My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth. Copyright © 2016 by Wendy E. Simmons, Vendeloo, Inc., all rights reserved. Published by RosettaBooks on May 3, 2016. AVAILABLE NOW on, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, etc. Visit for more information.

A Young Pioneer, so-called members of the Children’s Party,” which is sort of a “practice party” that prepares school children for membership in the Worker’s Party that they’ll all join later in life, walks past North Korea’s ubiquitous propaganda. This of the “great leader love” variety. In Pyongyang.

The Cult of Kim. Local ladies pay respect to Kim Ill-sung and Kim Jong-il, their “Dear Great Leaders” at The Mansudae Grand Monument, the apogee of great leader love. In Pyongyang

Typical occurrence: You arrive anyplace; no one is there. Suddenly a swarm of people dressed in decades-old clothing arrives, organized in close formation, five or six people across, and deep, walking in lockstep. If you ask my handler why, she denies its happening, even as you stand watching it. In Pyongyang.

The massive Monument to the Foundation of Workers’ Party, depicts the hammer, sickle, and brush used by the workers, farmers, and intellectuals of the Party, respectively, and features the catchy slogan, “Long live the Workers’ Party of Korea which organizes and guides all victories for the Korean people!” In Pyongyang.

Bustling Pyongyang: Nothing; our car; nothing; and a glimpse of the infamous, pyramid-shaped, Ryugyong Hotel, which has been under construction for over 30 years, far, far off in the distance, on the other side of the Taedong River. In Pyongyang.

Downtown Pyongyang, as seen from the Juche Tower. Pyongyang’s, really all of North Korea, distinctive color palate is like Technicolor, only flat and desaturated. Like if Pepto Bismo pink, also came in yellow, green, and brown. My hotel, The Koryo, is the tall “brown” building on the top left.

Descending into the Pyongyang Metro, reportedly one of the deepest metros in the world. Rumors persist that the Pyongyang Metro doubles as giant bomb shelter, linking vast underground military installations to one another, with secret lines just for the government, and escape tunnels to China. Rumors also persist that “normal” people actually use it.

Inside a subway car on the Pyongyang Metro. The old, dimly lit, wooden subway cars, which I read were acquired from Germany, rattle into the stations, and then commuters open the manual doors themselves.

Propaganda is EVERYWHERE in North Korea. In this case, a relatively vibrantly painted mural of the dear leaders posing on the edge of a active volcano punctuates NoKo’s otherwise overwhelmingly drab, grey, washed-out.

NoKo’s “traffic ladies,” unfailingly beautiful women decked out in matching uniforms, stand in the middle of intersections on pod-looking stands or inside white circles, or street corners directing non-existent traffic with robotic, drill-team like movements. You aren’t supposed to photograph them. And the woman in red, sporting NoKo’s typical haute fashion plucked from the 1950.

I wanted a photo of this empty store, not allowed, so I pretended to take a photo of the movie poster, also interesting as there are NO advertisements anywhere, yet here was a random movie poster hanging in the window of an empty store. Then this man just ambled up and stood riveted. It was surreal. In Pyongyang.

I crashed a wedding reception. Older Handler drag-pushed me through a crowded room of guests, and deposited me directly in front of the bride and groom. Her unmistakable glare upon seeing me — an unwelcome and uninvited American Imperialist with a camera — earned the first spot on my “Shit I Think Might Be Real” list. In Pyongyang.

Waiting for the bride and groom watching beautiful waitresses busily go about setting up one of the ugliest rooms I’ve ever seen; and they manage to move fast and slow at the same time. In Pyongyang.

The Juche Tower, across the Taedong River seen from The Grand People’s Study House, with Kim Il-sung Square in the foreground. Russian soldiers exited the buses and commenced drills in the Square that I saw later that night on TV, with fake footage of thousands of North Koreans cheering added to it. In Pyongyang.

The Audio/Video room of the Grand People’s Study House, which the local guide informed me, holds all music from every country in the world. In Pyongyang.

Reference computers in the lobby of The Grand People’s Study House, which patrons use to make you think NoKo has the Internet. (I kid. I don’t know what they use the computers for.) I stood watching them do nothing for a few minutes until my handlers made me leave. In Pyongyang.

Inside one of Pyongyang’s Funfairs, or “amusement” parks, where I only saw adults in military uniforms and “fancy” clothes. So basically, an amusement park for grown ups to show tourists North Koreans have fun. In Pyongyang.

It’s a flashmob, NoKo style. When I arrived at one of Pyongyang’s Funfairs (NoKo’s extraordinarily depressing amusement parks) no one was there. But within minutes of arriving, this HUGE swarm of people arrived.

Symmetry. At the Funfair. In Pyongyang.


North Korea


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