Must-Read of the Week: “Without You, There Is No Us” by Suki Kim

 

Through a strange turn of events, Korean American journalist Suki Kim finds herself invited to join 30 other Westerners to teach English at North Korea’s Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, an exclusive school for 270 sons of North Korea’s elite. During the six months she is there in 2011, Kim takes meticulous notes, saving the documents only on a USB stick and keeping it on her person at all times. The result is the memoir Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, chronicling her interactions with her students, the iron grip of her “minders,” and the constant fear of being watched, of being reported, of saying or doing something wrong.

At times, Kim feels love and compassion for the young men in her charge; at other times, she’s terrified that they are spying on her. She can’t decide if they really believe the things they do (that the Korean language is so superior it is spoken in every country, that their Juche Tower is the tallest in the world) or if they just say they do for fear of retribution. They know of Bill Gates, but they don’t know about the Internet. They play basketball and are familiar with the NBA, but they’ve never heard of skiing. It’s a fascinating — and sad — glimpse into the most isolated country in the world.

 

Details: Hardcover, available October 14, $24, crownpublishing.com.

 


Instagrams from North Korea

Associated Press reporters David Guttenfelder and Jean Lee have been posting photos and videos from inside North Korea on their Instagram feeds. This is the first time anyone has posted on Instagram from North Korea, and the immediacy of their updates lends a new perspective to our understanding of the secretive nation.

Earlier this year, North Korea began allowing foreigners access to its mobile Internet service, Koryolink. While foreign visitors can use the pricey 3G service to tweet and upload photos, North Korean citizens are restricted to voice calls.

Guttenfelder writes, “On Jan. 18, 2013, foreigners were allowed for the first time to bring mobile phones into North Korea. And this week the local service provider, Koryolink, is allowing foreigners to access the Internet on a data capable 3G connection on our mobile phones. In the past I could post geolocated phone photos to my Instagram feed by turning my online laptop into a hotspot to link my iPhone or iPod touch by wifi. But, today I’m posting this directly from my phone while riding in the back of a van in #Pyongyang. The window on to North Korea has opened another crack. Meanwhile, for Koreans here who will not have access to the same service, the window remains shut.”

Many of the shots capture rehearsals of the Arirang Mass Games as North Korea prepares for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the July 27 armistice that ended the Korean War. But there are also glimpses of daily life and commercial offerings in addition to images of propaganda.

Top image: “Korean War veterans enter a cemetery for their deceased fellow war veterans in #Pyongyang.”

A view of Pyongyang from Guttenfelder’s hotel.

“The yet to be completed 105-story pyramid shaped Ryugyong Hotel can be seen from about anywhere you stand in Pyongyang. The North Koreans started building it around 1987.”

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“DPRK in B&W. North Korean farmers tend fields near #Kaesong.”

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“North Korean veterans of the Korean War gather together in a stadium in #pyongyang before a mass ‘dance party’.”

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“Inside the new Korean War museum on #Pyongyang, tiny models in a glass case depict U.S. Army Major General William F. Dean, the highest ranking American captured during the Korean War.”

guttenfeldernk4“A North Korean communal farm seen from the air.”

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 “North Koreans in a passing car this morning in #Pyongyang.”

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“#NKorean schoolgirls sneaking a moment from a political ceremony to share a laugh. Their haircuts and school uniforms remind me of what my mother wore as a schoolgirl in Seoul in the late 1950s. Last month,#Pyongyang, #DPRK.”

Check out the reporters’ feeds for more footage as it comes.