I Ate Dinner at Pyongyang’s Cambodian Outpost
Monivong Boulevard is a bustling thoroughfare in the heart of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So it’d be easy to wander by the low-profile restaurant that, at first glance, resembles any other Khmer food joint—if it weren’t for the billboard revealing that this restaurant has ties to the most repressive regime in the world. Welcome to “Pyongyang,” a little piece of North Korea in Cambodia.
It’s actually one of a dozen or more Pyongyang restaurants located all over Southeast Asia, all of which are owned and operated by the North Korean regime. Bona fide North Koreans staff the restaurants, which are widely believed to be laundering money and ferrying intelligence back to Kim Jong-un. TripAdvisor gives the one in Phnom Penh 3.5 stars.
I make a reservation for 7 PM and am sure to arrive on time —I imagine tardiness is frowned upon by totalitarians. Either despite or because of the fact that the restaurant is run by a dictatorship, the place is punishingly well-lit thanks to a ceiling covered in compact fluorescent bulbs. Maybe this is to help ensure no sneaky Westerners violate the ban on snapping photos.
The Sienese Are Whipping Each Other with Dried Bulls’ Penises As Their City Collapses
"The world you’ve entered," Alarico Rossi warns us on our first night on Siena, "is very different to explore." Here, "We fear everything." It’s a sentiment we encounter repeatedly in the small Tuscan city that wears its long history—the battle for republican autonomy in the face of Florentine domination being a central theme—very much on its sleeve.
Alarico is a local journalist. His beat is the Palio, a spectacular 90-second bareback horse race run twice a year around Siena’s central plaza, the Piazza del Campo, in which jockeys are encouraged to whip each other with dried bulls’ penises, typically followed by a ritualized public brawl. More than a medieval pageant for the benefit of visitors’ holiday pictures, the Palio is the focal point of a distinctly Sienese way of life.
“It is not for the tourists, it is for the city,” insists Michele Pinassi, a newly elected member of the municipal council from Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. “It’s the one appointment a Sienese politician can’t miss.” A local journalist clarifies: “If you are a politician and you criticize the Palio, you are politically dead. Also physically.”
Thailand’s Full Moon Parties Have Been Taken Over by #YOLO Idiots
It’s an old cliché to bemoan what is compared to what used to be. But as the morning sun rises over the fluoro debris and thousands of empty plastic cups from the night before, it’s hard for me to do much else.
I’m standing on a crowded Haad Rin beach on Thailand’s idyllic Koh Phangan, home to the original and now infamous Full Moon Party. Hours before, 20,000 bodies writhed together in motion to pulsating house music, fuelled by cheap alcohol and magic mushroom milkshakes. Now, among the rapidly sobering hardcore who continue to dance, a smattering of those bodies dot the beach, their semi-conscious, half-naked torsos slowly roasting in the Thai sun. They lie surrounded by beer bottles, shattered glass, and plastic buckets.
It’s all a bit depressing, but of course there’s nothing particularly original about any of this. The descent of the Full Moon Party from fabled hippy love-in to an 18-30-club-rave-on-sea has been in motion for years. Once arcane events attended by 30 or so loved up psytrancers who, for all their faults, at least seemed to be striving for some kind of spiritual experience, now the Full Moon Parties seem to be yet another hedonistic playpen for actuarial science students whose idea of a spiritual experience is getting a henna tattoo.
North Korea Is Frighteningly Boring
Last November, Maxime Delvaux went to North Korea, which isn’t easy for a photographer. She entered as a tourist with a permanent guide and driver. Like most visitors to the hermit kingdom, she was only allowed to see approved sites. The tour, and others like it, are basically propaganda to convince outsiders of North Korea’s stability, civility, power, and grandeur. The resulting images document this eerie sterility. The viewer can sense that there are unpleasant things going on behind the monumental closed doors.
In an introductory piece about the photos, Mikhail Kissine writes, “The few people in the surrounding emptiness give the scale of the buildings; the sober explanations, provided by the regime itself, give the scale of the folly… One should be scared of a regime that builds to fool visitors. What Maxime Delvaux’s photos show is very real. Sufficiently real, indeed, to gently distillate a disturbing feeling, where the nauseating vertigo of some of the Borge’s Fictions mixes up with a genuine Orwellian fear.” Maxime’s pictures, while peaceful and unshocking, get under your skin and hint at the true nature of the country. If such a visit is so highly controlled, what fucked up stuff goes on when visitors aren’t there?
Bangkok Is a Paradise
About a year and a half ago, photographer Theo Cottle sparked our “Paradise” series with his idylic pictures from his hometown of Bristol. A few months later, he followed those up with a bunch of graphic scenes he captured in Berlin.
This time around, he sent us some pictures from his recent trip to Bangkok, and I think I can safely say these are the grimiest of the lot. Or the most paradisiacal, if you’re deranged. To each his own, I guess.
To get to Bangkok’s Siriraj Medical Museum, which doesn’t appear in most guidebooks, ask a local to write “Siriraj Hospital” in Thai script and present it to a taxi driver. He’ll take you to the “wrong side” of the Chao Phraya river and drop you off in front of a sprawling complex. From there, show that same piece of paper to a friendly-looking passerby to be pointed in the direction of the medical museum. The museum opens at nine, closes at four, and costs $1.25 to get in—$4.25 if you want a set of headphones with a British-accented guided tour and a probably-unlicensed U2 fade-in. Incidentally, it also has a “No Photography” rule, which is strictly enforced by armed security. Consequently, the photos in this article were found online.
If the whole holding up bits of handwriting to strangers thing sounds like a lot of effort, believe me when I say the exhibits are worth it.