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Pyongyang Soda: Coca Cola, Cotton Candy and Dishwashing Soap

[Benji's Photo Diary 2.]
2008-12-08 12:04

Daily NK is releasing a series of photo diaries by Benji, who visited North Korea starting September 6 this year. Benji, a European, wants to share his precious experiences with Daily NK’s readers. Daily NK is only releasing his pen name, “Benji,” without any other private information to protect his privacy. -- Editor

▲ Pyongyang citizens took part in cleaning up the streets early in the morning, ahead of the September 9th holiday.
A few days after arriving in North Korea, I learned that my imagination had been fairly good at predicting what the less wealthy parts of North Korea would be like. My earlier perceptions of North Korea had been based on the sources that were available to me: a few shelves of books, a number of reports and written articles (many of them by Daily NK).

I was surprised by how much of a country you can read yourself into experiencing. Touching down at Orang military airport was surreal, while what I saw also made so much sense. It was just what I had anticipated. The atmosphere, the mysterious calm – one that a living and prosperous society would never have – and everything seemingly either broken or ancient; it was the North Korea that I had in mind long before seeing it.

Before we went to the airport to fly to Orang and Chilbo, I decided to take a walk around Yanggak Island. When I woke up at around 5 o’clock in the morning, Pyongyang seemed to have been awake for a long time already. When I looked over at the other side of the Taedong River, I saw what seemed to be a long row of military trucks carrying some kind of light. I assumed that they were practicing for the torch parade a few days later.

Yanggak Island seemed almost deserted, except for a surprised gardener I ran into during my walk.

However, I did find a gas station at Yanggak Island. I never understood why it was there, and it looked like it hadn’t been in use for many years. When I went closer to take a picture of the small house right near it, I heard the sound of a TV coming from inside. There seemed to be people there watching TV and taking a break from something; I concluded that they were mechanics on stand-by in case one of the tourist buses broke down.

Rough looking apartment building with propaganda slogans on the front walls. Even though this part of Pyongyang was of a relatively high standard, every house seemed to be broken and shabby.

These stalls seemed to be on almost every street corner in Pyongyang. During the few holidays on which we were in the city, the lines in front of them were huge. I actually bought a North Korean coca-cola in one of them one day (without the knowledge of my minders, of course), to the great surprise of the clerk. It tasted like a mixture of regular coke, cotton candy and a hint of dishwashing soap. But quite good!

Streets in Pyongyang are always empty and grey. Our guides sometimes boasted about how wide the streets were, which seemed kind of ironic since they were very rarely ever filled with cars. Though, I should say, there were more cars than I had anticipated.

We dropped by the Duty-free shop at the Sunan airport. Everything seemed to have been there for many, many years. The bottles looked dusty, and were quite expensive. One person in our group actually found Swedish chocolate in another tax-free shop. It had expired in 2006, though…

▲ There are stalls on almost every street corner in Pyongyang.

▲ Students wearing customary school uniforms

▲ Empty gas-station on Yanggak Island

▲ Rusty gas pumps

▲ Apartments in Pyongyang. They were clean, but most of them were worn-out and old.

▲ Pyongyang citizens reconstruct retaining walls preparing for the September 9 Holiday.

▲The building boom. Chinese-made truck in the centre of the picture.

▲ Street stalls everywhere in Pyongyang.

▲ Guides boasted about how wide the streets were. Wide, but largely empty.

▲ Phone booths in Pyongyang.

▲ The duty-free shop at Sunan airport. The goods on the shelves were dusty.
 
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