Friday, September 11, 2015

A socialist fairyland!

This isn't a post about Jeremy Corbyn, although the title makes it sound lime one. It is in fact about a piece in the Guardian all about the Islington of Asia, North Korea. It's mainly about the architecture of Pyongyang, with a sideline in the city as a whole. It also reads as though it's been filed from Pyongyang itself. Try this:
“Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland!” urges another of this year’s official slogans. From the top of the Juche Tower, a gigantic candle-like obelisk that stands beside the river in the centre of Pyongyang, the capital does indeed unfold as a fairytale landscape – a sea of pastel-coloured apartment blocks, painted in chalky pinks and yellows, baby blue and teal, punctuated by lush green parks, and with a variety of futurist forms poking up on the horizon.
“It’s always a breath of fresh air to arrive here after Beijing,” says Bonner. “It is probably one of the greenest cities in Asia, and it’s now busy doing, on a much smaller scale, what Barcelona did – with a big emphasis on improving the landscape and recreation spaces.” It’s not quite Las Ramblas, but it is a bold initiative, evidenced by the crowds of volunteer women we see swarming along the riverbank, busy shovelling mounds of sand in preparation for a new waterfront promenade.
Lovely, pretty buildings and green spaces - wait a minute, what was that last bit?
it is a bold initiative, evidenced by the crowds of volunteer women we see swarming along the riverbank, busy shovelling mounds of sand in preparation for a new waterfront promenade.
Volunteers huh? Someone's been drinking the kool aid.
After a few days in Pyongyang, I find myself always looking out for the cheery leaders, forever offering a toothy grin, depicted standing before ever more spectacular landscapes. The few buildings without portraits or statues begin to feel bereft.
There's then a lot about the theories of North Korean architecture (helpfully articulated by Kim Jong-il in his 160-page treatise On Architecture, published in 1991) before the author hints that he might not be getting quite the entire story.
Outside the pleasure dome, in zones off-limits to foreign visitors, most of the socialist fairyland still suffers from frequent power shortages, chronic food insecurity and deteriorating standards of healthcare and education – realities that are safely obscured inside Pyongyang’s candy-coloured mirage.
He's actually summed up the story already, without quite noticing it.
“National in form, socialist in content,” explains our guide.
National socialist. Sounds about right.

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