What I Ate and Drank in North Korea, Part II: On the Farm in the DPRK

Part of my trip to North Korea was being taken to a cooperative farm village. I snapped a photo of a North Korean farmer’s kitchen, which I’ve posted below the jump. It was a bit of a ways from Pyongyang, so we drove there on the country’s mainly empty highways. As you might’ve guessed, working automobiles and modern farm equipment are in scarce supply. It was common to see ox-pulled carts, but most of the work was done by manpower. Even the DPRK army had to make do, using 1950s-era wood-burning engines on many of the trucks we saw. It wasn’t unusual to see a military truck stopped by the side of the road, spewing black smoke as its soldiers scavenged the roadside for fallen branches and twigs. Even urban families living in the relative comfort of the capital city were expected to regularly farm for food, leaving the city during the harvest to stay with farming families and take to the fields with hand sickles. It was sold to me as a cross between a corporate team-building retreat and a family vacation, but this was obviously a national duty no citizen could, or would, opt out of. The omnipresent quota boards were even more conspicuous in the farming areas we went to … This was one of the first things we saw at the persimmon cooperative we visited–a man in the main square painting the latest projections (or results) for the week. Here’s one of the leaders of the cooperative offering us samples of their crop. She was unfailingly pleasant and always had a broad smile on her face. There was little question that we were essentially in a Potemkin village, however, and what she told us seemed basically a recitation of a memorized program she told to every foreign visitor–how many kilograms of fruit they averaged, the (highly colored) origins of the agricultural cooperatives in North Korea, etc., etc. The persimmons were tasty, the way–not too sweet, not at all tart. Huge example: the story of how the Eternal President, Kim Il Sung, once visited the farm and described how perfect the persimmons were, and how the hard work of the farmers were a shining example of his philosophy of Juche (roughly “self-reliance”). So the farm commemorated the event with the painting above, which lorded over the entire main square. Great story, except that if you went to Village X or Town Y, you always heard this story: Once the Eternal President, Kim Il Sung, visited ____ and described how perfect the ____ were, and how the hard work of the _____ were a shining example of his philosophy of Juche. So the ____ commemorated the event with the painting above, which lorded over the entire main area of _____. And if you guessed that the painting in Village X or Town Y was the exact same picture of Kim Il Sung with adoring citizens in the exact same pose and with the exact same ecstatic expression on…

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