Friday, August 17, 2012

North Korean Commie Wood Burning Automobiles

Returning from a recent trip to North Korea, Charles K. Armstrong reports on what he observed:
Like Havana, only more so, the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, is bereft of commercial billboards but covered with propaganda posters...

Pyongyang is a much busier and visibly more affluent city than it was just a few years ago. The source of this new wealth is something of a mystery, but presumably Chinese trade and investment account for a good part of it. With its residents dressed mostly in Western-style clothing and clutching mobile phones, Pyongyang today looks more like a tidy Chinese provincial city than the spartan capital of the world’s last Stalinist state....

Pyongyang is more visibly affluent in part because of a tremendous effort to improve the city for the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth this past April. According to foreign diplomatic sources, universities were closed for the entire 2011-12 academic year as students were mobilized for construction. Impressively modern 45-story apartment blocks have just gone up; residents were still moving in during my visit. Kim Jong-un, apparently a big fan of amusement parks, has overseen the renovation of several fun fairs and the construction of a new water park, complete with a dolphin circus. While much of this change is a result of classic Stakhanovite labor mobilization, the market economy is increasingly visible as well, most literally in the form of the large and crowded public markets, where most consumer goods are now purchased...

On the other hand, the contrast between the relative affluence of the capital and the continuing poverty in the countryside is truly striking. On the bumpy six-hour bus ride from Pyongyang to the industrial city of Hamhung on the east coast, there were a fair number of Chinese-built trucks but hardly any private vehicles (and long stretches with no cars at all). Locally made vehicles consisted mostly of battered, slow-moving pickup trucks retrofitted to run by burning wood. Farm vehicles were almost entirely absent. Poorly dressed, unkempt children could occasionally be seen sleeping on the empty highway...

If nothing else, sign alteration in North Korea constitutes a public-works project of immense proportions. A 65-foot-tall bronze statue of Kim Jong-il now stands alongside the equally tall statue of his father in Pyongyang. Posters announce a new ideology, “Kim Il-sung-Kim Jong-il-ism.”


  1. If there's any positive take away from stories such as these, it's the indomitable spirit of human ingenuity. Even in the hellish place that is North Korea, some people manage to find ways to improve their lives if only in a small way.

    On the other hand, if the watermelons in this country get their way we'll all be "going green" with wood burning automobiles.

  2. has a great piece on North Korea in their series "Vice Guide to Travel". You get to see what the country is all about.

  3. Wood burning trucks!
    Renewable energy!
    Boy, those N. Koreans are WAAAY ahead of us!
    We're catchin' up, though.

  4. I remember a cousin of mine who served in Hawaii during the Big War. He spoke of modest size utility trucks that burned methane gas from dried and ignited cow chips. Sounds like the next Solyndra if the greens can get their arms around the technology.