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Andrew Holloway: A Year in Pyongyang

Andrew Holloway: A Year in Pyongyang(Aidan FC’s website, 1988)

Amid the pile of available reading material on the DPRK, is there room for an unpublished memoir, getting on for 20 years old, recording the experiences of a lowly “raiser” — someone who converts Konglish into English — in late 1980s Pyongyang? Definitely yes.

Though obviously not state of the art, it’s set at an interesting time, when Kim Il Sung was beginning to prepare Kim Jong Il to take over — a PR nightmare when according to Holloway the dear leader came across as a bit of a drip. This is a well written and lively account, though you can’t help feeling that the author is a little bit careless, committing himself to a year in the DPRK when he can’t bear the sight of kimchi. Holloway was in charge of raising bits of DPRK propaganda into decent English. He found the effort soul-destroying, but is able to share some priceless gems with us. Here’s a treat from Chapter 4:

Reporting an AIDS epidemic in South Korea, the Pyongyang Times for September 12th 1987 stated that this is more than just attributable to the presence of the GIs. The US government actually posts AIDS-infected GIs to South Korea as a deliberate policy. “The aim of dispatching AIDS carriers from the US is to enable the transmission and effects of the AIDS virus to be studied experimentally using Korean people as guinea pigs.”

Chapter 6 is valuable for its materials on the Juche doctrine, but much more fun are some of his anecdotes from real life: the Chinese student who every now and then fakes illness to get some good hospital food and then claims a credit back from her hostel for the uneaten meals there; the hard-working border guards who learn English in their spare time. And his rant about the cluelessness of the North Koreans in marketing matters. None of these observations are time-bound in the 1980s. Available free at Aidan Foster-Carter’s website:

Update: now also available from in paperback or ebook format

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