The Kimilsungia flower exhibit, and about a perk
Jumping forward a few days, I was visiting a slightly bizarre, almost outlandish flower exhibit, a symbol, in my opinion, of the sine qua non adulation of Kim Il Song and Kim Jung Il shown through the cultivation and exhibition of exuberant pink and red flowers grown in enormous quantities for the purpose of showing them off at this flower show.
It was April 15th, the big national holiday. I was there at the same time as a number of party officials, government ministers, cameramen for the TV station, children of all ages, families out for fun and wives interested in flora. Everyone was out to show party devotion. So, the building was packed wall-to-wall with people.
In the midst of the hundreds of Korean faces, I don’t see anyone I know (of course) but one man recognizes me, and it’s my friend, the executive from the Pothonggang Hotel.
He is thrilled to see me! He yells something like “Chantal!” as he recognizes me, and he makes his way fast and firm to me through the throngs of people. My guides are flabbergasted. They don’t know him. They’ve never seen him. I’m not supposed to know anyone by name in North Korea other than them. And yet, this man is clearly elated to shake my hand and talk to me. The vibes of confusion and anxiety run through Mr Kim and Mr Lee. Their eyes swivel non-stop trying to figure out who else is watching this, who is involved, where the security agents are.
I figure my friend and I have no more than 5 seconds of unscreened communication available. He has figured the same, and we fire questions and answers: did you send the email to my husband? Yes. Did you hear back from him? Yes, he said he is fine and…[someone here grabs me by the arm and away from this unscheduled, unexplained contact]. Full stop.
My friend and I know that we won’t see each other again but we both have the feeling of having done something meaningful because we’ve defied the system.
He has – you guessed, by now – a direct uncensored internet connection with the outside world. He emailed Michael for me. And Michael responded. Not a big deal in itself, right?
No, but I had to leave my phones at the airport and there is otherwise no working internet connection with the outside for us mere mortals. North Koreans are not allowed, ever, to email anyone outside their country, although there are a few email connections for a handful of government offices. Otherwise the server is only intra-DPRK. No Google or Alibaba or Microsoft or Apple here. Nothing.
So when you go, know that you won’t be able to get in touch with anyone else outside the country, unless, of course, you meet my friend who shall remain unnamed.