A Rare Look Inside of North Korea

header image for A Rare Look Inside of North Korea

His head, anyway.

I mix vodka with orange juice and call it breakfast. The alcohol will help me forget that I didn’t sleep last night. Or the night before. Is it nighttime right now? I can’t tell because I never open the curtains because if I do they will watch me and I’m afraid.

My chest starts to feel light. I try to ground myself by turning to my laptop and making sure all my password protected files are okay–safe, clean, in order:


Fun Propaganda Ideas

Autobiography WIP

Locations of Secret Uranium Enrichment Facilities

Favorite Movies

My face is getting hot and I pick up my phone because I’m supposed to be doing something important but I see America’s name flash across my screen–a news report, something about Saudi Arabia–and–

And then I start to feel it.


My eternal companion.

Always there

Always there

Always there


Every day I find myself trapped in a narrow hallway. There’s a wall at the other end and it’s inching toward me. One day it will reach me and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Even now it’s getting closer and I can see it coming and IT’S GOING TO CRUSH ME.

Suddenly I can’t breathe. My body gets hot and my heart pounds faster and faster and FASTER. I’m so, so dizzy and I reach out to grab something–anything–and I think I feel someone but I’m not sure because my world is spinning–

I see faces and I hear people. They’re laughing at me and their cackling becomes an ugly, penetrating chorus. It’s getting louder and closer and I’m cornered and–

They’re going to kill me they’re going to kill me THEY’RE GOING TO KILL ME–

Korea? China says. Are you alright?

I’m taken back to 1949. It was the first day of October and the first day we met. He was so beautiful then. So communist.

I try to laugh but I can’t. This is the second panic attack I’ve had since you got here. How did you not notice?

I’m covered in sweat but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Nothing I can do

Nothing I can do

Nothing I can do

I see Russia. She’s sitting across from me and she’s telling me something–I can’t make sense of the words but anger boils inside of me like a revolution.

Why didn’t you help me?

Did I do this to myself…?

Why did you let me suffer?


Now I feel nauseous. Ice fills my lungs and it’s then that I remember I can’t breathe and the world is spinning again, spinning spinning spinning—-

You can’t leave me like this. You can’t, you can’t–

As I begin to weep I notice that Russia is cradling a potato in her arms. I see my own face in that potato–as if I was looking into a mirror–and it causes me to scream. I whip around and start running as fast as I can. Running, running, running—–

Right into that narrow hallway with the wall and the terror and the death and WHY AM I HERE WHY DO I ALWAYS END UP BACK HERE?

And now I’m in my living room with China. There’s a glass of water in my hand and a pill bottle to my side and China’s looking at me with worry on his stupid face.


Shut up. You don’t care. You never did.

Is it over now? Are you okay?


China, can you get something for me?

Yes, of course.

Please, the marijuana. I need the grass–


I stare down into the water and shift uncomfortably. Then I hear the crinkle of the plastic furniture cover and the urge to listen to Smashing Pumpkins washes over me, but I fight it.

How do you feel, Korea?


What did you want to ask me?


You invited me over to ask something. Said it was a matter of life and death.

I barely hear him because I’m still thinking about Smashing Pumpkins.

Oh, yeah. Do you want to watch Watership Down with me?

He stares in my direction and I almost get lost in his black eyes. They’re like two perfect billets of uranium metal, but darker–much darker. And the peony pattern embossed on his tie is the color of yellowcake and–why is my vision tunneling…?

235, 238, 235, 238…

Enrich the uranium…

1 kilogram of plutonium, 2 kilograms of plutonium, 3, 4, 5…

Is that it? He says. That’s what you wanted to ask me?


I didn’t lie. It is a matter of life and death because the film is morbid.


Okay! I didn’t want to watch it with you anyway. I only asked because I felt sorry for you because I know nobody likes you and you’re lonely and–



You’ll watch it?


I’m going to talk through the movie. I’ll probably cry a few times, too.

I know.

You’re okay with that?

I am.

Once again it’s 1949, just with fewer drugs and a little less communism and I’m okay with that.


I’ve heard North Korea described as a garrison state before and I believe this is a fair–but not complete–description. Highly militarized, North Korea is a country surrounded by foreign powers it perceives as dangerous, threatening, invasive, and evil. Almost obsessive in its desire to keep the country tightly closed off and protected, the state warns its people that war is always right at the doorstep. But don’t worry. Your government loves you and will eviscerate the enemy that seeks to kill you and destroy your way of life.

Why do states choose isolationism? To protect themselves? To maintain tight and oppressive control of their population? To live by their own ideals? To give in to fear and hatred?

For North Korea, it’s a combination of all of that. It’s a government that is incredibly paranoid; scared of change and losing control, and scared of surrendering its sovereignty to a foreign power. In essence, scared of failure and death.

I don’t think any of this warrants pity, and dictatorships don’t deserve sympathy. I just enjoy hypothesizing about the psychology surrounding a country’s behavior.

Anyway, the moral is that anxiety is a bitch.


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