A Report from the Underground North Korean Journalist

The DailyNK will release a series of five articles with pictures from video clips that Lee Man Soo (pseudonym for his protection) took of a number of scenes along by the railroad from Chongjin in North Hamkyong Province to Sunchon in South Pyongan Province last May. The pictures will provide vivid illustrations of the recent situations experienced in North Korea.

One video clip, showing a North Korean soldier returning home due to malnutrition, created quite a stir when it was released last July.

Lee Man Soo is in his mid-thirties. He was a laborer in North Korea until he fled to China with his family during the great famine of the late 90s.

Mr. Lee encountered a Japanese reporter from Asia Press while he was wandering about the three northeast provinces of China. He was amazed to know that foreigners were coming to the Sino-Korean border to record and expose the real situations of North Korea. He expressed his desire to take part in the project of revealing the realities of North Korea to the world.

Mr. Lee returned to North Korea in 2003 after he had been taught how to use a camera and professional ethics as a journalist from the Japanese reporter. He started to shoot scenes of North Korea, and in 2004, disclosed North Korean realities to the world.

In the early May of this year, Mr. Lee took a train from Chongjin Station bound for Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province. He traveled up to Sunchon through Hamhung. North Korean railroad conditions are so poor that trains often stop between scheduled stations. These frequent stops worked to Mr. Lee’s advantage in that he was able to shoot great pictures during these unscheduled stops.

For this first article of the series, pictures of scenes around Chongjin Station, where Mr. Lee started his journey, will be released. Mr. Lee’s explanations of the scenes subtitled on the video are rewritten below with minor modifications.

[The course of the railroad from Chongjin to Shinuiju]

▲ On the course from Chongjin to Shinuiju, considerably large stations include Chongjin, Hamhung, Kowon, Yangdok, Ganri, Anju, Jeongju, Sunchon, Yongchon, Shinuiju. The train schedule shows that it takes 36 hours from Chongin to Shinuiju, but 2-3 days will make a reasonable estimation if frequent power failure is taken into consideration. During the great famine it took more than 10 days.

※ The photographs are posted with the permission of the Asia Press.

● A Road to the City of Chongjin

Recently, a grass roots market economy has been developing in North Korea. People in countrysides are facing difficulty, as their harvests are appropriated by the military, leaving them nothing to eat, and nothing to sell. Rural life has been very difficult for the last two years. During the great famine of the 90s, urban people died because they were not provided with food rations. Nowadays rural people are dying.

= The gap between the wealthy and the poor is getting wider in North Korea. If one has much to sell, there is a good chance that he will grow wealthy. People in the countryside do not have anything to sell, so it is common for them to gather wood in the mountains and sell it in urban markets. The picture shows country people carrying wood to the city of Chongjin.

= From the video, we could hear Mr. Lee asking the kid, “Don’t you go to school? Is your school having a break?” The kid’s mother beside him answered instead, “What’s the use of the school when we don’t have food to eat? We have to sell wood to survive. In a countryside it is difficult to earn a living. We sell wood in a market in Chongjin to be able to eat corn.”

● In Front of Chongjin Station

Usually there are many people in front of Chongjin station because trains hardly follow the schedule. People are seen waiting for trains, and sometimes even for days at a time. This is because they do not know when these trains are available.

= Before Chongjin Station.

= These people are not allowed in the waiting room because it is too crowded. A woman is lying down to rest her body.

= Kotjebi, the young North Korean street children, gather before the station because it is always crowded. It is easy for them to beg and find leftovers in crowded places. They have second-hand adult jackets on, which were taken from China. Koohoso (relief shelter for kotjebi) distributes adult clothes to kotjebi because it is in short of childrens’ sizes.

= Books are for rent. A smart person takes advantage of the bored waiting people. The covers of two comic books are seen, but novels can be rented too. 100 won a book with an ID card as a deposit.

= Food is selling well among the waiting people. Two persons are seen enjoying their noodles.

● Before Chongjin Station at 4 a.m

The homeless like to resort to Chongjin Station even when it is in the cold winter. If one has something to cover his body, he is a lucky individual. Many people spend the night without covers.

= People are lying on the carts under the white plastic sheets. They are homeless porters. Carts are both their office and home. They are better off than kotjebis because they have a job and a place to lie on.

= He has not moved from the place in the same lying posture for several days. He seems to have died, but no one pays any attention to him.

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