Dear Leader’s Dreary Country Comes to Life

Richard Read wrote a piece for Newhouse News service about a trip to North Korea. Here at the end, he finally breaks away, and it’s the best part of the story.

“The ceaseless propaganda had gripped me, but not in the intended manner: I found myself fighting an impulse to regard all North Koreans as programmed as the corps of “traffic girls” who performed robotic maneuvers at sparsely trafficked intersections.

But two hours later, our bus broke down. A substitute bus also quit. Taking unofficial pity on us, our handlers impulsively let three of us go for a stroll of up to three kilometers.

Three kilometers!

Giddy with freedom, our trio hit the country road.

Before long, an old woman approached, a bundle of sticks on her head. Seeing us – three tall, white, Western men – she bolted into the undergrowth, ignoring our smiles and waves.

Next, we saw a man cradling a toddler in his arms. We walked up to admire the napping girl, clad in holiday pink with matching hair ties. The man smiled. He spoke Korean; we spoke English.

But it didn’t matter. I felt jubilant. I was making unscripted contact with another human being. He was showing tenderness, even genuine delight.

We gestured. We laughed. I raised my eyebrows and pointed to my camera, asking his permission for a photograph. He beamed. I clicked. At last, I felt a sense of possibility for this tyrannized land. For an instant, a man’s love for a little girl had swept away the fog.”