Pyongyang, North Korea
By Jason Lee
From stepping on to the Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang on the evening of July 24th until my return on the 29th, I didn’t stop taking pictures. Our group from Reuters, visiting the secretive state of North Korea for its celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, often found ourselves with no time to eat. It was only in the taxi on the way home from Beijing airport that I had time to think back on my trip.
It was the experience of a lifetime, a nation of 22 million people showing a depression and weakness of spirit that I tried my best to interpret through my cameras.
But it can also be seen through my experience with the closest North Korean people to me during the trip – the minders, the name we gave to the “guides” deployed by the government to accompany foreign media.
Probably because our Reuters group had a Korean American journalist, we got “special treatment”: two minders. One was a meek translator with no experience (I will refer him as Minder M) and the other a gruff chap (Minder G), who later turned out to be the head of a surveillance team assigned to the journalists’ shuttle bus. Upon our arrival in Pyongyang, I received a friendly warning from both of them: Please check with us before you take any picture.
Our first event was to cover the opening ceremony of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of the Korean People’s Army. None of the visiting journalists had been told that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, would be there, and in the ensuing media scrum to grab a shot of the latest, mysterious ruler of the Kim dynasty, Minder G was very kind, holding me steady as I stood on tiptoe on top of a ladder carrying three cameras.