Inside Kim’s Kingdom – John Everard, 16 October 2013

Written by: Roger Jeal  |  Posted on: November 6th, 2013

IMG_0433 (500x375)John Everard describes his experiences of North Korea, as British Ambassador there from 2006 to 2008, in such a clear, balanced but also riveting way that I had no doubts I wanted to hear him again. I was not disappointed when he spoke to the Anglo Korean Society in mid-October.

As he had done when I heard him earlier this year at Asia House, he stressed that ordinary North Koreans were “real people” with similar concerns to ours. He made a point of trying to meet North Koreans below the top elite when he was there, cycling around Pyongyang. His talk, like his book on the subject, ‘Only Beautiful, Please’, made North Korea come alive and not in the rather sensationalist way that some media cover does.

I loved hearing that North Koreans are taught to sing at a young age and always think it is strange that foreigners can’t sing. When I went there a decade ago to train some editors about business news, our last evening was spent at the ‘national restaurant’. One of the two Brits involved was expected to sing karaoke. My colleague refused and I had to step forward. Not recalling all the words of any ‘suitable’ English song, I delivered a rousing rendition of ‘The Wild Rover’ while the pianist attempted to back me. My pupils, who worked for the Foreign Trade Ministry, were pleased and seemed very ‘human’ to me.

I was rather sad to hear that the traffic girls directing the few vehicles in Pyongyang had given way to the reintroduction of traffic lights. As for food, John said, “I never found anything cook couldn’t buy.” She had contacts in the market and money talked in the capital city, so privileged compared with the outlying parts of the country suffering from food shortages.

While describing the less familiar human face of North Korea, John left us in no doubt about the inhuman aspects of life there.

The presentation produced plenty of lively discussion among the 50 or so people present, which continued while we enjoyed a Korean buffet.

Roger Jeal

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