We’ve heard so much about North Korea from international news wires and social media. But the country remains a mystery that’s yet to be fully understood. Khmer Times’ Raquel R. Bacay recently journeyed into Pyongyang and had a glimpse of what the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea looks like and how the people inside one of the world’s most reclusive nations go about their daily lives.
Juche is the official state ideology of North Korea, described by the government as Kim Il-sung’s original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought.
It states that “man is the master of his destiny”, that the North Korean masses are to act as the “masters of the revolution and construction” and that by becoming self-reliant and strong, a nation can achieve true socialism.
This intonation is repeated everywhere in North Korea – be it in a shoe factory, in a silk weaving mill, even in hospitals.
To say that the spirit of “Juche” is part of the everyday lives of North Koreans is an understatement. It is their core – the very foundation of who they are. And we were fortunate to witness it firsthand.
During a visit to the Jangchon Cooperative Farm on the suburbs of Pyongyang, it was astonishing to see neatly built houses, landed properties and multi-story walk up flats, complete with fully functional solar panels for electricity.
Each home has two bedrooms and a kitchen, with the wooden floors heated from beneath by the heat generated from cooking. Aside from their conducive interiors, each household owns a plot of land for individual farming of cash crops.
The farm also boasts huge green houses, each comprising half hectare of land managed by a single worker. The farm grows just about anything – from lettuce during winter to tomatoes and open-field planting of rice in the summer and spring.
In addition to these vegetables, fruits such as apples and peaches are also grown in the green houses and said to be done organically with little or no chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The impact of the absence of these two farming agents could be seen in the fields where cabbages are affected by pests and inside the green houses where tomato plants do not look as healthy as they should be.
Despite these setbacks, each green house can produce 75 tons of fresh tomatoes every year. Each half-hectare green house comprises 15,000 tomato plants germinated from seeds in other green houses and transplanted into the production plots. The workers’ commitment were evident as despite the pouring rain, they continued to carry out their tasks. They work hard, but they do not look undernourished at all.
We have known that they are given monthly rations by the government and are allowed to supplement their state wages through the sales of vegetables and fruits grown in the compound of their homes.
Ms Pak Myong Sim, one of the workers and our guide for the day, said that the Jangchon Cooperative Farm operates through the spirit of “Juche”, which basically means it is self-sustaining.
But it’s not all work inside the farm. Workers also take a downtime inside the recreational rooms and play table tennis or Korean chess. They can also use the swimming pool, hair salon and the exercise area. In addition, a community theatre has also been set up for cultural performances.
The hour-long visit to the farm has made us understand what “Juche” means for the people who embraced the ideology with open hearts out of necessity since the effects of the sanctions imposed by the international community can be felt all around, with the limited imports of essential products such as fuel that is needed in any production facility.
Our team left the Jangchon Cooperative Farm for Vegetables with astonishment at how North Koreans live their lives and how emotional they get when they talk about the only three DPRK leaders they’ve known their entire lives.
The contributions of past and present leaders are greatly recognised and honoured: the still revered “The Great Sun of Life” Kim Il-sung who fashioned the national ideology of “Juche” and led DPRK from 1948 until his death on July 8, 1994; Kim Jong-il, his son, who ruled as “Dear Leader” from July 8, 1994 to December 17, 2011; and now “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, who has been in control of the country since 2011.
The practice of “Juche” is firmly rooted in the ideals of sustainability through agricultural independence and a lack of dependency. And North Koreans live by and for that every day.