North Korea’s modern luxuries revealed

Last Friday we heard from Toronto student Benjamin Jakabek, known on Flickr as benyjakabek, who described his rare visit to North Korea and shared the photos he took of the country most will never lay eyes on.

This week he’s back to talk about a side of North Korea that took him by surprise. Before leaving for his trip, Benjamin anticipated a rigid, institutionalized system based on communist philosophy with limited access to the outside world. But after a week traveling throughout the country, Benjamin found pockets where the country seemed advanced beyond his expectations.

“Some of my favorite pictures were ones that showed modernization,” Benjamin says in the video below. “I never really thought that would actually be possible in North Korea.”

One of the things that shocked Benjamin was Pyongyang’s metro system. He was taken aback at how well decorated, clean and beautiful the stations were.

“It was very impressive and really over the top,” Benjamin recalls. “But the strange part was they had two stops that were really nice and then the rest of them they didn’t want to show you. When we went on the subway we saw six stops — two we stopped at, the other four we weren’t able to get off. It was really bizarre.”

Pyongyang Metro   Pyongyang Metro

Benjamin also noted that not everyone had access to the metro. “It was apparent that the average person can’t really go there. First of all, you’re lucky if you’re in Pyongyang and second of all, a lot of these luxuries are held back for the military elite.”

Benjamin was also surprised to encounter Pyongyang’s Fun Fair — a huge outdoor space with carnival rides cheap enough to make the fair one of the few places accessible to the general public.

Pyongyang Fun Fair   Pyongyang Fun Fair

“What’s funny was this wasn’t just a little carnival,” Benjamin explains. “They had very high tech rides like the drop zone and stuff like that. Something you would see at a Wonderland or a Six Flags. One of them was very high tech where you would lay down and it would do all sorts of flips and things on a track. You just would never expect to see that in North Korea.”

Night Time View from the Yanggakbo Hotel

Benjamin found these modern luxuries, such as bowling alleys, fascinating in country closed off from the rest of the world. “You kind of just show up there and it’s a strange combination of being like stuck in 1950s Stalinist Russia mixed with these little tokens from the West,” Benjamin says. “It’s so surreal.”

To see more of Benjamin’s photography, be sure to visit his photostream.

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