Sophie Schmidt In North Korea – “It Might Not Get Weirder Than This”

If Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt’s teenage daughter Sophie has designs on a career in Journalism, she’s demonstrated that he has the talent and chops to be exceptional in the field and then some with a brilliant and fascinatingly insightful report chronicling her recent trip to North Korea with her dad as guests of former Governor and US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson on his 8th trip to the insular Democratic People’s Republic.

Ms. Schmidt says they left their phones and laptops behind in China, having ben warned they’d be confiscated in NK. An Ethiopian attache on the Air China flight in assured her there was “never a dull moment” in the hermit kingdom.

She says her favorite official entry form counseled to leave your “killing device” and “publishings of all kinds” at home, but that no one ever checked their cameras, and observes that for a country that has banned religion, and sent thousands of practicing Christians to prison camps, the Christmas trees on display were rather incongruous.

She says that the (heavily vetted) North Koreans they met were unfailingly polite and engaging, even excited to meet with them (particularly her father), whose response to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open, also noting that since they didn’t have cellphones or alarm clocks, waking up on time in the morning was a concern, with one person suggesting announcing “I’m awake” to the room, and then waiting until someone came to fetch you.

Ms. Schmidt reports that Pyongyang is oddly charming with broad boulevards, taller buildings than you’d expect, and a fair number of pedestrians, including stylish women in heeled boots and makeup, and very clean.

The trip coincided with youngish “Respected Leader” Kim Jong Un’s birthday, but when they asked Un’s age they were told that “Koreans keep track of age differently,”
She says trucks equipped with loudspeakers roam the streets. “For the propaganda,” a minder told her.

Ms. Schmidt recommends going to North Korea if you can, commenting that it is very, very strange, and in January very, very cold, and nothing she’d read or heard beforehand really prepared her for what they saw, or felt, because the cold was compounded by the fact that none of the buildings we visited were heated, which meant hour-long tours in cavernous, 30-degree indoor environments, and observing that ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference – hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it.

And while officials blame American sanctions for just about everything, somehow the sanctions didn’t stop them from stocking a sparkling new supermarket we saw with Doritos.

There is much, much more, and this one is well worth the read.

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