Blogging from North Korea

So, did you hear about the time Dennis Rodman went to North Korea? Yeah, that happened. He’s been dealing with it like a pro too, declaring Kim Jong Un an “awesome” guy and ignoring the flagrant human rights violations the Kim regime has instigated. Rodman tweeted at Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame and mused whether he’d run into him on the streets of Pyongyang. I am crossing my fingers that this was a joke; no matter your opinion of Psy, it’s insulting and it does nothing to improve the image of Americans knowing next to nothing about the goings-on of countries other than their own. It’s basically the equivalent of asking Le Clown if he is a member of the WBC since they are from the same continent. The US State Department is obviously distancing itself from Rodman and his trip to the Hermit Kingdom.

rodmanwire2n-4-web

The most exciting basketball game on record. Source

But wait, it gets better. Now Rodman has accepted a position to train the national North Korean basketball team so that they have a shot at competing in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. This requires him to live (at least part-time) in the DPRK until the Games. To be sure, it’s somewhat admirable that he’s taking this on. Good for him for wanting to share the love of an exciting sport with people who are ostracized not through any action of their own but because their leadership is more oppressive and isolationist than we can pretend to understand. However, when pressed on whether he condones the human rights offenses of the Kim regime, Rodman claimed ignorance and inferred that his love for “fine ass Asian honeys” was enough to get him to look the other way if indeed they have occurred. Deep stuff.

Rodman panders to the worst type of media that circulates around North Korea. In order to work with the team on a national level, he must put up a respectful demeanor towards the country’s leadership, but to outright condone and praise it makes a mockery of the dire situation in North Korea. Instead of celebrating the innocent people of North Korea, it baits the media to focus its attention on Kim Jong Un’s bizarre, ridiculously secretive behavior. A recent op-ed for CNN by Ellen Kim and Carolyn Dumond summed up Rodman’s trip nicely: “Such sideshows are not in the interest of the North Korean people.”

I am a longtime reader or the blog American In North Korea, which features the photography of Joseph Ferris. Joe has taken multiple trips to North Korea and has been allowed unprecedented liberty to photograph the people and country because he does so respectfully. The purpose of his blog and his trips is not to disseminate more information that would further ostracize the people of North Korea and make the country a veritable freak show. Instead, his photos highlight the small moments that take place there. In those small moments is humanity. The tone of his work has always appealed to me because it has absolutely nothing to do with North Korea’s politics nor its leaders. It is difficult to find media about North Korea that do not place the country’s government front and center, so as I look through Joe’s photography and commentary, I am refreshed to see editorial work of people living their lives rather than staged pictures of military parades and waving dictators. As of yet, his trips and photography are largely limited to the areas in and around Pyongyang where the elite class of party officials live, so his photography does not include images of intense poverty and disease that is rampant throughout the rest of the country. He simply has no access to that, and it is my opinion that more long term harm than good could come out of him pressing his minders to take him to those areas. If he did, his access could be cut off completely and the good work that he’s doing to show the media that North Korea is more than its leadership could be cut short.

The same loosening of Internet restrictions that allowed Dennis Rodman to tweet from North Korea is now going to enable Joe to blog live from North Korea during his upcoming trips there this spring. Unfortunately, the monetary cost of doing this is a lot higher than the ~$30 we pay per month for Internet access here in the United States. If you would like to help Joe reach his goal to blog from North Korea, click here for more information. He is offering some really awesome incentives (other than the resultant photos and blog posts) for helping him out.

The entire Korean peninsula means a lot to me because I made my home in a town outside of Seoul for two years. Only about sixty years have separated the citizens of South and North Korea. They speak the exact same language and have the same traditional diet and dress. The people of North Korea are good. They are not their leaders.

DPRK1

Children of North Korea
Mt. Myohyang, DPRK, North Korea
Courtesy Joseph Ferris

DPRK2

Pyongyang Street Scene, April 2012
100th year birthday celebrations for Kim Il Sung
Courtesy Joseph Ferris

DPRK3

Arirang Mass Games
Pyongyang, DPRK, North Korea
Courtesy Joseph Ferris

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60 comments

  1. Le Clown · · Reply

    Emily,
    So it wasn’t Magic Johnson?
    Le Clown

    1. Nah, MJ does good things. Plus, I think he has a better publicist.

      1. Le Clown · · Reply

        Emily,
        So it wasn’t Tupac either?
        Le Clown

  2. To be fair, Dennis Rodman isn’t *exactly* known for being a wealth of intelligence. It comes as no surprise to me that he’d use this opportunity to promote himself, rather than see the larger implications here.

    1. Very true. He’s pretty much a charlatan. However, I look at people like Mike Tyson who have remade their image and at least try to dwell in positivity since the early parts of their careers were rife with violence and ignorance and I know that these celebs can do better.

  3. Amazing what people will do for money

    1. Le Clown · · Reply

      Ginger,
      The Supreme Leader of North Korea has money?
      I say the next Survivor series should be in North Korea, and Dennis should be part of the contestants.
      Le Clown

      1. He appeared in a Celebrity Big Brother show in the UK a few years ago – made his own heavily tattooed ICBM and launched it toward northern France with some success. This may explain the mutual attraction with L’il Kim and co.

        1. Le Clown · · Reply

          Ginger,
          Are you serious? So I guess it became apparent I am not a big Rodman fan…
          Le Clown Probst

          1. The Celebrity Big Brother bit is true!

            1. He was on Celebrity Apprentice too. I think he got kicked off right away. Not sure because I had to stop watching Trump’s hair.

              1. He is a man of many talents

    2. You nailed it. It is insane to me that he is allowing Kim to pay him such a sum of money when it’s obvious that most of the inhabitants of the DPRK are living in squalor.

      1. Already got a donation! Let me figure it all out tomorrow morning :)

        1. Awesome! I am so glad!

  4. javaj240 · · Reply

    Great post.

    1. Thank you! This is an issue I feel really strongly about.

  5. Ashley Austrew · · Reply

    What a cool project! I will definitely contribute some funds, and I’ll pimp it around on my Twitter/FB.

    Dennis Rodman is a pretty crappy individual, and his ignorance, while sad, doesn’t really surprise me. I remember when I went to Korea, the most common question I got asked when I told people I was going was, “Wait–is that the good Korea or the bad Korea?” Combine that kind of ignorance with the American drive to do basically anything for money, and, well…

    Makes it all the more important to support people like Joe who are educating and doing some good in the world through sharing their passions.

    1. People always asked me that too! Right before we left for Korea, we were buying plug adapters at Best Buy and some random sales guy asked us “Ugh, why on Earth would you ever want to go THERE?” Yeah, smooth moves, guy.

      Thank you so much for supporting Joe. His work is truly amazing and offers a clear voice in all the cacophony circulating the DPRK.

      1. Ashley Austrew · · Reply

        Your Best Buy story totally reminded me of something that happened to me:

        I was on a first date and I was talking about how I was planning on teaching in Korea (I hadn’t graduated yet) and how I wanted to do a lot of traveling, and without a hint of sarcasm this guy says, “Why do you want to travel to places like that? That sounds like a lot of work. I mean, just watch Discovery. Isn’t that what TV is for?” lol

        1. Hi Ashley, did you send me a donation?! :)
          Please email me at josephferris76@gmail.com
          so I can get all your details for a stamp book and a word of thanks from inside North Korea.

        2. Wow. First and last date, I hope. What a winner.

  6. Maybe Rodman’s part of a secret American plot to bring down their country? I mean, they’d never suspect him to be a spy, right?

    1. Haha maybe. Basketballs for nukes.

  7. I just don’t get the Dennis R. thing…

    1. It’s bizarre and ridiculous, for sure.

  8. Great post, Em. I can’t even talk about the Dennis Rodman thing — it’s repulsive to me and doesn’t do much for America’s image. On the flip side, your thought-provoking post does.

    1. Thanks, Brig! Be sure to check out Joe’s blog too because it does a fantastic job of shifting the focus off the DPRK’s leaders and onto its people.

  9. Enjoyed the post Emily. I knew D Rod had visited, but didn’t know he had taken a coaching gig. I truly don’t understand his motivations, but hopefully he has folks installing ideas for good he can do over there. A girl can hope…

    1. I am really hoping the same thing! Maybe someone can pump some sense into him. Or at least cover his mouth with duct tape.

      1. Duct tape <— greatest invention ever.

  10. Great way to push those stereotypes out of the way. Koreans are People first and foremost. Then they have that leader. It’s like saying that everyone in America appreciates Dennis Rodman because they sent him as their public figurehead. Not.

    1. Exactly! This is why I love Joe’s blog so much. It really made me rethink my perception of North Korea by focusing on its people rather than its leaders.

  11. thaks for the peek into that part of the world!
    I think it’s great Rodman went over ther- waitaminute – they won’t let him back, right???

    1. I’m sure the State Department will let them keep him if they really want him!

  12. “However, when pressed on whether he condones the human rights offenses of the Kim regime, Rodman claimed ignorance and inferred that his love for “fine ass Asian honeys” was enough to get him to look the other way if indeed they have occurred.”—-Oh, jeez, I hadn’t heard this one. What a fabulous ambassador he makes for our country…

    1. I agree, Carrie. Even if these statements are meant to be a joke, I’m having a hard time laughing. He’s a stereotype of the worst type of American.

  13. God help us if the only thing standing between us and North Korea is Dennis Rodman. He seems very in tune with that country’s politics and crimes on humanity, right?
    He’s what I like to call, a disgrace.

    1. Agreed, Lisa. It’s people like Joseph, though, that are doing great work to counteract the damage that Rodman is doing to North Koreans’ image of Americans.

      1. Thank heaven for Joseph!

  14. I really don’t know what to make of this weird relationship.
    I guess the weird attract the weird…..?

    1. That’s the way the media is framing it. Kim Jong Un really wanted to get Michael Jordan but obviously he has better sense that to align himself with that guy.

      1. It all makes sense now.

  15. Great post and I couldn’t agree more. I’d suggest Rodman move there but after awhile they’d want to send him back and it would be bad relations.

    Also…30.00 for internet in USA? Seriously? That’s freaking awesome. I’m paying anywhere between 75 – 150 per month. We are probably going to get rid of home internet in April as we just can’t afford it. Canada sucks for internet.

    1. Wow! That’s really expensive. On the other hand though, Canada’s healthcare is actually affordable ;)

  16. Intelligent and interesting post, thanks, Emily! Too bad there is no photographic access to “the rest of the country”… That’s what I would find most interesting, I think.

    1. Actually, I just found out that on Joseph’s upcoming trips, he is going to be the first American allowed to venture out into the countryside and photograph real people. It’s pretty exciting and for sure something that will bring a lot of awareness to the Western world about the reality of the situation there.

  17. Leave it to Rodman. I was always leery of him to begin with. Personally, I’m of the belief that you and a short list of few others might be the only hope to straighten out NK’s leadership, and you could probably do it with one hand tied behind your back and the other holding your sharply poised pen.

    1. It will definitely not be through nukes and fear that anything productive gets accomplished over there. xoxo

  18. I am sure that 11-month-old Wee Cee, just from having been nursed by you, has a much greater understanding and depth of knowledge about North Korea than the guy known as The Worm.

    1. We are taking her on her first visit to a Korean restaurant for her birthday! It’s kimchi time for her.

      1. Excellent! In lieu of singing her “Happy Birthday” maybe it should be “Hey Jude” since she does like to bop around to that one, Emily.

        1. That’s a tradition I am down with establishing.

  19. Dennis Rodman is a douche nozzle. He was a shit stain on the Bulls’ victories. No one in America will pay any attention to him anymore. This is the equivalent, in his pee brain (no, that’s not a typo), of his wearing a wedding dress.

    I will check out your friend’s blog and consider donating. Not much to spare here, but I completely agree that the people are not their leaders. Witness China.

  20. Rodman is a joke. This whole charade is a pathetic plea for attention…on both sides. It sickens me that we are using our little grey cells thinking about it. Bah!

  21. And to think, I actually rooted for Rodman on The Celebrity Apprentice…

  22. Wow, I need to stay in touch with the news more, had no idea about Rodman being in NK until this. Great entry though- I really like what you have to say in here, and am really excited to check out Joseph’s blog!

  23. Just saw Rodman tonight on the current Celebrity Apprentice…and he was sent home.
    Thanks for bringing this article to light…and thanks for following my blog. :)

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