the back of the Cold War since less communist countries exist.
Admittedly my own values ethics and beliefs were somewhat tested while in Korea. The simplicity of life provides its own value, even just for a few days. Large empty streets, long expansive highways, no advertising or commercial marketing - only state propaganda, no computers yet mobile phone usage is on the rise, no Internet, a simplified metro system, no pollution and a community that appeared to exist for one another. This seemed somewhat special, an escape from our hectic western world yet what accompanies this way of life is sad and depressing, even if on the surface smiles are apparent. 
A social class system naturally created through communism and different roles in society enforces individuals and families to live long suffering lifes in their economic position sanctioned by rations and access to payment. Is it though really that different to the world of the west? How far does our propaganda position us in society? How our supposed democracy frees us and gives us choices? How our shackles are financial and education?