Saturday, 30 April 2016

My old China: I was twenty years too late for Peking

Ironically, North Korea in the 1960s and 1970s had far higher living standards than China and North Koreans would frequently congratulate themselves on not having fallen into the chaos and backwardness of their giant neighbour. It was only in the early nineties, with the end of Russian and Chinese subsidies, that the North Korean economy collapsed. 
James Palmer, Heaven Cracks, Earth Shakes: The Tangshan Earthquake and the Death of Mao's China (2012)
Many years ago a young Romanian friend, Alexandra, was about to go to China and asked me for advice. I gave her three pieces of advice: to observe, not judge and to eat dog. She told me she did all three. I have just come back from China and only followed the first of these. 

Tourism in Peking leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Literally. The taste of Starbucks coffee and Starbucks baguettes.  

A shiny, very modern mega-city has been created by order of the Party in a place which

South Korea is a triumph of the human spirit


I was in South Korea for less than three days, as a holiday within my holiday in China. Since I was a little boy I have wanted to see Portuguese churches under a Chinese sun in Macao but am told it is like Las Vegas now. Instead of Macao it therefore seemed a good idea to get out of China and the flight to Seoul took only ninety minutes, though the queue at passport control took slightly longer. 

South Korea is not my kind of place but I liked it. It is a great triumph of the human spirit.

Utterly ruined and impoverished in 1953 it is now one of the richest countries in the world, not because of mineral resources but because of human resources.



The Gyeongbokgung palace
Seoul is a wonderful argument for capitalism, especially useful against people who worry that the state has too little power and multinational companies too much. South Korea has very little welfare safety net and not too many poets or painters, but there are more and

Friday, 29 April 2016

Back home after not going to North Korea

I got back to Bucharest last night after two weeks not visiting North Korea. Today I feel bliss that thanks to the rain I can have a long weekend at home with books, rather than go to the seaside. One more outing for this thought from Logan Pearsall Smith
'Thank heavens, the sun has gone in and I don't have to go out and enjoy it.'
I had been supposed to go to North Korea with four pals, but the political situation in North Korea became a little too exciting. I felt the time was not right. But I had bought a ticket to Peking via Istanbul and Kiev, so I spent some days in Peking and flew to South Korea for three days. A good decision, because I would never have chosen to go to China, a place I once glimpsed, and disliked, in a stopover. I still don't like it very much but it is very important indeed. And I met two very interesting and civilised foreigners, both historians, who live there, speak Chinese and explained the country.

I had dinner last night with Marc, one of the four who was just back from North Korea. I was disappointed that I did not get to that room on the border where a North and South Korean soldier eyeball each other. He said he was too.  

A lot in North Korea was as I guessed it would be. It has all been written about by bloggers, but nothing compares with seeing for oneself, which Marc has done and I have not. Pyongyang was impressive and in many ways normal, although the roads were almost empty of traffic. He could talk to people freely, except almost none spoke English. The beer was good. He only saw two old tractors in the countryside. I pointed out that from 1996 to about 2004 I never saw a single tractor in Romania, only ploughs.

He was not afraid while in North Korea, but knew he had to be always on guard. The beautiful and charming twenty-four year old girl who was his guide would, he knew, have killed him without a moment's compunction if ordered to do so. He was in a bubble, but nevertheless found the place fascinating. He warmly recommended that I go and I may well. 

What was the best moment? Oddly, visiting the very odd mausolea of the two deceased Kims. He made it sound like Evelyn Waugh's satire about American funeral directors, The Loved One.
Ian Coles took this shot

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Stanley Baldwin said 'Freedom is England's secret'

Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend. Use the internet safely.