VICE on HBO – Escape from North Korea Bonus Footage
Thousands of North Koreans cross the border illegally into China every year. Living in constant fear of being discovered, defectors do everything to leave with all odds against them. If they are arrested in communist Laos, there’s the possibility of being sent back to North Korea, where they face prison camps or worse. The risks of escaping the North and heading to the South are so treacherous that fewer than 25,000 North Koreans have ever successfully made the journey.
For the third epiosde of VICE on HBO, we met up with a South Korean pastor who has developed a modern-day underground railroad that moves defectors from China to freedom and eventual citizenship in South Korea. In this clip, VICE’s Thomas Morton goes shopping for some snacks for the kids. With severe food shortages and restrictions in North Korea, these treats will be some of the children’s first.
Watch more at the VICE show page and check out VICE on HBO tonight (and every Friday) at 11 PM.
North Korea Has a Friend in Dennis Rodman and VICE
Earlier today former Chicago Bulls superstar Dennis Rodman presided over a mixed-match basketball game in Pyongyang alongside Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. The teams consisted of VICE correspondent Ryan Duffy; Moose Weekes, Buckets Blakes, and Bull Bullard of the Harlem Globetrotters; and North Korea’s “Dream Team,” all of whom played their hearts out in what we have termed a “basketball diplomacy” mission. Following the game, Rodman gave a stirring speech after the game that extended an olive branch to the Hermit Kingdom. The VICE crew is currently having a reception at the Supreme Leader’s house, and Duffy has invited Kim Jung-un to America and to tour the VICE offices. There isn’t much more to say than that because our jaws are still on the floor. So while we pick them up and get more info from our team, enjoy these photos of the game. You can watch the highlights on VICE, our new HBO series that premieres April 5th.
North Korea has been in the news lately for a very scary reason, but it isn’t every day that Asia’s hermit kingdom releases a car-racing video game. And when they do, you can definitely expect it to be a boring simulation about driving down a pin-straight, barely decorated highway.
Just as Tetris came as a surprise from the Soviet Union in 1984, Koryo Tours, a tour company run by a bunch of Brits, commissioned the DPRK IT venture Nosotek to develop North Korea’s first government-supported PC game: Pyongyang Racer. This profoundly uninteresting game gives its player the thrill of driving around the capital city of North Korea without a government-sanctioned tour guide ushering you away from shit you’re not supposed to see. It even lets you do all the concrete sightseeing your fast-lane, road-runner, gas-guzzling heart desires. Completely and utterly alone.
Before beginning, the label reads: “This game was developed in 2012 and is not intended to be a high-end technological wonder hit game of the 21st century, but more a fun race game (arcade style) where you drive around in Pyongyang and learn more about the sites and get a glimpse of Pyongyang.”
In other words, it’s retro. There’s a traffic girl who gets in your face sometimes, a gas collection minigame, and maybe even some mildly reckless driving if you’re really feeling crazy. The goal of the game: drive in a straight line for a long time. That’s about it.
Long-time VICE contributor Alex Hoban has been covering North Korea for us for years, but it turned out he had so much to say on the topic he decided to start a news site dedicated to the country. NK NEWS is the result, and since its relaunched last September it’s been running great daily stories like the one we’re featuring here by Ben Young. So go check out the site, follow them on Twitter, and, if you’re feeling super daring, they’ve also got this mysterious sign-up sheet that offers you a chance to join them on their next adventure inside the hermit kingdom.
North Korea, the most tight-lipped, conservative, and controlling country in the world is also a weed-smoker’s paradise. Despite the government’s deadly serious stance on the use and distribution of hard drugs like crystal meth (which has a notorious legacy in the country), marijuana is reportedly not considered a drug. As a result, it’s the discerning North Korean gentleman’s roll-up of choice, suggesting that, for weed smokers at least, North Korea might just be paradise after all.
NK NEWS receives regular reports from visitors returning from North Korea, who tell us of marijuana plants growing freely along the roadsides, from the northern port town of Chongjin, right down to the streets of Pyongyang, where it is smoked freely and its sweet scent often catches your nostrils unannounced. Our sources are people we know who work inside North Korea and make regular trips in and out of the country.
There is no taboo around pot smoking in the country—many residents know the drug exists and have smoked it. In North Korea, the drug goes by the name of ip tambae, or “leaf tobacco.” It is reported to be especially popular amongst young soldiers in the North Korean military. Rather than getting hooked on tar and nicotine like servicemen in the West, they are able to unwind by lighting up a king-sized bone during down time on the military beat.
Despite the fact the government doesn’t crack down on the use of marijuana (or opium) and its prevalence among the common people, traveling weed enthusiasts eager to sample some NK bud will likely be disappointed. If a Western tourist asks his or her guide where is the best place to get the “special plant,” as it is euphemistically referred to, the guide will most likely eschew the question. Most of them are educated enough in Western legal attitudes toward marijuana to not feel the need to promote anything that might attract negative press. Then again, bring them a bottle of Hennessy and they might be more willing to help you out.
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?