On hindsight, one of the things that disturbed me about North Korea, were the beautiful women of Pyongyang.
It just so happened that every woman I met in Pyongyang, during the time I spent in the Hermit Kingdom, be it at the hotel, the ‘tourist’ sites, the flower girls at Mansudae Hill, the police-women, the girls who served us beer or just about any woman in Pyongyang – were beautiful. Just the right kind of women to be seen in the capital city – beautiful, very fair, without a blemish, tall and slim.
Nothing wrong with that, until you know the reason why.
Reading about North Korea told me why it was so. When I asked this question to one of our guides – let’s just call him Giraffe – he said, “our women are beautiful, but the enemies have taken our women away and we have no beautiful women to marry.” And with that statement he flipped out a picture of his fiance, a police woman (and hence very pretty) and said again, “I was lucky.”
Truth is that, people who live in Pyongyang or any other major city that is open to tourist, are ‘picked’ or ‘selected’ to live there, while the commoners are shunted away to live in the villages or the mountains, away from public eye. Statistics peg it down to about 2 million people living in the capital city of Pyongyang who are regularly churned. Those who eventually don’t make the cut, are shunted away from the capital.
Be it the truth or not, this is how the system works – North Korea has a face for the public (meaning tourists) and another real face that is not as pretty or perfect. This face I happened to see when visiting the villages. Those people living in the harmonica houses, slogging away in the government owned fields up the mountain slopes, carry heavy weights on their shoulders, live on a meal of government dispensed meal of corn or rice and sometimes potatoes and cabbage. This is a country made of many “classes” of people who are allotted a living space and place depending on their class. These class of people, also cannot aspire to go beyond their allotted or specific job profile and while they form the core of the society, have little or no say in anything.
I wonder if the pretty girls we saw were handpicked and taken away from their families, which is often the case, to serve as the ‘face’ of the country, giving an impression of contentment, beauty and charm.
The traditional dresses are called Hanbok or Chosŏn-ot
Apparently, if you weren’t pretty enough or of a certain height, or slim, you could never be a tour -guide, interpreter, police woman or even a salesgirl in a place that the tourists visited.
These were the women trained for the camera as well – trained to say the right things to the tourists, throw the right attitude, dress the right way…because it helped in creating an illusion of joy and happiness all around.
On the other side, there was something about these beautiful women that I couldn’t help notice. If you asked them a question they were not trained to answer – their faces would turn expressionless, like it would out of fear – which didn’t quite go down well with their otherwise confident portrayal of their defined roles.
A classic example : When we finished dining at one of the restaurants, with lots of food left over, I asked a particularly frail waitress if she had eaten. She reacted as though I had slapped her! The reason? They always and only ate at certain time of the day and their meals mostly contained a certain type of dish and one did not, even in their dreams, think of eating what the tourists had left over, because it did not fit in with their ‘socialist’ ideals. I think it was something to do with the ideology of the Great Leader who attributed “fancy dining” to laziness and immorality and a disrespect to the great nation who believed in sharing and equal distribution.