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Pyongyang Affair

2 November 2011

Two short excerpts from Pyongyang Affair. This work was commissioned and produced by ABC Radio National: Radio Eye. Initial research and script development were funded by an Asialink Literature Residency, and a travel grant from the Australia-Korea Foundation. It was first broadcast by the ABC in September 2002.
The script was short-listed for the 2003 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and nominated for a 2003 AWGIE Award.

Synopsis
A woman travels through North Korea. Here nothing is as it seems, everyone has their secrets: strangers are polite, but each hides their true feelings. In the late nineteenth century Korea acquired the nickname ‘Hermit Kingdom’ after it closed its doors to the world. These days, while the South is a modern democracy and one of Asia’s tiger economies, in the North the terms ‘Hermit’ and ‘Kingdom’ apply in bizarre and novel ways. What other country kidnaps foreign film-makers?  Regards all overseas tourists as potential spies and saboteurs? And what other nation has installed a dead person as their head of state? Pyongyang Affair mixes fact and fiction to provide a rare insight into this last bastion of hardline communism; the singular and surreal place that is North Korea and now has the dubious distinction of being part of an ‘axis of evil’.


Excerpt 1:

NARRATOR
I’ve expressed an interest in history, so today I’m taken, for another extra charge of course, to The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. Ironically, for a system that berates capitalism at every turn, it never passes up the opportunity to make a fast buck.

Someone walks briskly along a corridor. The approaching footsteps stop.



THE GHOSTWRITER
A brown-jacketed cadre turns up to give her some on the spot guidance.

NARRATOR
Like everywhere else it’s a tightly choreographed act. They recite the spiel, chant the statistics, repeat the tales of revolutionary valour. To accord with the prevailing mythology, Kim Jong-il, who was, by most accounts, born in the Siberian town of Khabarovsk, has here been reborn in a log cabin on the slopes of Mount Paekdu. While his parents single-handedly orchestrated the defeat of the Japanese.

The sounds of the museum: echoing passageways and snippets of audio displays.



NARRATOR
The moment of his birth, the curator insists, was heralded by a plethora of meteorological omens and the appearance of a dazzling new comet with a fiery tail. Yeah right, and Bambi was outside frolicking in the snow. I look quizzically at Mr Mok. Does he really believe all this fairytale drivel? Instead I ask: do many people visit this museum?

GUIDE 2
Several thousand every day.

NARRATOR
Yet strangely none of them are here when I take my tour.

Wind.
And the distant sounds of a mass rally or celebration.



NARRATOR
North Korea’s institutions celebrate the past in technicolour and spectacle, while the roadside rhetoric promises a magnificent future. These seem the latitudes where my hosts feel most comfortable. Back then and yet to come. Anywhere but now.


Excerpt 2:

NARRATOR 
(Speaking over the Guide’s list.)
During my last stay in Seoul, I acquired a US government handbook about North Korea, written for Marine Corps Intelligence. At the back is a vocabulary section. So now, in addition to the usual beginner’s phrases:

KOREAN SPEAKER
안녕하세요

NARRATOR
Hello.

KOREAN SPEAKER
처음 뵙겠어요

NARRATOR
How are you?

KOREAN SPEAKER
성함이어떻게되세요?(What’s your name?)

NARRATOR
I can add such useful commands as:

KOREAN SPEAKER
무기 냬려놔!

NARRATOR
Drop your weapons

KOREAN SPEAKER
자네는 포로이야

NARRATOR
You are a prisoner, and perhaps most helpful of all

KOREAN SPEAKER
라캤 발사기 어디 있어요?

NARRATOR
Where are the rocket launchers?

Music: ‘Song for TKJD’ from the CD ‘Epigraphs.’



THE GHOSTWRITER
Walls have ears. Surveillance is ubiquitous. So she conceals her note-taking and carries her daypack with her even to the bathroom. And if this is starting to sound rather too much like something dreamed up by Ian Fleming or George Orwell, just remember that paranoia is an integral part of the North Korean experience.

GUIDE 2
Your daughter is how old?

NARRATOR
18.

GUIDE 2
You said before she is 16.

NARRATOR
Did I?

GUIDE 2
Yes.

NARRATOR
I made a mistake. My elder daughter is 18; the younger 16.

GUIDE 2
You have 2 daughters?

NARRATOR
Yes.

GUIDE 2
You told me before you have one.

NARRATOR
I’ve forgotten

THE GHOSTWRITER
the 2 fundamental rules of being interrogated: never volunteer extraneous detail, and never tell a lie unless you’re able to stick it out to the bitter end.

© Noëlle Janaczewska

From → Radio

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