I’d like to draw your attention, Astute Reader, to some very useful insights to the structure and life within North Korea, via an unconventional but increasingly prominent venue.
Reddit, the “front page of the Internet,” regularly hosts an event called an AMA, or “ask me anything.” For these, an expert on any topic can sign up to field questions from Reddit users. These experts can be anyone from a Joe Shmoe who specializes in a field of knowledge, to a celebrity or even a governmental figure. One of the most prominent (if not useful) was President Obama’s AMA; I particularly enjoyed the AMA called “Your Somali Neighbor“. For the most part, petitioners are respectful and serious in their informal interview questions, and it certainly represents a very useful opportunity for transfer of good information.
Pertinent to North Korea, readers here may be very interested in Simon Cockerell’s AMA. He runs Koryo Tours, a successful tour company that has safely led people into (and back out of) North Korea. Simon himself claims over 130 problem-free return trips into the DPRK fatherland. He is an Englishman who lives in Beijing, and he conducts himself with grace and humor in this interview.
As well, Barbara Demick recently hosted an AMA. She is an LA Times foreign correspondent who wrote Nothing To Envy, the book that sparked my own pursuit of news on North Korea. She offers frank insight into what the average North Korean citizen thinks about their government and its propaganda. Nothing To Envy represents a short saga of people who lived in North Korea during its salad days, watched its decline, and eventually were forced to defect. It is written to be accessible to the newcomer and engaging to the average reader, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
This is very important to understand: I’m fond of repeating, never confuse a government with its people. The average Korean citizen gains more and more information of the world outside every day, because people are generally curious and eager to learn, and “information wants to be free”. These interviews are crucial because they defy the propaganda and prejudice with which western journalism enjoys treating news on North Korea. Granted, NK does have its problems, but nothing good is served by propagating rumor and slander: it is paramount to clearly understand what is going on.