The night sky in North Korea might be the most brilliant in Northeast Asia, the only place spared the coal dust, Gobi Desert sand and carbon monoxide choking the rest of the continent. No artificial lighting competes with the intensity of the stars.
As the young couple would walk through the ginkgo leaves, what would they talk about? Their families, classmates, books - whatever the topic, it was fascinating. Years later, when I asked the girl about the happiest memories of her life, she told me of those nights.
This is not the sort of thing that shows up in satellite photographs. Whether in CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, or in any East Asian Studies department, people analyze North Korea from afar. They don't stop to think that in the middle of this bleak country where millions have died of starvation, there is love.
This excerpt is from the text "Holding Hands in the Dark" published several months ago in LA Times Magazine. It tells the story of two young North Koreans living their love story in the midst of the country's electric energy shortages during the 1990s. After the changes in the former Eastern block in 1989 and the North Korea's regime persistance 'on their own way', economy - including the energy system - in this country collapsed. That, together with one of the most repressive political systems in the World, gravely affected and still affects the lives of the people in the country.
And yet, as this story beautifully shows, there are intimate lives behind all that. Those lives are, at times at least, even blissful...
Coming from the country that in the previous decade experienced wars, sanctions, enormous inflation, turbulent political and economic changes, I can attest to that. Despite everything, people are living their lives with families and friends, work and hobbies, love and betrayal, boredom and excitement. With their own private ups and downs. On that level, their lives resemble those of the people anywhere else. They are more difficult, certainly, but all basic elements are just the same.
That side of the story journalists somehow often fail to tackle when covering stormy or disadvantaged regions and communities. Their reports often resemble 'satellite photographs' - with good display of all major causes, trends and actors, but missing that human bond that can make an account of events really significant.
Great story like this about young North Koreans has the power to make events and destinies that are far away so close and understandable. And to raise interest for comprehending those larger processes which affect the two you read about, but also millions of others.
Barbara Demick, the author of the mentioned story, has recently published the book "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea"