Gabriel Mizrahi

The Wonderful Contradictions of North Korea

Gabriel Mizrahi of The North Korean Blog offers up the following Wonderful Contradictions of North Korea:

North Korea is a place of deep contradictions.

It confirms our worst fears with its nuclear belligerence, only to reveal its romantic folkloric past.

It confirms a taste for criminal delights – then seduces us with its unexpected charms.

Functioning cities are just a short bus ride from unimaginable prison camps. Those prison camps are only miles from the beautiful sights of Korean mythology, which tell of magical birthplaces and undead leaders who still rule.

These paradoxes make North Korea what it is. Here we present the wonderful contradictions of North Korea….

My favorite contradiction from the post:

North Koreans are generally kind, modest, humble people.

On the Streets of Pyongyang, DPRK

But they sure know how to party. It’s a huge part of the culture.

East meet West

Top photo by Joseph A Ferris III, 2nd photo by Andrew Lombardi.

Many more of my photos are used in the post – make sure to check it out in its entirety!

The End of North Korea

Gabriel Mizrahi over at The North Korea Blog has the following thoughts on The End of North Korea:

You have to hand one thing to North Korea: It knows how to keep us guessing.

Predictions about the end of North Korea keep coming (The Atlantic recently published a terrific article about the long history of wrongly predicting the DPRK’s demise), but the truth about the regime seems to elude most analysts. Still, that won’t stop the best of them from trying to pin down the end of North Korea.

Consider, for instance, Mark P. Barry’s recent post on World Policy Blog:

It’s possible that a process may have recently begun whereby North Korea could eventually shift from totalitarianism (or total control of public and private life) to authoritarianism (with minimal pluralism and autonomy in private life), drawing from the recent experiences of China.

Because when in doubt — and how could Mr. Barry not be, seeing as he’s talking about the world’s most secretive regime — use vague terms. “It’s possible.” “A process.” “May have recently begun.” “Could eventually.” I would love to see someone explain to Kim the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Better yet, I’d love to see someone explain the difference to a North Korean citizen. I doubt that the distinction, such as it is, is compatible with Red Confucianism…..continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

Kim Jong-un Pyongyang Subway

Kim Jong-un in the news at a Pyongyang Metro station – photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Laughter, Blogging and North Korea

The day I became a blogger: Gabriel Mizrahi’s observations on North Korea, humor, blogging, and his recent Huffington Post article.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Laughter in North Korea photo by Joseph A Ferris III

Frisbee Diplomacy in North Korea – Picture Post #2

A series of photos from our day of Frisbee diplomacy in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Ultimate Frisbee North Korea

Above Gabriel Mizrahi of The North Korea Blog teaches young North Koreans how to throw a Frisbee.


Pyongyang: The Real Sin City

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

North Korea is a staggering place. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s an eerie, perverse, brutal country — this we know well — but it’s also tender, funny and entertaining in a way I have never encountered. It’s the only country where you will visit the corpse of a dictator who still reigns, see a 100,000-person acrobatic spectacle, enjoy a hilarious round of dick jokes over afternoon spelunking, take walks with starving child soldiers, then finish up the day at a shooting range that serves alcohol — and all of this on a peninsula that boasts an enviable gene pool and one of the craziest chapters in history.

If that sounds absurd, it was. And I haven’t even told you about the citizen actors or stand-up comedy yet. The seven days we spent there were insane — and insanely interesting. We were on a straight-up high for a good two months after returning to the States. I think I still am……..Read more at the North Korea Blog.

East meet West

East meets West in Pyongyang – Photo by Kinabalu


Youth Hero Highway North Korea

Photo and story by Gabriel Mizrahi

Crumbling from end to end and punctured by gaping holes, Pyongyang’s massive 12-lane Youth Hero Highway is a free-for-all for the few dozen vehicles that actually use it. Trucks, buses and the occasional sedan weave in and out of oncoming traffic in order to avoid the sickly workers stooping to repair the road, a symbol of the mindless excess and abject failure of North Korea’s infrastructure. The road was built, James Bond Villain explained, by students and people under the age of 30. It is a point of national pride………..Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

Spies, Entrepreneurs and the Internet in North Korea

Demilitarized Zone - North Korea

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

According to an envoy I met in a park in Pyongyang, there is one informant for every three citizens in the DPRK. To put that penetration into perspective, the East German Stasi, one of the most pervasive police organizations in history, boasted one informant for every ten citizens. Some experts dispute this figure—naturally, given the astounding implications—but the familiarity of its source with state espionage gave me pause.

Before I traveled to the DPRK, I was told that I would encounter normal citizens, and then I would encounter actors playing normal citizens, and that the obvious distinction would be part of North Korea’s entertainment value. That duplicity seemed to hold up when James Bond Villain probed us about our jobs—asking Jordan, at one point, how many people he has “influence over in your country”—an exchange that might have been genuinely motivated but never quite felt like innocent conversation. The porcelain face, in contrast, reversed my suspicions. Her genuine curiosity about life in America and our impromptu English lessons on the bus resulted in a moving exchange and her crowning achievement: “You’re so money, and you don’t even know it.”

Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

How Propaganda Works

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

Kim II Sung Statue

The Great Leader Kim Il Sung – Photo by Joseph A Ferris III

There was a point in my trip to North Korea when the gravitas and decorum of the country devolved into madness and hilarity. That point was the Train Museum.

Walk with me through a massive warehouse of Kim-family paraphernalia (the trains were just the opening attraction). Gaze at the cornucopia of paintings of the Great Leader providing crucial “on-the-spot guidance”—lots of smiling and pointing at things—for the construction of railways and bridges. Marvel at the orgy of industrial manufacturing that the Dear Leader thoroughly understands, and possibly invented, for the benefit of his people. Take note of the staples of everyday life that the father-son dream team bestowed upon its country, down to the Adidas running shoes graciously gifted—but then why are they here, in mint condition?—to the country’s grateful athletes.

In a corner room of the Train Museum, we happened upon a painting of the Dear Leader’s mother in a snowy battlefield clutching a baby Kim Jong Il and wielding a gun, which she is presumably pointing at a Japanese imperialist. That is the patriotic multi-tasking of a founding mother in North Korea. No battlefield is too dangerous to bring one’s infant along………….Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

The Pyongyang Subway and North Korean Stand-up

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

On the escalator into Pyongyang’s mass-transit underworld, I asked one of our guides why the subway is built so deep.

“Loose soil,” she responded, gripping my elbow.

“Cool in the summer, warm in the winter,” said another guide.

Structural requirements aside, the subway was clearly designed with war in mind. The tunnels double as a massive bomb shelter or vast storage space when the inevitable occurs. We inquired until one of our guides relented.

“Anti-bombing,” she conceded, though I later learned that this is a well-known and openly admitted fact………….Continue reading this post at The North Korea Blog.

Pyongyang Metro

Pyongyang Metro – Photo by Joseph Ferris

The Arirang Festival Mass Games

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

Imagine the sight of one-hundred thousand humans executing the world’s most impeccable live performance.  This is the Arirang Festival, also known as the Mass Games, dubbed the greatest acrobatic spectacle on earth.

Sexy Soldiers Arirang Mass Games - North Korea

Arirang Mass Games – photo by Joseph Ferris

To the haunting chants of Korean folk music, an orgy of color and music explodes on the field.  Baton-wielding military jackets parade in honor of the Dear Leader.  Tiny gymnasts in blue uniforms uniforms flip and twirl with cautious grace. Tae Kwon Do athletes perform a complex series of kicks and punches.  In the other half of the stadium seats, 20,000 students manipulate colored flipboards that magically shape-shift into pictures of the mythical countryside and portraits of the Great Leader in mind-blowing detail.  All the while, the haunting tones of “Arirang” echo in the May Day Stadium, telling the story of a Romeo and Juliet tragedy that doubles as an allegory for the separation of North and South Korea…………Continue reading Arirang Festival Mass Games at The North Korea Blog

Pyongyang, North Korea

By Contributing Writer Gabriel Mizrahi

“Good-a evening lay-deez and a-gentlemen,” said our government guide in a vague pastiche of American talk shows. Through the cold eyes of a James Bond villain, he stared at me. “Welcome to Pyongyang.”

My journey to the least-visited country on earth began with a 1980s Soviet jet that carried us—a group of travel junkies hungry for the most epic cultural fix of our lives—from the bustling streets of Beijing to the empty squares of North Korea……Continue reading Pyongyang at The North Korea Blog

Pyongyang Skyline

Pyongyang Skyline – Photo by Joseph Ferris