Growing up in the South one develops a fine appreciation for the inescapable burden of history. (Though I suppose the authors of the Pentateuch beat Will Faulkner to it by a couple of millennia.) So, three quick pieces revolving around memory, the present, and the past. Oh, and a Peter Tosh video.
First, Mikyoung Kim has a piece in the current issue of Asian Politics and Policy titled “North Korean Refugees’ Nostalgia: The Border People’s Narratives.” The points she makes are sort of unremarkable: on the whole the refugees think that the Kim regime is unjust and their escape an act of resistance; they find South Korea strange and are aware of the prejudice that they encounter there; and the product of this frisson is a kind of nostalgia for aspects of their previous lives. What is remarkable are some of the writings from this community that she quotes. They are all distinct so I am hesitant to quote just one. The poem about the mother who tries unsuccessfully to pimp her daughter for a loaf of bread is as heartrending as the conclusion of the Bicycle Thief.
Daniel Schwekendiek has a piece in the current North Korea Review with the ungainly title “From Pre- to Post-Famine Trends in Underweight Among North Korean Children, 1987-2012” in which he argues that if (and it is a very, very big if) one is willing to take a 1987 survey of children done in Kangwon Province as accurate and representative of the country as a whole, and similarly take the 2012 nutritional survey as accurate, then it would appear that the country has re-attained the mediocre child nutritional status that it achieved before the famine. (If one does the more straightforward past Kangwon to current Kangwon comparison, current Kangwon still has a bit of a way to go to reach the 1987 benchmark.) One thing that has changed is the basis for these mediocre results: the figures for 1987 were the product of a society with a failing socialist system, the figures for 2012 are the product of an increasingly unequal society with a Hobbesian market economy.
USA Today, that font of color graphics, tells me that recreational runners will now be able to participate in the Pyongyang Marathon. I’ve told funny anecdotes about the Pyongyang marathon elsewhere, and for a variety of reasons, I am unlikely to run another marathon, much less one with a sub-3:00 qualifying time, so I have little direct personal interest in this announcement. What strikes me about this story (and the mania over the Masik Pass ski resort) is that none of the stories that I have seen have mentioned Merrill Newman. Remember him? He’s the octogenarian who only a few months ago was detained without charges, legal proceedings, or an opportunity to consult with counsel, diplomats, or anyone else. Under current conditions, you’d have to be crazy to sign up for something like this.
Or maybe we are just afflicted with severe short-term memory loss. Merrill Newman? Didn’t he play for the Steelers?
Which leads me to Hubert Winston McIntosh, aka Peter Tosh. DPRK-encounters-with-marijuana is a stock minor sub-genre of North Korean narrative tales and always provides a good excuse for posting Peter Tosh videos. Over the course of the last year or two I used the same video of “Legalize It” twice so I was really happy when I stumbled across some concert footage of “Bush Doctor.” As I was explaining to my wife last night, I’ve always had a soft spot for Peter Tosh: he was a talented man who had a hard life, was probably screwed when Chris Blackwell made the conscious (and defensible) marketing decision to push Bob Marley to the forefront and in the process broke up the Wailers, and whose prodigious consumption of weed may have been as much a self-medicating response to a severe skull fracture as religious belief. So, want to forget? Or cure your glaucoma?