What North Korea's Olympic delegation saw for the first time

One peninsula, two very different ways of life.Some of North Korea's delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics st...

Posted: Feb. 14, 2018 3:14 PM
Updated: Feb. 14, 2018 3:14 PM

One peninsula, two very different ways of life.

Some of North Korea's delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics stepped into a very different world from the sheltered and tightly controlled version of reality they're accustomed to at home.

It's not just new technology the North Koreans encountered on their three-day visit. It is the influx of everyone, from all corners of the globe.

"[The] atmosphere of freedom will be unfamiliar," says Seoul resident Yang Yong-soo, 62. "They'll probably think it's a different dimension."

CNN's Will Ripley has reported from North Korea 17 times and has seen just how different the realities are between the two countries.

Art: The art in South Korea -- even simple advertisements -- is a stark departure from North Koreans' state-controlled exposure to any sort of creativity or culture.

Rooms across North Korea feature prominent photos of the country's late leaders, portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. Nearly all monuments and public art displays across the country feature their likenesses or are dedicated to the ruling Workers' Party of Korea.

Foreigners: The North Korean delegates probably encountered many more people from different cultures and ethnicities on this trip than they ever had before.

North Korea prides itself on being racially pure and homogenous. Inside the communist country, their exposure to non-North Koreans is tightly controlled. The government also prohibits North Koreans from coloring their hair any shade but their natural dark black or brown. Unusual hair colors like blue probably surprised them.

Food: A stark contrast also exists in the wide variety of food available across Pyeongchang.

Beef, chicken and pork are all unaffordable luxuries for most North Koreans, who have experienced repeated famine and food insecurity.

"I think they'll feel that what they see with their own eyes are much different from what they learned," says Yoo Hyun, 30, of Geoje, South Korea.

Transportation: Before arriving at the Olympics, the North Korean delegation boarded the KTX, a high-speed train that travels nearly 190 miles per hour. It's not just the speed that is new for them -- their rail and bus network relies on aging, outdated infrastructure and technology. Trains and buses are older and slower than their counterparts in the south.

Freedom of movement: Even people's movements within North Korea are state-controlled. Citizens must get travel permits to leave their home provinces to visit Pyongyang.

Phones and internet: Cell phones, even smartphones, are not a rare sight in North Korea's capital, but South Korea's free and open internet is. North Koreans in Pyeongchang are barred from accessing the internet. The nation's strict censors would probably have found a lot of the content "yellow," a North Korean term for inappropriate and subversive. Content critical of their country, their system and most importantly their leader, Kim Jong Un, would have set off immediate alarm bells.

Television: The delegates probably got their first opportunity to see television that wasn't controlled by the state during their visit -- if they were allowed to watch TV unsupervised, which is unlikely. Although North Korea is cut off from the internet, it does have state-controlled intranet and television channels, although the content is monitored and censored. Smuggled media content, on thumb drives and DVDs, are rare luxuries in the country.

Street lights: Flashing lights and neon signs dot the streets of Pyeongchang, a big departure from the often darkened streets in North Korea.

Cars: There are significantly more cars on the streets of South Korea than the members of the delegation would ever see in the north, including brand new domestic models. In North Korea, many of the cars are older imports.

Electricity: The few escalators and elevators across Pyongyang are often stalled by power outages. Even with the influx of visitors for the Olympics, power has remained constant in Pyeongchang.

"I think they would have been surprised by facilities themselves," says Incheon resident Yang Yu-jin, 22. "They have come out after being confined, so I think for them it'd feel very free and new. They'll think it's like experiencing a new world."

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