On this diplomatic episode of the Popzara Podcast our own Nathan Evans talks with author Travis Jeppensen about his new book See You Again in Pyongyang: A Journey into Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, out now from Hachette Books. Touted as “the first American to study in North Korea,” Travis relates not just his studies at the Kim Hyong Jik University of Education, but the people and culture seldom seen outside the opaque wall of propaganda surrounding the most isolated country in the world.
It’s just the thing for the historical junkie eager to learn anything they can about a nation as derided as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
It’s a trip well suited to Travis’ extensive experience writing about art history and death cults, two subjects not always mutually exclusive when discussing the DPRK. You’ll learn that much of visual representation of the nation is intentional, from the gloriously colorful “epic kitsch” of North Korean art and architecture to the impossibly catchy blend of K-pop, ballads, Russian disco and nationalistic sentiment of the DPRK’s most famous group – the all-female Moranbong Band.
It’s not all fun and games, of course, as the two discuss the realities of living in a country many have called “the Hermit Kingdom”, the effects of constant propaganda on its citizens, the continued failures of planned economies, and how the long sought-after reunification of the Korean peninsula could have unintended consequences for entirely different reasons than you’d think.
Also discussed are how ideological prejudices have made it difficult to separate fact from fiction on even the most basic details when talking North Korea, from journalists and others reporting from both sides of the Military Demarcation Line.
Of course, no talk about North Korea would be complete – or honest – without at least a nod towards the recent Singapore Summit that united both US President Donald Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong-un after months of speculation.
Come for the eye-opening discussion on the geopolitical outlook for both nations; stay for the insight on the people and their culture. It’s a conversation that reminds us that sometimes the only entreaty necessary for real change is a willingness to talk – and listen. And speaking of listening, if you ever find yourself in North Korea don’t forget to order the cold noodle dish Pyongyang naengmyon – we hear they’re delicious.