Friday, September 15, 2017

Not lost in translation: A report from North Korea by a Lebanese journalist

      An Arab-speaking friend of mine just sent me his translation of an article in Al-Akhbar, written by a journalist who was actually in North Korea recently -- unlike most American journalists who are basically arm-chair speculators who wouldn't go near Pyongyang with a ten-foot pole and, instead, just want to make up negative stories.

     The author was writing about celebrations of the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea few days ago.  She says, "North Koreans have not been able to relax and take a breath from hostilities since the end of World War II".  Good grief.  That's a hecka long time to live in fear.  And also remember that in the two years after 1950, five million Koreans were slaughtered by American invaders.  Think Iraq's Shock and Awe -- only on a much larger scale.  Pyongyang, for instance, was totally flattened, all due to the same type of lies that started the U.S. "war" on Iraq. 

     The article's author accompanies a Lebanese soccer team to the Hermit kingdom and here are the results.

     "Months before my trip, I learned by chance that a soccer match would be bringing the Lebanese national football team to play the Korean team in Pyongyang, so I applied to accompany the team.  'No kidding!' was the first reaction of my colleagues, who admitted that no one 'even thinks of escorting the sports teams there'.

     "'Why are you in Pyongyang anyway?' is a question I've been asked constantly both before and during my five-day visit to the Korean capital, and before even reaching it."  She was given many warnings before she left.  "Do you know that you will not be able to talk to anyone on the street over there?  You do know that you won't be able to write a political article when you get back, right?  And after this trip, you will not be able to get any visa to any other country!"  Interesting.  Sounds more like the USA's policy than North Korea's.  She was also warned that, "They will take away your books, pens, camera and phone."

     "It was a tiring journey and  after long travel, we got to Beijing and from there to Pyongyang via Korean Airlines.  The elegant flight attendants smiled, but nothing reduced our tension, enthusiasm and adrenaline as we entered Pyongyang airport, which was empty of any other passengers.  The inspection was precise, automatic and manual, the security men and women checked our faces carefully. One of the security personnel at the entry window smiled and stamped my passport, giving me permission to enter.  No one searched my larger suitcase, and the security men did not open my carry-on bag.  They asked me very gently to hand over my phone and the camera.  After a few seconds, they returned them to me without any question, request or condition."  TSA, eat your heart out! 

    "Tension gradually disappeared and the view of green fields along the road leading to the city helped to calm minds and souls.  We entered Pyongyang at sunset.  Workers and staff returning from their jobs, walking and biking, wide paved clean streets semi-empty of cars, and lots of trees on both sides of the road.  Pyongyang welcomes its visitors with an amazing serenity.  The calmness was even present inside the hotel's huge lobby, until it was broken by the noise of the Lebanese soccer team complaining about not having wi-fi, only cable internet.

     "Despite the weight of the boisterous Lebanese presence, the staff maintained permanent warm smiles, quick service and a helpful response to all demands.  The female cleaning workers apologized shyly when they entered our rooms to perform their duties.  They noted that I am the only woman in the Lebanese delegation.  The next day, they replaced the blue bed sheets with others embroidered with pink flowers.  Koreans do not pretend their kindnesses.  They perform them every day, in their smiling greetings in the elevators, in the shop, and in the restaurant inside the hotel....  On the street, however, passers-by look at you directly in the eyes with a little surprise and a lot of seriousness."  Americans could use a few such lessons in politeness.

     "The traffic of the passers-by does not get lighter until nightfall.  Everyone is walking with fast steps, walking a long distance on their feet.  No one has a private car, and the public transportation is very small compared with the population, so the buses and trams are always overcrowded.  Women, as well as men, take part in cleaning the streets of the city, mowing its grass, arranging the squares' gardens and paving their pavements.  Hygiene and cleanliness are eye-catching in the main and secondary streets and even in the underground tunnels of the road.  The beautiful and quiet city is lying between two rivers, with a constant human movement during the day.  The atmosphere is polluted by the smoke of nearby factories, but the abundance of trees does not make you feel the smoke.  The most striking aspect of the city are the green, pink, yellow and blue buildings, like huge Lego pieces, a beautiful childish feeling in a nuclear capital.  The wide sidewalks include a restless bicycle line and very few passers-by talking on their cell phones, which most often takes place in the vicinity of the train station." 

      Can you imagine Americans taking care of their cities with such pride?  Or even putting their cell phones down long enough to enjoy the beauty of their cities?  Nah.

     "Thus, a visitor to Pyongyang is able to restore the pleasure of seeing the faces of the passersby and their features -- their heads in their natural position, raised, exposed, not curved and attached to cell phones.  Revolutionary posters and national emblems adorn some columns and walls and pictures of flowers are also spread across the city and on locally manufactured products.  The magnolia flower is a national symbol of the country.  There are public parks filled with them in the city.  In the residential neighborhoods, there are public parks, playgrounds for children and others facilities for sports.  In the afternoon, these playgrounds are filled with boys and young people who practice their various sports.  Some families also stretched on the green gardens and rest from productive daytime labor."

      And there's culture here too.  "There is a huge People's Library building, an Art Museum, the National Theater, the Cinema Hall, the Recreation Center, Hairdressing and Body Care.  Here is an outdoor music band playing and practicing, and women in colorful traditional costumes practicing for the upcoming National Day celebrations.

     "The silence of the city is enchanting, but it may sometimes feels sad and gloomy.  People are calm and tired as well.  Fatigue appears on faces and slim bodies -- the hard work of a country under the harshest economic sanctions in the world, and in political isolation for decades.  In fact, Koreans have not yet taken a safe breath since the end of the Second World War!   After the Japanese occupation was disbanded in 1945, the Korean War between its northern and southern parts came only five years later, with much blood spilled and divisions within one people on a land no longer united."  That "war" on Korea was sad, sadistic and unnecessary in my humble opinion -- even after watching too much MASH.

     "The Americans had completely destroyed Pyongyang, and its people rebuilt it with their hands, but the truce that ended the Korean War in 1953 did not end the tragedies of the Koreans.  While the country began to promote urbanization, industrialization and agriculture, it was also hit by floods that caused great famine, destruction of infrastructure and land between 1995 and 1998, and new floods within the last year.  Despite all this, many today do not speak about what the Korean people have suffered and still suffer up to this moment.  All that matters to Western and U.S. propaganda makers is to present an exaggerated, cynical and often unrealistic picture of the most anti-US radical regime in both word and deed since the collapse of the Soviet Union (USSR). 

     "But what about the citizens themselves and the rise of their country and the challenges they face daily due to sanctions?  What about their achievements in sports and music despite everything?  There is no mention of this in the Western daily media because it does not serve the cartoonish picture that the Western media seeks to circulate.

     "During my stay in the Korean capital, I took 166 photos with my camera.  The Korean attendant of the Lebanese team asked to see some of them but then deleted only two pictures because one of them had a slanted frame that had an impact on the image of the late Korean president's face; and the other because it showed one of the slogans written on the walls in a truncated manner that diminished its meaning.  The slogan, by the way, says, 'The more crises ... the more straight ahead we go.'

     The main feeling in Pyongyang seems to be, "What does the West want from us?  To surrender to their sanctions?"

     Then the journalist had the same experience that I had when I was in North Korea a few years ago.  "To provide visitors to Pyongyang with an accompanying person to go with them wherever they go outside the hotel, is known to anyone who wants to visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and if the visitor is a journalist, the escort seems inevitable.  The accompanying person of the Lebanese sport team in Pyongyang, named Sen, was joined by another accompanying person who serves as an interpreter (translator) for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), named Ree.  Sen and Ree were two young men in their 20s.  They committed no repressive behavior.  They did not let us feel that there was any censorship or restraint in our movement.  On the contrary, they eased our visit in more than one place.  Sen, for example, organized tours of the Zuchei Tower, Kim Il Sung Square and the largest sports stadium in the world -- while Ree, the interpreter, spoke to me about politics, the 'nuclear subject', life in general and the conditions of Lebanon and its region."

       Regarding the nuclear subject, Ree asked her, "Have you heard the news today?  What do you think about what happened," with regard to the test of the hydrogen bomb.  The journalist had followed the news on TV in her hotel room, which received Chinese and Japanese TV channels, France 24, English Aljazeera and Russia Today (RT). 

     She answered, "From one side, I do not like the idea of a nuclear bomb, and it frightens me; but from the other side, you are telling the world that you are strong as well."  Ree smiled and said, "Do not be afraid, we will not throw the bomb at your country, it is only for the peace of our country." 

      Ree learned his excellent English at the Pyongyang Institute of Languages.  What?  Not by watching Sesame Street?

     "'It is our right to protect the security of our country and our people,' Ree explained regarding his view of possessing of nuclear weapons, and then asked, 'How should we act, for example, toward the implementation of military drills on our borders by the United States and South Korea?  Why can't we address their constant threats?'  He paused a little then continued saying: 'What do they want from us?  To surrender and submit to their sanctions?' 

     "On one occasion, Ree gently invited me to taste Korean beer, Taedonggang, made locally from white rice.  We sat in the lobby of the hotel more than once to continue our discussions on a variety of things.  The young man was surprised when I told him that South Lebanon had been under Israeli occupation for years and he admired the popular and armed resistance that drove the Israeli enemy out of Lebanese territory.  'Resistance and patriotism are the most important things I have learned in life,' Ree said.  This young Korean dreamed of visiting some of the world's capitals that he hears about while accompanying tourists.  His face changed positively when I told him that in Lebanon, there are many who saw Israel and the United States as enemies, and that I, too, hated U.S. imperialism."  Me too!

      "'I learned yesterday that the U.S. threw a bomb in Syria and killed many civilians, and that saddened my heart,' he said seriously and honestly.  Ree was shocked when he learned that in Lebanon we had to pay huge sums for medicine, education and sports -- while they were all free in his country. 

     "Ree accompanied me at the Kim Il Sung Stadium during the enjoyable Korean-Lebanese match.  He was enthusiastically encouraging his own country's team yet delighted me by being the only person among the 29,000 spectators who encouraged the Lebanese team.  Then he reassured me: 'No one will bother you.  People here are friendly.' 

     "He worked hard to convince the organizers to allow me to take pictures from the pitch, because I was not a certified press photographer.  He succeeded and, thanks to him, I was able to take pictures of the Lebanese team and the match.  In the break between the two halves, we talked about God and faith, and we agreed that faith in one's own abilities is very important.

     "When we left North Korea, Ree escorted us to the airport, to say farewell to us, and we shook hands with some team members with affection.  'You are not alone,' I finally told him.  'We are with you and understand your suffering because we have lived wars and tested its horrors in Lebanon as well.'  Ree lowered his eyes and said, 'Thank you.'

      "Ree told me in an earlier meeting that he listens to Korean and Russian music because 'music makes him feel calm and with tranquility,' after long and hard work as an interpreter.  So, I left him a Fayrouz Ziad Rahbani album as a gift, wishing him to have the best and the most elegant image of Lebanon.

      In the Lebanese journalist's next dispatch, she wrote, "Leave them in peace.  They are the workers who go to their jobs and factories on foot every day.  They are the children who learn in their schools that patriotism is like a mother's love. They are the people of Pyongyang, so good and so shy.  They are the tired ones of the injustice of the entire world.  They are hard-working in order to remain in their world, which stands in the face of imperialism in all its forms. 

     "North Korea is the sun that shines on the impact of music and factory wheels. 
She is the state that, despite the blockade, is keen on free medicine and education, green gardens, superior sport and early music education.  They are the thin bodies and slim faces, their daily worries greater than the mountains.  Leave them in peace, and do not increase their load more." 

     Holy crap.  North Koreans receive free "MediCare for all" and their government actually cares about them?  Wow.

     "You in the West talk about them with arrogance and irony, describing their world as 'closed', and treating them as 'robotic' -- but for God sake, look in the mirror and in the images spread on your own 'social' networking sites.  You are the robotic ones to the limit of boredom.  You are robotic in your external shapes that don't match your identities; in the way you speak; your clothes; your smiles; your jokes; your mainstream music; the absence of your wrinkles; the forms of your relationships even including the intimate ones; and the way you live in the smallest details.  Look around you, your dominant culture isolates free thinkers, and your generalized ideas classify the different as 'backward'.  You are boasting of your freedom, but the more allegedly open-minded you become, the more racism increases.  And your closed mindset builds up even more when borders are erased.  You too are walled in, but while your wall is huge, the Korean wall is ... Great!

     "I will not pretend to know the truth about North Koreans' lives, their mental state, and how they think.  I did not ask them if they were happy, and I did not know whether their love for their leaders was real, but certainly, their love for their country is clear.  They are tired and admit it, even in their songs.  They are honest.  I do not need to ask them this.  A look in their eyes says enough.  They teach you kindness and they are the most suffering people.  They forgive us, although they are floundering in crises that they are not guilty of.  They forgive us, we who stood watching them suffering and did nothing. 

     "I will not claim that the Koreans are perfect, and I will not speculate on what is best for them, but I will salute their productive daily fatigue.  I will silence myself in particular, the tourist journalist who came from Lebanon.  How can a visitor coming from Lebanon, a country of garbage and feces in food, sewage in fresh water, and poison in medicine, feel superior to any other country in the universe?

     "We may deserve what the U.S. and the West have forced upon us by their excessive speed of culture and intellectual flattening, and we may also deserve nuclear missiles sent from oppressed peoples because we do not want to see their tragedies...   But surely no one in the world deserves the kindness of the Korean people and their shy smiles.  Therefore, let them alone, they do not want anything from us.  Let them exist in peace and stop inflicting your misery on them. Perhaps, just then, you may also wake up to your lives, look into the eyes of your beloved ones, finally see the depth of your own tragedy -- and also begin to resist."

PS:  But what does all this mean?  If North Korea isn't a Bad Guy after all, then why is the American media trying so hard to make it into one?  Why?  For money of course.  Ka-ching.

     Endless "war"?  Cold War on Russia and China?  War on Muslims?  War on crime, war on drugs, war on American protestors?  War on Black people, war on immigrants, war on kids, war on pets, war on climate, war on grandma -- whatever.

     As long as there's a "war" going on somewhere, then there's money to be made by people who are not us.


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