Nobody really knows just what goes on inside the North Korea, and what little we do hear from those within the country is questionable.
We see pictures of North Korean leaders, we hear news of incendiary nuclear plans, and we actually learn little more about the country in the process.
That’s when we do get tiny little slivers of information, it’s even more interesting than it would ordinarily be.
A perfect example of this is this simple pan across North Korean capital Pyongyang from the 32nd floor balcony in one of the city’s tallest buildings.
This is what Pyongyang looks like from the 32nd floor balcony of the city’s tallest apartment building. pic.twitter.com/Thiw5wrW2t
— eric talmadge (@EricTalmadge) December 20, 2017
The video posted by Eric Talmadge, Pyongyang Bureau Chief for The Assosiated Press, is eerily still for a capital city.
It looks like there isn’t an awful lot of footfall or even traffic on the roads, but it offers a stark contrast to what most think of as the truth of life behind North Korea.
When we think of North Korea, we think of a secretive society filled with human rights abuses, famine and lack of infrastructure.
But judging by this video, the latter is certainly not the case, as new buildings and seemingly high-quality roads can be seen for quite some distance in the background.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that life in the country is any better than what we have come to think of when we think of the hermit nation.
That place is depressing looking
— caressa (@rissa_griffin) December 21, 2017
Just last month, Vox interviewed an American journalist who lived in the country for six months to immerse herself in the life there.
Speaking about forced construction labour, Suki Kim said:
In 2011, all the universities were shut down for a year, and all the students were sent to construction sites to build their ‘powerful and prosperous nation’ – that was the slogan they used.
And so the vast majority of North Koreans were forced to sacrifice everything or the sake of the regime, and for most that meant working endlessly on construction projects.
But these young men [the young elite] I was teaching were exempted from this. There were 270 of them, and they were the only young men in the country who were not sent to toil away at the construction sites.
Looks like a ghost town. What time of day was the video taken?
— BackinTokyo (@BackinTokyo) December 20, 2017
Kim did note, also, that there was significant oversight from ‘minders’ which meant no one was ever truly alone. Her teaching was under constant surveillance in a way she described as a ‘cloud hanging over everything’.
It was also noted by the journalist that her lifestyle in North Korea was an easier one than most North Koreans themselves will experience, saying life for them is ‘equally oppressive but includes far worse physical labor’.
The question of happiness takes on a completely different meaning in the North Korean context. I observed what you might call happiness, but again that means something different.
Happiness was risking their life in service of their leader and their country. It’s bizarre, but I don’t think it’s insincere.
You have to remember that this is their home, and they had been taught to believe that this is all that mattered. When you consider how they’re raised and how they’re educated, this is not all that surprising.
The more we learn about life in North Korea, then, the more it becomes clear that this is a nuanced situation which is often lost in the headlines and in the aggressive tweets of certain world leaders.
Life in North Korea is a complicated thing.