Monday, July 12, 2010

Not really in North Korea

I spent the past six weeks in China, where Blogger, Foursquare, Twitter, Tumblr, and Google Documents are blocked. Nonetheless, while my social media life was waning, I was busy experiencing real life in one of the most diverse countries in the world. Jokes about how "all Chinese people look the same" aside, China is a country made up of many mingzu ("tribes" or clans) and foreigners. I visited Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai during my six weeks there. A trip to Tibet was planned, but alas, sickness stopped us in the tracks.

The four weeks I spent in Beijing were filled with new experiences -- especially in the culinary area. One of my readers and a new friend, Viii, brought me to a North Korean restaurant owned by the North Korean embassy. All of the waitresses and hostesses were the prettiest, most-educated girls from North Korean, who were sent down to Beijing to work as waitresses and "ambassadors" of North Korean -- and the rumors say, as spies too. The restaurant was eerily reminiscent of a Chinese restaurant from the 1980s, from the ornate chandeliers to the giant wall paintings. A small television, playing clips from a North Korean musical performance, aired in the background.

As you may know, North Korea is one of the most isolated -- and poorest -- countries in the world. While they call themselves a socialist state, a totalitarian regime is more appropriate. Every single one of the waitresses and hostesses wore a pin with a photo of their "Dear Leader," who they call their "father."

Not only did they speak Korean, Chinese, and English, but also they played musical instruments and sang traditional Korean songs. I have uploaded a video I hastily took with my half-broken camera, in case you are curious.

As an American, it is very unlikely that I will have a chance to visit North Korea -- but hey, I ate their food, talked to their people, and visited their pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. I am closer than I was two months ago.

Before this trip, I had the conception that North Koreans would be like characters straight out of 1984 -- I had never met a North Korean, but I had seen videos of their rhythmic gymnasts and traffic patrol officers. After eating dinner with Viii, and watching these girls laugh and giggle and wrinkle their brows like any other recent college graduate, I realized that I -- and most of us -- will never truly understand the lives of the North Koreans -- but I can understand them as fellow human beings.

Miss Couturable

P.S. For more information about North Korea, searching "North Korea" on YouTube is a great way to start. Also, check out Noko Jeans -- designer jeans made in North Korea.
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