So far, as the column’s name might suggest, Weird SB has focused on items of bizarre and almost exclusively local interest. However, even the most dedicated Santa Barbara chroniclers must sometimes look past the horizon to what’s going on beyond the county line. For some, this might mean reading international news. For any others, who would rather know what’s weird in the world at large, Weird SB will be occasionally stepping outside of Santa Barbara to take note of what’s out there on the internet and hence, today’s column will focus on the official website of North Korea.
All nations maintain a presence on the web. The United States has a massive network of websites, which provide more information than the average person could ever want to know. Interestingly enough, America also has websites chock-full of data about every other country in the world not excluding North Korea. One of the many very special things about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) official site is that when a curious individual Googles the nation, the U.S. website about North Korea comes up before the DPRK’s own. So does Wikipedia.
This says something about the DPRK.
In the process of searching for an explanation, I listened to an NPR interview with Alejandro Cao de Benos, the webmaster for the DPRK site. A native of Spain, de Benos became interested in Asian culture and eventually traveled to North Korea, living there for some period of time and finally designing and maintaining the country’s website. He is also the president of the Korean Friendship Association, or the KFA, which any visitor to the site may fill out an application to join. Membership is free! However, the application form demands somewhat more personal information than the average American might want to provide.
Souvenirs can also be purchased on the DPRK’s website, for those who wish to throw caution to the winds and provide North Korea with their credit card information, in exchange for a pack of postcards picturing Glorious Leader Kim Il Sung. Prices are given in Euros, for convenience.
Other website features include the not-to-be-missed KFA Hymn Video, also known as the Song of National Defence (sic). A bouncing ball above the song’s lyrics helps the casual visitor to sing along, while English translations allow you to understand the true depth of the People’s love for the army of North Korea. A slide show accompanies the song, displaying a variety of friendly North Korean images including tanks, armies marching with football-field sized North Korean flags, and bronze statues of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il.
Despite these forays into entrepreneurship and musical entertainment, the DPRK site’s official purpose is to provide information about the nation’s history, people, and culture, in order to foster international amity. Useful data on North Korean society abounds, including this tantalizing tidbit on traditional dress: “The traditional Korean clothing is composed by the inferior clothing, the superior and the external one, that at the same time are subdivided in different aspects depending on the sex and age, and in the past history also depending in the profession and social class.”
Note to self: on the next visit to North Korea, make sure to wear both superior and external clothing, subdivided in the appropriate aspects.
Of course, there are some pieces of information about North Korea that the site carefully avoids. Conspicuous by its absence is the Ryugyong Hotel, by far the tallest building in Pyongyang and the 22nd tallest in the world. Photos of the building show cranes still atop the edifice, despite the hotel’s construction having begun in 1987. What the photos don’t show is the crumbling, substandard concrete used in construction and what this means, realistically, is that the hotel can never be occupied. It stands in the center of downtown Pyongyang, looming over the landscape like the largest sore thumb in history. North Korea reportedly edits the building out of all official photographs, and has no plans to complete it.
Virtual space in the building can be purchased from a group of intrepid online businesspeople at ryugyong.org, where Weird SB’s own virtual office is in the process of construction. After all, Weird SB may be primarily local, but there’s no harm in having other locations and maintaining an international presence.
The KFA certainly makes a good case for using the DPRK as a friendly, welcoming venue for expansion.
Update: One mystery has been solved! Regarding last week’s column on the subject of boat names, Weird SB received an email from Win, a sharp-eyed and knowledgeable reader. Apparently, the mysterious symbol in the name of The Boat Formerly Known as Sea ‘n’ is actually the emblem of Waylon Jennings, country music star and all-around personality. Win speculates that the boat’s owners may have the initials C and W, and that W, at least, is a country music fan.