Factory workers

When we arrived for our scheduled tour at the Paeksong Food Factory in Pyongsong, I was SHOCKED to learn that just FIVE MINUTES earlier, the factory had unexpectedly lost power, forcing it to close, and send ALL 5,000 employees home. We’d still be allowed inside, but there’d be no people to see, and nothing working. 

A group of Brits, who happened to arrive at the factory at the same time, still seemed to enjoy peppering their handlers with questions they knew would result in inane answers (e.g., Question: So have all 5,000 people just left the building four minutes ago and gone home, or are they all waiting in the lunchroom for the power to come back on? Answer: Yes).

Having spent some time in factories (and not being a complete idiot), I could smell a ruse as soon as we went inside: surfaces/machines/equipment were pristine; it seemed unlikely, nay, impossible, to manufacture the purported plethora of products on the same two lines/ few different machines; 5,000 people just left three minutes ago and there isn’t a single shred of physical evidence that even one human has ever been here? Etc.

And, when we’d pulled up to the front gate when arriving, the military chick meant to be guarding the factory entrance was out of uniform and asleep. When she hadn’t met our car when we’d pulled up, our driver honked and yelled furiously until she stumbled out of her booth disheveled and abashed. I watched her try to pull herself together (hat on, shirt buttoned up and tucked in, halter/belt thing on, etc.), all while frantically running back and forth from the gate to the factory. It was amazing, and made my “Shit I think might be real” list immediately. I’m not familiar with the NoKo system of rule, but I’m pretty certain being out of uniform and asleep is no good.

But more importantly, I’m pretty sure if the factory she was guarding had JUST lost power one- to four-and-a-half minutes ago, causing it to unexpectedly close down, and 5,000 workers to be sent home (or be held in the lunchroom), she would at least be awake, if not partially clothed.

On our tour we saw the “control room,” which I forgot to take a photo of because I was simply too stupefied. Next, the “showcase of products” room, which begged the oft-asked question in NoKo…if you’re going to go to the effort to put your “best foot forward” via embellishment, why not make it look better?


This photo of propaganda also shows one of my guides — the one I REALLY liked — waiting for me, which pretty much sums up my trip: me, incredulously staring at shit, looking for truth, while my guides stared at me, incredulous at how long I could just stand and stare at shit.


We were told these two workers stayed behind to finish up the biscuits, and were “heroes” for having done so. We watched them, with their heads down, doing nothing, for a few minutes, and then the group moved on. As usual, I stayed behind watching, wondering what it all meant. And as usual, my nice guide stayed with me. Eventually one of the workers looked up and stared right back at me, and then… she too gave me the stink eye…my second stink eye in as many days. But it was real. So I snapped her photo, added it to my “Shit I think might be real” list, and to my guide’s great pleasure, moved along.


Two more from the factory: