Bus' Wrong Turn Reveals Real North Korea

Reporters get a look at grimy reality normally hidden on staged presentations

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Apr 12, 2012 2:21 PM CDT | Updated Apr 15, 2012 7:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – The press bus took a wrong turn. And suddenly, everything changed in the official showcase of North Korean achievement. Dust swirled down deeply potholed streets, past crumbling concrete apartment buildings. Old people trudged along the sidewalk, while two men in wheelchairs waited at a bus stop. There were stores with no lights, and side roads so battered they were more dirt than pavement. "Perhaps this is an incorrect road?" mumbled one of the North Korean officials tasked with restricting reporters.

The bus riders got a rare look at the grim, run-down reality North Korea fastidiously hides from the press. The journalists stared. And outside the bus, the North Koreans who never expected to be seen stared back. Cameras madly clicked, as the bus turned for its intended destination: a spotlessly clean, brightly-lit, and nearly empty music information building, the site of one of Kim Jong Il's last public appearances. "I hope that the journalists present here report only the absolute truth," said the official, her voice trembling, "about how much our people miss our comrade Kim Jong Il."

North Koreans are seen at a residential compound in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday.   (Ng Han Guan)
A woman carries a baby on her back in Pyongyang.   (David Guttenfelder)
North Korean men work in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A North Korean man pushes a wheelbarrow past a pile of coal in Pyongyang Thursday.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
A North Korean man works in Pyongyang.   (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
North Korean residents of the capital city mingle on the side of the street in Pyongyang.   (David Guttenfelder)
A North Korean woman peeps out of a window at a residential building in Pyongyang.   (Ng Han Guan)
A guide at the Hana Music Information Center speaks to members of the international media in Pyongyang.   (David Guttenfelder)
A female North Korean guard calls on the phone at the entrance to the Hana Music Information Center in Pyongyang.   (Ng Han Guan)
The North Korean national flag is reflected on the glass facade of a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.   (Ng Han Guan)
A guide at the Hana Music Information Center stands in a theater during a tour by members of the international media in Pyongyang.   (David Guttenfelder)
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