By Lee On Ying Annie
Steering visitors towards the carefully planned path of monuments in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, two female tour guides proudly lecture on the divinity of their former leader, Kim II-sung, and his late son and successor, Kim Jong-il.
In a city of almost 3 million people, the main streets in Pyongyang are disproportionately spacious compared to the light traffic. Trees line the sidewalks next to brightly coloured propaganda posters and red signs with bold slogans. On a hill hidden away in the city, two huge bronze statues demand enduring love for the fatherly marshals.
“The United States had dropped more than 70 devastating bombs on our motherland. Our territories were sabotaged as ruins but under the leadership of our great marshals, we recovered quickly,” the more versed guide, with unmistakable awe, said again
Pointing an accusing finger at the United States for the division of Korea, the northern half of the peninsula holds a fresh and intact hostility over the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. The South was supported by the US-led United Nations Command involving 16 countries.
The history presented at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum and the Koryo History Museum denounce capitalism and make the United States accountable for the casualties and destruction in North Korea.
State-controlled North Korean media, distributed in English on its planes, souvenir shops, social media accounts and on its official website, sanitize reality.
Taught to deify and never defy, North Koreans live in one of the world’s most oppressive regimes and perceive, or at least pretend to, their leaders as the sun and air of their existence.
At a model school open for tourists, singing and clapping children dance under photos of the leaders. Just outside the classroom door are murals of cartoon children with guns. The playground has a tank.
The tour guide said the North Korean students have to attend a “revolutionary history” class in schools.
Cut off from the outside world, where foreign television can bring the death penalty, North Koreans live in a bubble blow by the elite leaders who control the country.
But the patriotic ambience and collective spirit, sometimes slips. More than 25,000 North Koreans have defected in the last twenty years, the BBC reports. In a country of nearly 30 million, the percentage is small.
“The strength of regime came from its ability to isolate citizens completely,” said Barbara Demick, journalist and the author of the award-winning book “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.”
But beyond the facade conjured by the news reports on nuclear weapons and human rights abuses, tourists to the country get a glimpse of uneventful daily life. But it’s only a surface look. Even we are standing on its soil, we are distant.