REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: Working in a Different World

Dec. 5, 2006 — -- Twelve days in a world astonishingly different from the one we inhabit;would the people be hostile, angry at those they believe to be their"great enemy"?

We knew we would have a high profile in North Korea --there are only about 300 foreigners in the country. But the people inPyongyang, their showplace capital, were consistently polite andfriendly -- they may not like America (in fact, most denounce it,smiling) but we Americans were embraced.

They are clearly proud of their city, which is spotless, and of their devotion to their leader andtheir country. But putting together our report on the hidden world of the Hermit Nation was not easy.

A World Without Cell Phones

Here's how we lived as journalists: very well, from our hotel rooms toour work space. In the dining room every night there were pork cutlets,if you wanted them. We saw restaurants, though we surmised that mostordinary citizens would be unable to afford them.

But also every night: the arduous task of arranging the one phone lineto set up a satellite that may or may not work. Our cell phones andBlackBerries were confiscated when we entered the country -- cell phoneuse is illegal in North Korea -- just one of the ways they keep theirclosed society "closed."

It took a bit of chewing gum and rubber bands to try to get our liveshots on the air. Not to mention the extraordinary cost of every singlephone call.

Lost in Translation

We spoke only the barest Korean. And make no mistake, running everyquestion, every comment, through a translator just increased the degreeof difficulty.

For instance, I asked one woman if she likes curly hair. The answer? Asshe fluffed her curly hair, "No!"

What does that mean? What did the translator say? We never really foundout.

We realized at every turn, we are looking at two worlds with verydifferent views and few bridges between.

We noticed a magazine that said the United States was the biggest humanrights violator in the world. Why?

Because women make just 75 cents on the dollar compared to men, andthere are 14 million people in America without health care. Factsindeed, but here they're seen as proof that it is our system that isfailing, not theirs.

And there was the old man who told us capitalism was just fine -- ifyou're rich.

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