Study Guide

The North Koreans in Pyongyang

By Guy Delisle

The North Koreans

One of These Things is Just Like the Other

We’ve lumped Guy’s North Korean guides into one category because it’s hard to tell them apart, too. Here’s what we know about the North Koreans we meet.

  • Mr. Kyu is Guy’s guide. 
  • Guy’s production assistant is annoying.
  • Mister Sin served for eight years in the North Korean military. 
  • Guy’s other translator likes computers.

And that’s all we know about them.

Guy gets to know them even less than he gets to know the animators, because he and his North Korean guides have so little in common. These differences lead to tension:

  • Guy’s PA often attempts to help, but the two are not able to adequately communicate their mutual frustration with one another. 
  • Guy dresses Mister Sin up as a clown when drawing a picture of him in chapter three (3.6).
  • Mr. Kyu is thrown into a panic when Guy gives him 1984
  • Describing the children who play accordion for him, Guy says, “Behind their strained faces, you sense all the concentration that goes into playing the music and especially into trying to keep up those miss world smiles” (10.85). Then, amazingly, he calls them “monkeys” (10.88).

The North Koreans are forced to walk around with Guy and his pals a lot, but they don’t like to walk. Maybe they prefer driving, because the only time they get to ride in vehicles is when they’re carting foreigners around. Guy even points this out, saying that “walking is the miserable fate of the unprivileged” (4.50)—yet he still makes his North Korean guides walk around. What’s up with this guy? (Er, sorry: What’s up with this Guy?) What’s with the jerky attitude?

When you get right down to it, communication rarely happens in Pyongyang. When trying to communicate with Mister Sin about cultural differences between Pyongyang and the rest of the freaking world, Sin responds, “It’s always interesting to get another perspective on things!” (11.33). Interesting? Yes. Productive? We’re not so sure. Neither party seems to be listening to the other here.