Looking Over To The Hermit Kingdom


North Korean Border

Several years back on a trip to Seoul, we were taken to the border with North Korea. We reached the border, and the guide suddenly stopped, stuck his arm out and pointed with his finger. “There, across the river”, he said, “Lies North Korea”.

It was a cold day, with temperatures 5 degrees centigrade below zero. Yet, the chill that my Chinese friends and I felt was definitely more than the chill from the cold, December air. We have all heard tales of the Hermit Kingdom, and the cult of the Kim family. We’ve all heard, or been told jokes as kids. One I remember, went something like this:

“Announcer: There is a food shortage.

American citizen asks: What is ‘shortage’?

North Korean citizen asks: What is food?’ ”

People were hopeful when the latest Kim became premier, but apart from his baby face, he appears to be more menacing than the rest.

My father was in Korea in 1952, on behalf of the UN & South Korean forces. Those days are very far away indeed, and the tale of the two kingdoms since then could not be more different. One, the Southern one, has prospered, and sells more mobile phones than Apple! The other, the Northern one, shares a border with China, is repressed and is one where dissidents disappear regularly. One spectacular border that they share with the Chinese is that of Changbaishan, a place that is on my ‘must see’ list.

In India, we cry about the desire that the Gandhi-Nehru family has, to cling to power and screw our country. The North Koreans can only cry in the privacy of their hearts, and this is scary indeed. Freedom is something we generally do not cherish until it is gone.

A North Korean Room

We were then taken to see a model North Korean home. This is only one photo of such a home. I took photos of North Korean underwear, and this was depressing indeed. Where the world has moved on to jazzy electronics, and snazzy, sexy underwear, here is an entire race condemned to living in the past, in order to preserve the privileges of a few.

I wonder if the Kims rule, or are they the puppets on the throne. To be honest, I don’t think anyone really knows the truth.  A dictator rules by the force of his/her personality. What happens down the genetic line? Do the next generations retain the strength of the original dictator, or do they become weak and dissolute, mere puppets to be controlled by powerful factions that prefer to live in the shadows?

The Hermits, if they still live in North Korea, may know the answer to that question.


A Japanese Holiday – Miho Museum

The Tunnel To The Miho MuseumThis is the last stop on our old Japanese holiday, The Miho Museum. This museum is fairly close to Kyoto actually, and is set right plumb in the centre of an absolutely beautiful, wooded, hilly countryside. It is set in stunning surroundings, and I was absolutely awed as we walked through the tunnel that is in the photo to get to the museum. The museum is the brainchild of Mihoko Koyama who was one of Japan’s wealthiest women. It seems that, while she has about 2,000 pieces of ancient Western and Oriental art, about 250 are normally on display at any time.

Museums can be stunning, and really nice places to visit. I have been to many around the world, and in general, I have always been happy. Then, I come home to India, and I am saddened by the generally awful state of the museums here. Not that the pieces are bad, mind you. The pieces that we have in our museums are actually quite good. Yet, they are dull. They seem to come from another era. The last time I did go to a museum in India was this summer actually.  I went with my son, and we went off with a lot of vim, vigor and enthusiasm. His enthusiasm started to dwindle soon enough, and much though I tried, I could not keep up mine for very long either.

Museums can bring cultures and history to life. They can educate and be fun. Yet, when you walk into something that looks musty and seems to be moth-eaten, then that is the end of the story.

Anyway, this is the end of the Japanese holiday, and I am off for two weeks. Let’s see what I come up with when I am back

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