PYONGYANG in the Washington Post

“Road Reads” / The Washington Post / Jerry V. Haines / December 18, 2005

TARGET AUDIENCE: People seeking a virtual visa for North Korea.

Portraits of North Korean President Kim Jong-Il and his late father and predecessor, Kim Il-Sung, hang everywhere in Pyongyang, often airbrushed to make the two look alike ("same size, same age, same suit"). Nothing ever changes here, says Delisle, a Canadian graphic novelist and animator sent to Pyongyang to rescue a cinema project. The Korean Conflict is more than a memory: "To hear them talk, the war ended last week and is due to resume any day now."

Foreigners like Delisle all are housed on the 15th floor of an otherwise dark and empty hotel-casino (which North Koreans are forbidden to enter). He slips away from his assigned hosts, but returns to find them panicked -- he has taken pictures of garbage. His clever drawings reflect the city's institutionalized paranoia ("You have to turn down your jazz! It could have a bad influence on the others!"), but also great civic pride, notwithstanding shortages of everything and mandatory volunteerism.

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