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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

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I highly recommend animator Guy Delisle’s graphic memoir Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. Deslisle, a French Canadian, had to go to North Korea for two months to supervise the animators his French employer contracted (for their ultra-cheap rates). As you might expect the landscape and city are dreary, dark at night save a lit up portrait of the Supreme Leader. He recounts his dull, ever-present translator and guide. The food is bland and the restaurants dirty. Foreigners are separated from the People. So Delisle’s only companionship is a go-between at work, and other foreigners at the hotel or in the NGO compound, which has parties on the weekend.

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It was interesting to read about the approved responses Capt. Sin, Delise’s handler would give to his queries about the country and to learn of the pervasive propaganda. One “high” point was a visit to the Museum of American Oppression, which was two stories of images (three photos and many paintings) of Americans doing atrocious things to the North Koreans. There are paintings of US soldiers forcing motor oil down the throats of children and other forms of torture including the use of the rack, which seem quite dubious even if you acknowledge that yes, unfortunately, and shamefully, sometimes American military has resorted to torture. Capt. Sin was very disappointed that Delise didn’t react as he’d expected to the museum trip.

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delisle_guy_pyongyangThere are plenty of anecdote’s of the usual the translator isn’t around when Delisle needs him so rather than wait for hours Delisle goes out on his own through the streets of Pyongyang in search of a gift for his godson. “What’s to buy in the DPRK?” you might ask. Delisle did return empty handed as he couldn’t even find a cheap kitsch. Poor North Korea, indeed. Delisle made me feel like a friend he was sharing his tales of North Korea with. I felt his treatment was fair and thorough. I sure wouldn’t want to stay in Pyongyang a minute past two months. If you do have to go, even for a weekend, Bring food. What they offer seems dreadful.

Based on this book, I’m planning to read his books on Shenzhen and Jerusalem. The later I’ve already ordered from the library.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2018 in book review, contemporary, fiction, graphic memoir, postaweek, Travel Writing

 

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Lost on Planet China

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After reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China: The Strange and True Story of One Man’s Attempt to Understand the World’s Most Mystifying Nation Or How He Became Comfortable Eating Live Squid, I’m putting his earlier books at the top of my “to read list.”

When Troost and his wife outgrow their home in California, they consider moving to China. But first Troost feels the need to investigate. Would China be the place to bring up his two boys? Thus he sets off on what must have been months of travel all around the Middle Kingdom.

Soon after arriving in polluted Beijing, it’s clear that Troost isn’t exposing his sons to the PM 2.5 laced smog that passes for air in China. No. He’s a good father.

Yet he’s also a traveler and he wants to see what makes this empire tick. So he travels through China stopping in Tai an, Qingdao, Nanjing, Shanghai, Tibet, Chengdu and many other exotic, perplexing, fascinating, crowded, polluted (and less so in a few, a very few instances) cities. All the while Troost delights with his wit, perception and insight. Here’s a sample of his prose describing a trip to a traditional market;

And then, as if we were lost in some grim Humane Society nightmare, we began to wander past stalls selling frogs, chickens, eels, turtles, cats, scorpions –big and small- – dogs in cages, ducks in bags, and snakes in bowls. There were 2,000 stalls in this market, and this, apparently, was where Noah’s Ark unloaded its cargo. If you were planning a dinner party and looking to tickle your guests’ palate with a delicately prepared Cobra heart, perhaps followed by some bunny soup and saute├ęd puppy, the Qingping Market is for you.

Now there is some wit and exaggeration, so if you’re looking for a literary journey with a stodgy, politically correct anthropologist, this book isn’t for you, but I’d rather travel with Troost than a disciple of Margaret Mead.

Troost experiences the full China – the majesty of the Forbidden City, come ons from the prostitutes, the cute pandas, the karaoke on the Yangste River Cruise, the constant haggling, the bandit taxi drivers, the expat pot heads in Yunnan, the cheerful Tibetans, and the hordes who’ll knock down their great grandmother to get to their assigned train seat.

He weaves in history and politics with a light touch that makes it memorable and interesting. You’ll learn a lot about bargaining and patience on the road from Troost.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in contemporary, memoir, Travel Writing

 

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