December 4, 2019

"North Korea said on Tuesday that its leader, Kim Jong-un, had opened a new mountain resort this week, calling it 'an epitome of modern civilization'..."

"...  as the isolated country tries to attract more foreign tourists to blunt the pain of international sanctions.... Tourism is excluded from the sanctions that the United Nations has imposed on the North, which prevent it from earning hard currency by exporting its coal, iron ore, fisheries and textiles. ​Transforming Samjiyon​ from a decrepit holiday town into a modern resort complex complete with ski slopes, spas and hotels has been one of ​Mr. Kim’s pet projects....  As his diplomatic efforts with Mr. Trump have faltered, Mr. Kim has increasingly emphasized a 'self-reliant' economy.... He has been particularly ​focused on building resort towns, a taste some analysts suspect he had acquired when he studied in Switzerland in his teens...."

The NYT reports. The tourists come from China.

According to Wikipedia, Kim Jong-un lived in Switzerland from about 1992 until 1998 — something like ages 9 to 15. (He's only 35 or 36 now (did you realize he was so young?).)
He was described as shy, a good student who got along well with his classmates... a well-integrated and ambitious student who liked to play basketball.... According to some reports, Kim was described by classmates as a shy child who was awkward with girls and indifferent to political issues, but who distinguished himself in sports and had a fascination with the American National Basketball Association and Michael Jordan....

The Washington Post reported in 2009 that Kim Jong-un's school friends recalled he "spent hours doing meticulous pencil drawings of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan". He was obsessed with basketball and computer games, and was a fan of Jackie Chan action movies....
On the topic of tourism and a country's economy, let me give you this passage I read last night in "The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity" (a book I put in my Kindle a while back, perhaps because one of my readers recommended it):
[T]he British sociologist John Urry... speaks of “the tourist gaze” as a social force that actually does change environments. First of all, it alters the world by the simple choice of what to linger on: what is in fact picturesque, what is mundane, what is romantic, what is pure and what is polluted. And Urry is right about the ultimate power of the “gaze,” if you consider the scope of tourism and the way it shapes economies and individual lives and, in fact, places.... It undermines independence, indentures populations, institutionalizes humiliation. It is a self-inflicted colonialism.... Tourism has caused lots of people to lament the loss of the world, their world, as they know it....

Urry’s book was published in 1995, when tourism was on a track to become the largest commercial enterprise in the world, a standing it seems now to have achieved. If you look at this in one way, it occurs to you that in many parts of the world whole populations depend for their existence on, in effect, being looked at. It is an unsettling, even an awful fact, and one that we desperately want to suppress whenever we are one of those doing the looking, a part of the “touristic wave.”... [F]ond as we may be of the notion of ourselves as “travelers,” shrewd as we may be in our choice of destination and lodging and wines, we are aware of ourselves as part of that declassed, identity-blurred worldwide mob.
The author, Richard Todd, is writing about the places people like to think of as authentic and unspoiled. But what of the concocted places, that were never authentic or that are authentic as aspirations to something fantastical? I see there's a later chapter in the book about Disney World and the Las Vegas strip, and that seems to be more the sort of thing that Kim Jong-Un is doing in Samjiyon. As a traveler, you don't have to worry about spoiling the place by your very presence. It's a resort, built for travelers, and you only have to worry about spending too much of your money... or  that tourist money is creating a damaging dependency on tourism, "the largest commercial enterprise in the world."

But North Korea — under those U.N. sanctions — is desperate as it chooses tourism. It's a strange form of "self-reliance." There's something discordant in that choice.

30 comments:

Mr. Forward said...

Kim Jong-un's grandfather started the family resort business in Wisconsin Dells when he fled Korea in a flotilla of mechanized ducks. Later they built mini golf courses which is how they vent their underground bunkers. What, you never noticed the little windmills?

Danno said...

The Chinese economy has been growing slower or shrinking on account of the trade war and now is a good time to build a resort catering to them? Not in my book.

Maybe Otto Warmbier (his spirit) will start a Yelp on Nork hospitality.

Leslie Graves said...

Oh, Mr. Forward. I too thought of Wisconsin Dells as I neared the end of the post (right around the time Ms. Althouse mentioned Disney and the Las Vegas strip). Kudos.

J. Farmer said...

He was obsessed with basketball and computer games, and was a fan of Jackie Chan action movies....

In other words, he was a Korean.

Michael K said...

Nork tourism began in June 1950. They headed south.

Big Mike said...

Author Richard Todd is an idiot. You don’t go to a resort to search for “authentic.” You go to a beach resort for sandy beaches and bright sun. You go to a ski resort for good snow.

Any physicist can explain that to observe something is to alter it. So it is with travel; to observe the local population is to change them

The Crack Emcee said...

“'The tourist gaze' as a social force that actually does change environments....it shapes economies and individual lives and, in fact, places...."

A lot of those French kids who, now, will only listen to Gangsta Rap?

My fault.

Fernandinande said...

“the tourist gaze” as a social force

I'm glad people are using the power of the "evil eye" for something other than transmitting diseases.

rehajm said...

Any physicist can explain that to observe something is to alter it.

No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it!

Temujin said...

We're told to travel, get out of our shells. See the world. Learn about new cultures.

We do that and then we're told that we're destroying those cultures and making those people feel like zoo creatures- stared at. Watched in curiosity.

I dunno. It's always been thus. We just have more means to do it now. More than ever. There are places to see, still left untouched, 'unspoiled'. But not everyone wants to go to Appalachia for vacation. Or Kearny, NE. Or Port Huron, MI. We tend to go where others have gone and reported back to us about. And many of those places depend on others coming in to spend their money. It IS the economy.

I happen to live in a tourist town. But people don't come here to see the culture, check out the cuisine, watch the natives in their natural habitat. They come here to get warm, rest on beautiful beaches. See the breeze in the palm trees. And for a week or so, forget about their life back home. Pretty simple stuff. I can't see anyone traveling to N. Korea to forget about their life back home. I suspect they'll be yearning for their life back home upon landing in NK.

tim in vermont said...

I am sure Kim could round up some under age beauties and attract Bill Clinton.

tim in vermont said...

Cop: “You were doing 95 in a 70 MPH zone.”
Heisenberg: “Damn it! Now I’m lost!"

SGT Ted said...

What sort of sociopath would be a tourist in a country where people eat bark and grass to survive starvation?

PM said...

Now everybody wants a Kehlsteinhaus.

Wince said...

Kim Jong-un is trying to be like Trump: an "epitome of modern civilization", it's going to be YUGE.

And to impress his mother, Erica Jong and his sister, Molly Jong-Fast.

narciso said...

he's a little like the western educated villain in the last of the pierce brosnan films, some like gaddafi who went to signal school In the uk, or idi amin, who trained under the brits and the Israelis didn't not take well to it,

narciso said...

oh if you've seen 'from paris with love' you got a glimpse of the ban lieus, five years before Bataclan, not a place you'd like to visit, around the time of Charlie Hebdo, I was reading a novel by la times reporter Sebastian rotella,

narciso said...

that was partially set in the ban lieus,

Char Char Binks, Esq. said...

I hear they serve warm beer.

Howard said...

The normalization of behavior, even something as superficial as a tourist ski resort, can only have a positive influence on the Norks. it's not like he's going to make enough money to build the next intercontinental ballistic missile from selling lift tickets and hot chocolate



mockturtle said...

Hmm. Am semi-planning an overseas trip next year. Maybe NK bears thinking about. For about a nanosecond.

JML said...

Travel experiences does change behavior. We spent three weeks in Italy last Oct. When we returned, I got a Nespresso machine and I use it up t three times a day.

Howard said...

Werner Herzog did a documentary film which included North Korea

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Inferno_(film)

Phidippus said...

Dear Leader is so rugged.

mockturtle said...

Dear Leader is so rugged.

It would be fun to see him and Putin duke it out. And Xi against Trump. Maybe that's how trade deals should be negotiated.

Martin said...

Didn't Kim's old man, Kim Jong Il, have a thing with Jordan's teammate, Dennis Rodman?

And, I remember all the "smart" people laughing when Trump pitched the idea of NoKo as a tourist destination with world class hotels on great beaches, back during their first summit.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-iTikGb-CY

bagoh20 said...

I notice that every time I visit my refrigerator it changes a little, and that changes me.

mockturtle said...

A wee bit OT but from a Hong Kong News.net article:

"Protests that have paralysed Hong Kong for nearly six months are pushing residents to seek new lives abroad, with many turning to nearby democratic Taiwan to escape the uncertainty at home."

I hope this happens. Make Taiwan into what HK was before the turnover and let HK rot under Communist bureaucracy.

Phidippus said...

bagoh20 @2:19 PM: I have the same problem. Beer leaks out of the thing.

Earnest Prole said...

Is it okay to mock Short Round again or are we still pretending he has dignity in hopes of a dual Nobel Peace Prize with Literal Orange Hitler?