Meanwhile, in the DPRK... [North Korea - August 2011] by a zugunruhe


This video covers the ten days I spent in North Korea in August of 2011. Most of the time was spent in Pyongyang with small excursions to Mt Paektu to the northeast as well as Kaesong and the DMZ to the south. Since there is no independent travel in the DPRK, I chose the tour company Koryo Tours based on their knowledge of the culture. This video was eventually used by Koryo for promotion and has amassed 25,000+ views over various platforms.


The Trip

When we first arrived in Pyongyang, we had to surrender our cell phones at customs.  The reason that was told to us was that they didn't allow tourists to carry anything with GPS capabilities. This is also why an advanced DSLR was taken from a man in our group. It wasn't until a year or two after I was there did the government allow tourists to carry phones in the country.

The airport resembled more of a bus or train station. I was terrified when I first arrived. Having been in South Korea the week before, I was scared to utter the name of Seoul in conversation. Before long we were all made to feel at ease and were cracking jokes that I thought the week before would get us arrested.

One of the interesting things about visiting the DPRK is picking up on the world view. The country keeps the mindset that the Korean peninsula is one country. One only separated by an American occupation. In the newspaper, South Korea is referred to as south Korea. On the my ticket to Arirang, a story of lovers torn apart and used to speak of reunification, Pyongyang is listed as a country in Korea.

I luckily managed to stay healthy throughout the trip as a few in our group fell ill enough to miss decent chunks of the tour. Kenan even contracting dysentery at some point. I'm still not sure how everyone started getting sick but it took us all off guard. 

One thing I will never forget was a joke on one of our last days. When in North Korea, the inescapable eyes of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il are everywhere. They manifest in varying forms: statues, posters, photographs displaying guidance. Most pervasive of all are the portraits. Nearly every every building will contain some form of the father and son as soon as your enter. If it's a place of study, they are stern portraits. Always facing forward, framed from the chest up, and with a very confrontational vibe. In places of leisure, these portraits tend to be more jolly, focus on the entire body giving a grand gesture, and set in very colorful and festive locales.

On one of the last days, while leaving the Korean War Museum (where we were not shown the room of American War Atrocities), an older man in our group decided to get wise with our lovely museum host. He sarcastically asked her if we were ever going to see a painting of the Kims, as he had come here for that expressed reason. Nearly everyone around him slowly backed off and busied themselves to distract from the awkwardness as our host confusingly inquired about his comment, stating that we had seen many of these portraits. Apparently we had become a little too comfortable at that point. Although he never particularly seemed to give too many fucks throughout the trip.

During our last night in the country, we karaoke'd with some of the new tourists just beginning their tours. This was the night when I sang Alan Jackson's Chattahoochee and attempted to crip-walk in hotel slippers during a musical interlude while in the basement of a hotel on an island in the middle of a river in Pyongyang.

Of course what was written above is a small fraction of what I experienced. If you want to hear more, send me an message in some fashion.



0:25 - The cut of the guards marching to the music

:10 - Girl rollerblading in the Kim Il-Sung Square

:20 - Drunk guy singing into a bottle in his underwear while an old lady looks on

1:40 - Percussion matching with the card flashing workers of the Mass Games


The Video

Again, this was a rough cut that I reedited for this site. Being able to use Truck from The Octopus Project was really exciting for me since it was a song I had on repeat often at the time. Since I thought of it so highly, I wanted to make sure that I did it justice. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out little things that I was unaware of until that point in order to use the song to the fullest. Like editing the marching soldiers to move back and forth to the song or syncing various parts of the incredible Mass Games into the ending.

Like I stated in the video description, in no way did I intend this to be comprehensive look inside of this country. I wanted to use this light-hearted, joyous song to purposefully work in juxtaposition to the common view of North Korea and create a video showing a side of this country that many people don't associate with the people there. This is why after introducing various beautiful parts of the country, most of the second half of the video concentrates on people, performance, and humorous sights.

Building towards the Mass Games was also important. As it is an incredible experience to see live and I wanted to convey that as much as possible with pans as well as stationary shots. At one point I counted roughly fifty people across and thirty people deep. Meaning that at that point there were 1,500 people dancing in near perfect synchronicity in that stadium. It's hard to truly capture something of that magnitude on film especially when the details at the individual level add so much to the experience. While I was re-editing these shots I would watch these clips in slow motion and marvel at the density of movement.

Also with the re-edit, I was able to insert a quick two-second black screen to catch the string scape at the end of the song. That little bit of character makes the whole video so much more to me.


The Music

The Asianing [Tokyo, Seoul, Jeju, Shanghai, Beijing - July 2011] by a zugunruhe

This is the first of two videos covering the same trip to East Asia. The Asianing focuses on My time with Mai in Tokyo, Seoul, and Jeju as well as my time in Shanghai and Beijing before flying into Pyongyang.


The Trip

This portion of the trip was a build up to visiting North Korea in early August.

At the time, Japan was still feeling the effects of the tsunami that hit in March. Mai and I stayed in the Shibuya area the first few nights and it was apparent there, as well as throughout the city, that there were energy restrictions put in place to make up for the lack of electric capacity after the Fukushima plant was taken offline. 

In Seoul, we couchsurfed with Alejandro and spent much time with him and his lovely girlfriend, Kristy. They introduced us to the wonderful world of South Korean professional baseball. A land where every team is owned by a corporation and every player has his own theme song for when he walks to the plate. A surprising number were just Lady Gaga songs with personalized chants in Korean. 

While walking around the Nanjing Road area in Shanghai, I was continuously asked if I wanted to buy various drugs or if I wanted to follow someone to a room to take my pick of women. These people were incredibly annoying. They would spot a tourist (usually a young white guy), walk up to them quickly, and whisper directly into their ear the wares they were peddling. This happened constantly and I ignored them as much as I could. There was one guy that I had to physically push away multiple times. Every time I pushed him away, he would offer something harder.

"Hashish? you want hashish?"
"Cocaine? You want cocaine?"
"Heroin? You want heroin?"

The ladies selling themselves used a different tactic. While they flirted with me, I would just keep walking. One yelled after me "You ugly! Why you so ugly?

I remember writing in the journal I kept at the time something to the effect of "I'm in a country where I don't speak the language and I push away the few people who voluntarily speak English to me when they only want to offer me sex and drugs. What have I become?" 



Since this is a harder hitting Parts and Labor song, I focused on highlighting some of the more fantastic transitions in the song with emphasis on the drums and bass lines.

1:30 - The view of Seongsan-ri with the change in percussion


:42 - Han River at sunset when the main riff returns. The serene flow of the clip adds a nice juxtaposition to the frantic song.


2:04 - A bullet train passing by so close that it rocked my train.


The Video

The video above is a retouched and recut version of the original. When I first made this video, I was still fairly new to editing and didn't understand as much as I do now. My shooting strategy at the time was a combination of "lolwut" and "I hope this works."

Everything came together rather quickly as I managed to put together this video and the next within a week or so of arriving back in Austin. Like I stated in the moments section, I used this song because it hit quick and often and I wanted a series of clips that kept up. There are obviously some low points, like the footage of our plane landing in Seoul, that space of time could have been better utilized. Moving forward I started valuing clips that were more unique to the places I visited, trying to show things that could only be seen where I was. This was a learning experience to realize that.


The Music

Chiners [Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai - March 2011] by a zugunruhe

The first video I made was for a business studies trip to China. Over the course of ten days in March of 2011, a small group from Austin attended lectures in Beijing, Xi'an, and Shanghai covering the local culture and economy.  

As we were flying into Beijing, the Fukushima disaster in Northern Japan had just begun. The tsunami that struck the region had occurred while we were flying over the north pole and we arrived at our hotel to the news. As we attended lectures in Peking University, we encountered a lot of students who were very concerned about the people in Northern Japan and were organizing various aid packages. As naive as it sounds now, this really solidified the fact that people are people everywhere for me.


Noteable Moments:

1:20 - Our advisor falling asleep synced to the bridge

1:32 - Randy watching four topless gentlemen leaving the bathroom together

Our advisor falling asleep at a Peking Opera performance

Randy observing the local scenery


Since this was my first video in this format, there are a lot of errors in the syncing as well as everything moving rather quickly. This was also before I discovered the wonders of stabilization and the effect it can have on the view-ability of these videos. While this is a rough video, I really like how a lot of shots turned out. The "1-2-3-4!" of the four topless gentlemen leaving the bathroom in single file while Randy just watches is an edit that I'll never forget. It remains one of my favorite moments in all of my videos.