In 2015 we went to visit the area around Sariwon, Hwanghae (Yellow Sea) Province. After having lunch in the city centre, the guides took us to visit what they called the “Sariwon Collective Farm” which was an agricultural complex about 10 minutes away. It came complete with a museum which they heralded as a “revolutionary” site. We weren’t allowed to take photos. The museum contained no information about how the farm worked, just pictures of Kim Jong Il looking at its produce.
Afterwards, the guides told me we would be going to look around the home of one of the farm owners. This seemed more exciting. It just happened to be a few doors down the street, aligned in a row of typical small North Korean rural homes. All were one storey tall, with traditional pre-modern Asian style roofs. When we got there, it turns out whoever’s home it was… wasn’t home. So we waited a while outside. Then, we were told we would be shown the home of the woman who took us around the museum instead, which was a few doors along.
My expectations were pretty low, North Korean rural life is considerably behind that of Pyongyang and so it would be interesting as to what they would display to a visitor. We got there, the lady opened the door and I got quite a surprise. On the floor in front of me, was a very small and very out of place looking kitten. It was crying, as if it was lost and wasn’t familiar with its apparent “home”. Naturally, it got my guard down quickly. I was quick to pet it and tend to it as most tourists would have done. Of course this didn’t change the doubt in my mind. This is rural North Korea, the idea of someone casually owning a pet kitten in a farming community just didn’t make any sense. At least traditionally, pet animals in North Korea have been rare as a whole. You may see one or two people owning dogs in Pyongyang, but again it is unusual. Of course, you’ll be reading this and thinking “well, it was placed there for show” but that’s also doubtful, given we weren’t even supposed to be at that house in the first place. Not to mention the logistics of getting one there.
Besides the Kitten, the house was modest and it did not appear to grossly exaggerate North Korean rural life. It was simplistic. There were the expected Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il pictures on the wall. There was an old style TV, a guitar, some books in a case, a bed, an electric fan and that was about it (I don’t think it had electricity). If it really was the woman’s house, she obviously lived on her own, which is worth being skeptical about given the traditional nature of North Korean society. But one thing is for sure though, the experience shows the length as to which you question things in the DPRK, you’re always thinking, you’re always guessing and that is part of the fun. A Visit North Korea improves your critical skills in so many areas, it also brings a lot of surprises!