A week in North Korea hadn’t been high on my bucket list, but as one of the few corporations with an office in Pyongyang, I was up. Whether through a sense of curiosity or sadism – I wasn’t sure which – I almost began to look forward to it. Could this place really be as grim as it was painted?
I was barely out of the plane when they came towards me. One introduced himself as my official interpreter. He introduced the other one as a party observer. No names; certainly no informalities. I decided to call the interpreter Mr K. He didn’t object. He called me Sir. Both men wore identical clothing. Just about the only way to tell them apart was the striking flash of grey in the interpreter’s otherwise matt black hair.
Over the following week I would only lose my double shadow when my bedroom door closed. On my last full day a cultural tour was undertaken; it seemed to be obligatory. Driving through the eerily deserted city streets my interpreter pointed out one particularly bold propaganda poster:
“We Koreans Band Together For Victory”
Probably not a literal translation, pointed out Mr K, but the unification rhetoric sounded familiar. I laughed. We both did, surprisingly. He suddenly started telling me about his family – even showed me a small picture of a pretty little girl, red ribbons in her hair. It was his daughter. The observer took note.
On my last morning Mr K wasn’t there. The observer turned up alone and pointed the way. I didn’t think too much of it. We were quickly herded to the station and the train south to Seoul. As we waited I spotted a crowded train opposite, with armed guards on the doors. I was told it was going north. I was told not to ask any more questions.
As the northbound train left I caught a flash of grey. Our eyes briefly met. In his lap a little girl’s red ribbons fluttered.
These 333 words form my entry into the Trifecta 88 writing challenge.
The ‘Voice of Korea‘ is international broadcasting service of North Korea. If you have a moment please visit this page and listen to the crackling segments of VoK – they send a shiver down the spine.
For the crime of laughter Mr K was possibly heading here: