a trip to North Korea

KoreaEben Wood at The American Scholar:

Rising above Pyongyang’s low skyline is the Ryugyong Hotel, which recalls the city’s ancient name, meaning “Capital of Willows.” Construction began in the late ’80s but came to a halt in 1992, as the North entered its post-Soviet famine years. The pyramid-shaped “Hotel of Doom,” as Western journalists call it, is sheathed in glass, but its interior remains largely empty and unfinished. As much as Pyongyang’s other landmarks, like the flame-topped Juche Tower or the huge bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, before which onlookers are asked to bow and leave flowers in respect, the Ryugyong marks the city’s hallucinatory core.

An American friend and I had entered North Korea through Shenyang, China, a fast-growing provincial capital about five hours by high-speed train from Beijing. We were participating in a weeklong tour timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the 1953 armistice that paused, but did not formally end, the Korean War. As Americans, we were prohibited from entering North Korea by train. Instead, we boarded an Air Koryo flight from Shenyang’s modern airport and less than an hour later, after a quick drink service, arrived in North Korea’s capital, where we would meet the other members of our Canadian-led tour group.

more here.