Paradise for People: Inside the North Korean Pavilion at Expo 2010

Lately I’ve been seeing advertisements promoting Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) as an opportunity “to see the world without leaving Shanghai.” To my mind, this is good marketing: after all, not everyone has the chance to travel abroad, and you might as well enjoy second-best if, for whatever reason, you’re not able to get yourself on a connecting flight. Which is a round-about way of explaining why, this morning, I walked through the Expo 2010 gates (it was Day 2 of the Soft Opening) and went directly to the North Korean pavilion. Why? Reasonably speaking, I don’t know that I’ll ever get up there; but certainly, the likelihood is nil to zero over the next couple of years. So why not take advantage of Expo 2010 and experience the next best thing: North Korea’s first-ever effort at branding itself to a World’s Fair audience.

Now, I don’t know much, but I do know (some of) my readers. So I’m going to keep the text short so that we can concentrate on the visuals in a place that describes itself, on the walls, as …

Ladies and gentlemen, the building itself:

And after the jump, a look inside …

First things first. It’s dark in there. Really dark. Which is why the photos are slightly over-exposed. I was doing the best that I could with a point-and-click. In any case, I do think the rainbow is a nice touch.

And facing the opposite direction …

In the above photo, note the figures painted on the far wall over the (over-exposed) doorway. Naturally, they are flying Korean girls … as shown in the close-up below (reminiscent, as a friend points out, of the death angels that emerge from the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark).

There’s actually not much to do or see in the North Korean pavilion. But a group of Chinese security personnel, who happened into the building while I was there, spent an inordinate amount of time photographing each other on the bridge over the fake moat that stands in front of some sort of memorial column. See below (perhaps a reader can offer some insight into that) [UPDATE: Thanks to several readers who wrote to tell me that the tower is – in the words of Richard, who left a comment below: “a miniature version of the Juche Tower on Pyongyang, the major monument to Juche Idea, the principle ideology of the DPRK.”

Like most Expo 2010 nations, the North Koreans rely heavily upon video presentation to accomplish the “nation branding” that at the heart of the Expo enterprise. But having visited several pavilions over the course of the day, I must say that the North Koreans have a uniquely militant approach to the exercise. That is to say, each of their video presentations appears to open with graphic Korean War footage, including news reels of burning  villages. See, for example, below.

Barrel of laughs, let me tell you. Thankfully, it doesn’t last long and then we get videos of babies that look suspiciously like puppets:

And nurses and mothers that look like characters out of Good Housekeeping, circa 1956:

Oh, and dancing bears. Almost forgot: we get footage of dancing bears – including dancing bears in tutus, below.

Which somehow segue into model North Korean residences. Below, a model North Korean living room (again, think Good Housekeeping).

Followed by a North Korean bathtub.

So on and so forth. You get the idea. Not to be missed.


  1. Why they like taking pictures over the fake moat–precisely because they want to have “real-looking” pictures of themselves as if they are in Korea.

  2. Jen – There was video of people moving as a mass, but hard to say whether from the Mass Games. As you know, we try to maintain strict fact-checking standards at Shanghai Scrap.

    Alex – No sight of that, but there were some rather perturbed looking NK gentlemen hanging around the VIP room (I took a look). Perhaps they knew something …

  3. I don’t blame you for heading here, i certainly would!!! I was interested to see what they came up with!! Dancing bears and a bath tub on a flat screen? Worth the 200RMB alone!

  4. do you have to surrender your mobile phone at the door before they allow you in, and then they assign you a guide who follows you around?

    they must’ve spend thousands and thousands of (Zimbabwean) dollars to make that pavillion…

  5. Adam,that tower is a miniature version of the Juche Tower on Pyongyang, the major monument to Juche Idea, the principle ideology of the DPRK.

  6. at last – dancing bears – I take back all the negative things I’ve ever said about EXPO – dancing bears are worth 200 RMB of anyone’s money

  7. How iconic are the dancing bears? The dark side of teletubbies is revealed to all.

  8. haha. Those are not flying North Korean girls. They’re called “sun nyuh (선녀)” which are like fairies from traditional folk tales of Korea.

  9. Confused – The ‘jump’ refers to the ‘more’ button that you’ll see if you’re reading the post on the home page. If you’ve come to the post directly – say, from a link – there won’t be a jump. It’s not the most elegant phrase, but I like to include it.

  10. I visited Expo on the 5th of May and tried to go see the North Korean pavilion – but it was closed because the walls had fallen down, an expo employee told us! Whether its true I don’t know, but the irony of the situation realle made our day:-)

  11. I visited the DPRK stand and after uttering the only phrase I know in Korean I had a great time with the two North Korean ladies who willingly posed for pictures. The North Korean employees were very friendly though only two spoke English well

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