Back from the dark side

I did not write posts recently, going on vacation after weeks of writing slowed down by technical problems. The summer break was a great opportunity to take a step backward from life in Shanghai. My first trip was to Thailand, to relax in a Ko Samui detox resort. Shanghai hectic life comes with a price, and fasting for a few days was a great thing to do. People kept on saying I was so relax when I came back, it must really have done something to me… but this was only a preparation for the main event of the summer, a trip to the Democratic People Republic of Korea, i.e. North Korea. Since there is no Internet and mobile phones are forbidden there, I was out of the world’s touch for nearly a week.
North Korea was a real time travel. Having lived now for more than 12 years in countries that had (or have) a communist regime it was final opportunity to live through what I had heard so much of before… and I was not disappointed. The whole tour was about visiting monuments to the glory of “The Eternal Leader, President Kim Il Soon”… who died about 15 years ago. His son took over, but it’s has Korean barely noticed with Kim Il Soon portraits ubiquitous in the city. Just like people visiting the East block in the 1960’s, we kept on visiting enormous and empty monuments, being repeated the same three ideas again and again, i.e. “The Evil American created the Korean war by attacking us”, “Re-unification of Korea should come immediately, starting with Americans leaving the peninsula”, “Kim Il Soon was the greatest leader of the 20th Century and we owe him our wonderful current conditions”. The brain washing was intense, and after 5 days I got sick of it. We saw only the “nice” part of PyongYang, but its state of disrepair is far beyond any Eastern European cities in the late 80’s. Taking a trip to a small town near the DMZ and the train back to China was a shock. There are simply no cars on the streets out of PyongYang, and walking seems the only mean of transport. We only saw the best part of North Korea, I cannot even imagine what is the worst.
The 5 days trip highlight was the Arirang festival, the world famous Mass Games that counts roughly 100.000 participants. The show was fantastic, comparable (if not bigger) to the Olympic games opening ceremony. North Korea is not a high tech country, so the show mainly relies on thousands of dancers. The most impressive is surely the backdrop of the stage, with 30.000 kids sitting there showing colored cards that create a giant animated mosaic. The show itself is well worth the travel, and helps to forget about the rest of the tour that is not the nicest travel I have done so far.
Coming back to China was a real relief. North Korea is surely similar to China in the 60’s or 70’s and going there helped understand what Chinese people have been through. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to be back in China. It was like coming back to reality, 21st century… and freedom (!). My first action back to Shanghai was to go to my favourite French restaurant and enjoy a meal on a terrace with a glass of wine, trying to forget the prison feeling from North Korea as soon as possible. Unfortunately, coming back to China, I also learned about the sudden death of the one friend that I wanted to share my North Korea trip with. He will be dearly missed.

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