A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘pyongyang

[URBAN NOTE] Five city links: Oshawa, Philadelphia, London, Pontevedra, Pyongyang

  • Matt Gurney notes at Global News though the end of GM in Oshawa should have been expected, people there are still shocked.
  • Roads and Kingdoms shares a list of ten foodstuffs in Philadelphia that help explain that city.
  • The Guardian explains how London has become a European centre of tuberculosis.
  • CityLab suggests that pedestrianization helped the Spanish city of Pontevedra become very child-friendly.
  • Guardian Cities shares some photos from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

[URBAN NOTE] Five city links: Halifax and Dartmouth, Winnipeg, Iqaluit, St. Petersburg, Pyongyang

  • Is a mysterious chair in Dartmouth a legacy of the Halifax Explosion? Global News reports.
  • Who is Googling Winnipeg, and why? Global News reports.
  • The Nunavut capital of Iqaluit faces a serious prospect of water shortages, as its water source Lake Geraldine cannot support growing consumption. CBC reports.
  • Guardian Cities reports that the old Tsarist-era palaces of St. Petersburg face a grim future unless someone–artists, say–can rehabilitate these edifices.
  • Guardian Cities shares photos of the subway stations of Pyongyang.

[URBAN NOTE] Pico Iyer on the emptiness of Pyongyang and Las Vegas

At the New York Review of Books website, Pico Iyer has a provocative essay comparing the North Korean capital of Pyongyang with the American city of Las Vegas.

Any of us could, of course, list the differences between the two cities of mirages. The one is a shameless efflorescence of capitalism that is, for its enemies, a glittering symbol of the decadence and emptiness of the West; the other the world’s last by-the-book, state-controlled monument to Stalinist brutality, whose forty-story blocks are consciously designed to cow citizens and remind them that it’s a privilege never to leave their hometowns without permission or to be executed simply for glimpsing a foreign newspaper.

The one is a sort of adolescent’s Girls Gone Wild vision of freedom run amok, in which visitors are encouraged to believe that you can do and be anything you like, for a night; the other is a terrifying model of order and regimentation in which even the woman who chatted me up on a showpiece subway train might well have been a prop set there by the government. While drunken frat boys get themselves photographed next to bikini-clad showgirls dressed as flamingoes on Las Vegas Boulevard, in Pyongyang every visitor—on every visit—is obliged to get up in jacket and tie, pass through a dust-cleaning machine, and bow before the embalmed figures of the nation’s two departed leaders. When Hunter Thompson wrote, “For the loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth,” he hadn’t been to Pyongyang, where even the sometime-winners are abruptly sent before the firing squads.

Yet both cities are products of a mid-twentieth-century spirit that saw what power and profit could be found in constructing mass fantasies ab nihilo—in the deserts of the West, out of the rubble of the Korean War. And both serve even now as billboards of a kind, “theoretical and practical weapons of the system,” as Kim Jong Il had it in a 180-page treatise on architecture, with buildings designed less to be lived in than to be marveled at by friends and enemies alike. Pyongyang is at once a playground for the local elite and a perpetual reminder to the 90 percent of North Koreans who are not permitted to visit of what awaits them if their talent or patriotism—or beauty—are strong enough. But both cities are haunted by a kind of lottery consciousness, which declares that power and glamour can be yours only if divine whim (or a throw of a dice) so decrees.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 18, 2015 at 9:08 pm