Tag Archives: North Korea

Historical Wonders / , , ,

You Won’t Believe These Bizarre North Korean Stamps

On my way out of Deshengmen Tower — where you’ll find a strange collection of ramshackle museums crammed in together — I noticed the most remarkable thing for sale: old North Korean stamps, celebrating European regal excess!

There was the Versailles stamp, which reeks of excessive opulence…

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Sweet Movies and Wild Books /

American Imperialist Bastards in a North Korean Comic Book

I don’t speak a word of Korean. I wish I did, if only so I could read this North Korean comic that’s been sitting on my bookshelf for years.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 2 Comments
Strange Tourism /

The Pyongyang Metro

North Koreans are proud of their metro. And so they should be. It’s one of the deepest, it’s breathtakingly gorgeous, and we were only allowed to ride one stop. (Although I’ve heard tourists can now ride the entire length.)

Here are some pages from a great 2004 picture-book I bought in the metro, bluntly titled The Pyongyang Metro.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 5 Comments
Strange Tourism /

A Vomit Bag from North Korea

I loved the streamlined 1950s design, like a classic car. This was the look of everything on the Air Koryo flight.

This trip was about two weeks after Michelle and I started dating. (I guess you know some gal is okay, if she’ll agree to go to North Korea on your first date.)

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Strange Tourism /

Our Favorite Kim Jong Il Stories…

I’m very happy, and a little sad, but I know Kim Jong L’il will do a fine job furthering his father’s legacy of madness.

In the meantime, here’s some of my favorite AO Kim Jong Il pieces:
Did you know Kim Jong Il was already a master equestrian marksman at the age of five?
– At birth, the country hailed him as their new divine leader. Get the full true story of Kim Jong Il’s birth here
Kim Jong Il’s film theory writings are pretty classic.
Kim Jong Il issued a series of 3D stamps celebrating the birth of Prince William (and Charles and Di, of course!)

and then there’s also my North Korea tourism video, which the country has yet to adopt as their official promo… but I like it!

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Strange Tourism /

Plan Your Next Holiday in the Glorious DPRK

North Korea isn’t all doom, gloom, and Kim Jong-il. Sure, there’s vile propaganda, rumors of grim brainwashing, concentration camps and endless misery. But there’s more!

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Historical Wonders, Offbeat Museums / ,

According to this Chinese Museum, America started the Korean war, and lost it too.

“Look at that soldier,” said a burly Dongbei redneck, shoving past me to get a better look at the painting. “He’s on fire. He’s a real man.”

His sweaty pal leaned in, and laughed. The torched soldier was still letting loose a volley of bullets from his machine gun, mowing down a row of terrified pale Americans. “That’s awesome.”

They probably didn’t realize I understood what they were saying. I didn’t stick around to find out.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 1 Comment
Our Weird Projects / ,

French press for “Pyongyang Too”

When Woo and I handed our tribute, Pyongyang Too, to graphic traveleur & comic master Guy Delisle, he seemed taken aback, confused, perplexed. “Thank you,” he muttered, unsure of what he was even looking at. (Barbara Demick–author of the DPRK expose/awesomeromance Nothing to Envy–tried to buy it.)

Clearly, he later had a chance to skim it. And read it. And then pimped it out.

After the jump, two recent Paris articles about the book. But now the question is, will L’Association pick it up???

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Other Obscura /

Happy 99th Birthday, Kim Il-sung!

Okay, I know he’s been dead for a long time — 17 years — but since he’s still the official (eternal!) president of North Korea. And he’d be 100 99 today!  So here are a handful of cute dear great pictures of the “Great Leader” (수령) from our last trip to the DPRK.

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Sweet Movies and Wild Books /

Kim Jong Il’s Remarkable Series of Books About Film

(Happy Kim Il Sung’s eternal birthday!)

Sergei Eisenstein wrote extensively on film theory.  As did Lloyd Kaufman.  So, knowing what a film buff Kim Jong Il is, I was proud to see he’d already hopped on that bandwagon. 


I recently picked up his fascinating 1987 treatise on filmmaking techniques, “The Cinema and Directing.” It’s short at only 69 pages (while he’s short at only 69– bam!), but he really knows how to pack in those anti-consumerist punches. 

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/ by Dean Pickles / 2 Comments
Offbeat Museums / , ,

The Best Stamps from Beijing’s Incredible Stamp Museum (including 3-D North Korean stamps!)

Continuing on from yesterday’s post, here are my six top favorite collections from Beijing’s wonderful stamp and post museum…. Sorry for the spoiler above. But it’s just… too weird.

6. Table Tennis
What’s there not to love about table tennis?  Mao adored it, so did Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai.  Plus, there’s always the game to thank for opening those relations between east and west.  (Actually, I guess you could thank ping pong diplomacy for my even being here!)  You even occasionally find tables sitting hidden in the hutongs, the Chinese version of a basketball hoop in a car park, waiting for locals to walk up with their paddles and start a game.  Thus, a lovely trio of stamps dedicated to the popular sport.

1959 – 25th World Table Tennis Championships

1971 – Afro-Asian Table Tennis Friendship Invitational Tournament

1971 – Afro-Asian Table Tennis Friendship Invitational Tournament

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/ by Dean Pickles / 3 Comments
Uncategorized / ,

If Amy Chua was mother to us all, maybe we could do this too…

The young kids in this video I shot practiced for the entire year, or longer, to get the show right… and it’s just remarkable.

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Historical Wonders /

Kim Jong Il’s childhood thoughts of America

To celebrate the 69th birthday of Kim Jong Il, this entire week is jam packed with DPRKoolness.  Today, we explore Kim Jong Il’s feelings about America.  Where do they come from?  How did he feel as a kid? Find out, below…

(At the age of six) Kim Jong Il harboured a bitter hatred for the class enemies who harmed the people. While visiting farms in villages with his parents during the agrarian reform, he realized how cruelly landlords had exploited the peasants, and what a miserable life the Korean peasant had had to lead in the past. He resented the desperate acts of landlords and reactionaries who were trying to thwart the agrarian reform and recover their old position.

Kim Jong Il hated the Americans who had occupied south Korea in place of the Japanese, and were trying to enslave the Korean people again.  He firmly resolved to destroy the US imperialist aggressors.


No pix of him at 6 or 10, but here’s him in college…

(Jumping forward four years, to the age of ten) One day in early December 1952, Kim Jong Il entered the children’s room with a copy of the pictorial of the People’s Army. The pictorial carried a picture portraying the atrocities committed by the Yankee soldiers. The children clenched their fists with hatred for the enemy. One of them, unable to repress his hatred, shouted, “Let’s go to the front right away to take our revenge on the enemy!” The other children agreed with enthusiasm. They were determined to go to the front at once.

However, Kim Jong Il explained to them that fighting the Yankees at the front was not the only way to take revenge on the enemy, that learning their lessons well and participating wholeheartedly in the activities of the CU (note: Children’s Union) was another way of doing this, and that they should all wreak vengeance on the enemy of the country ad of their parents by getting As in school.

Most of the children worked hard to do well in their school-work, inspired by the slogan, “Let us take our revenge upon the enemy of our country and of our parents with the bayonets of As.” They studied without wasting a single minute and became honors students.

Tomorrow: new video of wildly synchronized child dances for the Dear Leader!

These wonderful snippets — many of them truly endearing, some just funny — are from volume one of Kim Jong Il’s official English-language biography, “KIM JONG IL BIOGRAPHY” (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang, Korea, Juche 94 (2005)), which I picked up in North Korea the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Like a red letter edition of the Bible, all words spoken or written by either the Dear Leader or the Great Leader appear in bold text.

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Historical Wonders /

Kim Jong Il learns to ride horses and shoot guns!

In celebration of Kim Jong Il’s 69th birthday, this week is flooded with DPRKoolness.  Today, we learn that Kim Jong Il by the age of five is a master equestrian. But what about his marksmanship? Can he handle a gun? Find out, in these excerpts from his official biography, below!


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/ by Dean Pickles / 2 Comments
Modern Ruins / ,

Learn How to Speak North Korean

On our recent trip to Pyongyang, we picked up this incredible guide to speaking Korean — clearly with a northern bent.  While the first half is filled with standard small-talk favorites (“How do you do!”, “I’m awfully sorry,” “It really is heroic,” and “It is Juche-oriented”), about halfway through, it gives up any sense of restraint, and becomes all about the wonders of North Korea. It’s especially interesting to note the areas that the government the publishers were clearly especially eager for visitors to notice (the coziness, the modern city, the lack of beggars on the street).

Below — in recognition of the Dear Leader’s 69th birthday today (Feb 16) — are a couple of pages of the 1995 guide…  Hope you get to use them today!


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/ by Dean Pickles / 7 Comments
Historical Wonders /

The official story of Kim Jong Il’s birth…

Happy 69th birthday, Kim Jong Il! To celebrate this holy day, this entire week will be jam packed with DPRKoolness.  First, the true story of the birth of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.


These wonderful snippets — many of them truly endearing, some just funny — are from volume one of Kim Jong Il’s official English-language biography, “KIM JONG IL BIOGRAPHY” (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Pyongyang, Korea, Juche 94 (2005)), which I picked up in North Korea the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Like a red letter edition of the Bible, all words spoken or written by either the Dear Leader or the Great Leader appear in bold text.

Kim Jong Il was born at the Paektusan Secret Camp in the Sobaeksu Valley, Samjiyon County, Ryanggang Province, on February 16, 1942…


A few woman soldiers and a small unit of the KPRA who were at the Paektusan Secret Camp at that time were the first to congratulate the birth of Kim Jong Il. Wishing him to become the lodestar that would brighten the future of Korea, the hailed him as the Bright Star of Mt. Paektu. Hearing the news of his birth from the messengers who had been to the Paektusan Secret Camp, the small units and groups and political workers operating in many areas were overjoyed at that event and inscribed the words on thick trees everywhere they went, to spread the news of his birth.

The news of Kim Jong Il’s birth spread rapidly, by word of mouth, throughout the country, like a legendary tale. On learning the fact, the enemy became concerned and tried to suppress the public excitement generated by the news.  A Japanese police document… said that the propaganda about the birth of a heaven-sent boy at Samjiyon in the vicinity of Mt. Paektu had caused great confusion in public sentiment in wartime.  An extract from the document reads as follows: “Since it is predicted that the heaven-sent boy will become a general who will bring independence to Korea, Korea will certainly become independent in the near future…”

Holding his son close to his heart, Kim Il Sung gazed intently as his lovable face for a while, and then told his wife that they should bring up the baby and their other children to be heirs to the revolution. He emphasized that he wanted to see the children carry forward the red flag of revolution which was hoisted on Mt. Paektu.

Kim Jong Suk made every effort to bring up her son, living up to the expectations of her husband. She taught him to be a sturdy son of the nation, to be a strong man who would shoulder the future of the Korean revolution.

Tomorrow: At the age of five, Kim Jong Il learns to ride horses and shoot guns.  But is he any good??? Find out soon!

/ by Dean Pickles / 4 Comments
Modern Ruins /

North Korean traffic ladies are my favorite thing ever

The DPRK doesn’t have much money.  Or electricity. In our hotel, the Yanggakdo, the upper floors had no electricity (save for the one with a handful of Americans/Europeans staying on it).  The Koreans would get on and off the elevator, into a floor of darkness.  Shops with customers were pitch dark. The skyline at night was pitch black.

So of course they’d save $ by skimming on traffic lights. Here’s their wonderful solution:

I love the way she moves so rigidly. They all move exactly like this. It’s like an optimistic version of Modern Times, or the robot Maria in Metropolis. Absolutely wonderful.

/ by Dean Pickles / 6 Comments
Other Obscura /

North Korea frightening customs declarations form

I still can’t get over this incredible customs document we had to fill out to enter the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Already, our nerves were on edge…  the ancient plane was filled with smoke, we’d heard references to “American imperialist bastards,” and we were about to land in North Korea.  But… no killing devices, exciters, phones, or… published materials?

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Our Weird Projects /

Pyongyang Too: A Tribute to Guy Delisle

(Update: Our tribute was actually released in paperback in late 2013, by the original French publisher of Pyongyang — the legendary art house publisher, L’Association! Copies show up on eBay France every now and then… Keep an eye out for it. It’s wonderful!)

After Teen Wolf Too, Splash Too, and Karate Kid Too, here’s the Pyongyang Too tribute WooLand and I did for our favorite comic book travelogue essayist, Guy Delisle, in North Korea last year.

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/ by Dean Pickles / 6 Comments
Extraordinary Eats / , ,

Infiltrating North Korea, in Beijing

I’ve seen some crazy things in Beijing. This ancient traffic-filled futuristic city was a place of awesomeness until a few nights ago. A few nights ago, we went for North Korean.

Someone made a joke, the old yawner about Ethiopian: “They have food?” Evidently. My mom refused to call in the reservation, and instead asked a Chinese friend to do it. “Tell them it’s for Mr Dee,” she insisted. “We don’t want them to poison the food.” She was joking… kinda.

Then, when we arrived, someone pushed Mimi, my Chinese-American sister-in-law, in first. “Just in case,” they muttered under their breath.

And we walked in.

The walls were bare — blank, empty, like the plates of North Korea. Lights glaring bright (all the better to see us with.) One scrawny fellow swerved around in his booth, eyes wide at the four gwailo sauntering in. His face screamed a silent “WTF!” (Or maybe it was a signal to his comrade, who was furious tapping morse code missives with a toe.) Three 1960s-style stewardesses, clad in Dear Leader red and blue suits, whispered and approached us. (Approached? Cornered! And stewardesses? Not a chance! A trio of furious lesbian killers, trained to assassinate with shivs shaped from the slivers of chopsticks!) They guided us to a booth in the very back, and I couldn’t help wondering why — my eyes searched for alternate exits. (Does the bathroom have windows?)

I paranthetically jest. But I don’t lie. It was weird. People did give us big old double-takes. But while old NK dramas played out on a vintage tv, our dining soundtrack was pure Broadway. The dulcet tones of Cats, The Theme From Love Story, even Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s played out in an instrumental Casio cover. Elevator music and the land of Kim.

The English-language menus were huge hardback tomes, drenched in garish photos of old Korean favorites: bi bim nyeng mun (pretty damn good), pyongyang kimchi sampler (awesome kimchi, wrapped up into in tight groovy circles), dog. (Yeah, dog. We didn’t order it, but the menu was dripping with photos of all the great canine dishes available: dog kalbi, bul-dogi, bi bim dog. Dog on a stick. It was sick.)

We did order meat, though. Good ol’ bulgogi. Nice, family favorite. But when the meat came, we all stopped and stared. Cautiously, Dad tried a piece, and growled “It’s okay.” I picked up a thick grey slice, and took a chew. “Yeah, it’s not bad,” I lied. Aaron gave a “Hmmm” after his bite, and Mom just watched.

“I think it’s dog,” she finally said.

“No, no, no, it’s not dog,” Dad countered. “How would you even know what dog looks like?”

“Remember when your friend Handel tricked me into eating it?”

“Yeah, but this could be horse. I mean, it could be anything at all. You don’t know.”

“Relax, guys,” Aaron offered with no confidence whatsoever. “It’s just cheap meat. I think it’s fine.”

I kept silent. From the moment this dish appeared on the table, I could think nothing but “woof.” But I couldn’t stop eating. Bite after bite, I thought, “This is disgusting,” and I kept going. I wrapped it in kimchi to mask the taste, as I chewed through the tough, ugly, sick grey meat. (*People muse that once you’ve tasted human flesh, you can never stop eating it. And while this tasted terrible and horrible and awful and ugly and I wanted to vomit, I still picked up yet another piece, smeared it in thick red kimchi drippings, and ripped off another bite with my teeth.)

Instead of vomiting, which I really wanted to do, I laughed. This was a moment. A gorgeous pure untouched moment. North Koreans, glaring at a table of Crazy Yanks, eating dog, while the theme from Breakfast at Tiffany’s played. It was awful. Horrible. Amazing. I hated it. It was the best.

“You know those days when you get the mean reds?,” Audrey Hepburn asks in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“The mean reds?,” George Peppard returns, confused. “You mean- like the blues?”

“No,” Audrey sighs, in that way she does so awfully well. “The blues are because you’re getting fat and maybe it’s been raining too long, you’re just sad that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?”

Yeah — I had that feeling. I was afraid I’d been poisoned by Kim Jong-Il with a plate of Fido. These mean Reds fed me dog! Of course they’re horrible!!!

But, unlike Audrey and George, I couldn’t very well jump in a cab and head to Tiffany’s. I’d left the closest branch in Singapore. So instead, Mom and I climbed in a cab and went to the Apple store. Which, ultimately, worked just as well.

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