Peter Hitchens reveals a pitiful North Korea. His bleak descriptions certainly miss the worst of it (as he concedes).

You can gaze on the gargantuan housing estates, made up of scores of apartment blocks, a great festival of concrete outdoing even Soviet Moscow in its gigantism. You may admire the Juche Tower, which symbolizes North Korea’s supposed self-reliance. The tower is a column three feet taller than the Washington Monument, weirdly topped by a great simulated red flame, like a much larger version of the World War I Memorial in Kansas City, but only when there is enough power to keep it aglow. That is not always. Voltage is a problem in Pyongyang. The streetlamps are never switched on, and there is a strange interval between sundown and total darkness, before the lights start to come on in the windows of all the apartments. There is also a wonderful quiet, since Pyongyang has hardly any motor traffic by day and even less at night. Human voices can be heard from astonishing distances, as if you were in a tranquil lakeside resort rather than in the center of a grandiose metropolis. The electric current in homes and offices seems suspiciously feeble and shuts down abruptly when the government thinks bedtime has arrived. The authorities also have views on when you ought to wake up. A siren rouses the sluggards at 7 each morning, though light sleepers will already have been alerted to the approach of the working day by ghostly plinking, plonking music drifting from loudspeakers at 5 and 6 o’clock. The sensation of living in an enormous institution, part boarding school, part concentration camp, is greatly enhanced by the sound of these mass alarms.

I think his final two paragraphs are a bit naive, but I agree that the problem is generally intractable.

(HT: Arts & Letters Daily.)

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