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    Think I’m gonna sing myself a lullabye

    Oh, yeah, speaking of subways: something else I forgot to link last week was this post by Japundit, which in turn links to a fascinating website about Pyongyang’s subway system. It’s an unofficial site, but the site owner seems to take care to back up his speculations about how the Pyongyang Metro actually works. The number of cars ordered from the PRC and GDR–remember that entity?–suggests that there may be an entirely separate network for government officials only, for example. There’s also been a suggestion, though the site owner doesn’t take it very seriously, that the two stations through which foreign visitors are given tours are actually the only two in existence–that is to say, that the rest of the network is a fabrication and was never built.

    One of the more interesting tidbits is this passage from the official guidebook:

    An overseas Korean who was on a visit to the homeland gave his impression of the Pyongyang Metro to respected President Kim Il Sung. He said that in the country where he was residing it was out of the question to use high-quality stones in the buildings for common people.

    At this point the president said that in our country we were building a metro not as a means of making money but for providing the civilized and convenient life to the people, so that we did not spare money to decorate the inside well and construct it solidly and modernly.

    More than 30,000 square metres [sic] of natural marble and 40,000 square metres of granite have been used in the construction of the Pyongyang Metro. This is nothing but a negligible amount of materials used in the building of the metro by the Government of the DPRK.

    Vainglorious Monument Syndrome has afflicted dictators since time immemorial, but its cruelty is particularly heart-piercing here. In rich countries, we move about freely and get to choose our own priorities. A lot of subway stations are dumpy, but we don’t care because we’re just moving through them on the way to things we want, or at least have chosen, to do. It’s not hard to imagine, in North Korea’s screwed-up economy, that the subway station could be the only fleeting moment of aesthetic pleasure some people get in a workday. (It’s worth noting that the subway was built in the early 1960s, when the still-young DPRK was, according to official statistics, outpacing the South in economic growth–military, industrial, and public works hypertrophy gave people plenty to do. Of course, we all know what happened after that.)

    Myself, I’m not so nuts about the marble columns; they’re a bit bull-necked and graceless. The murals give me the Diego Rivera yawns, too. Let me have those light fixtures, though!


    I think those on the left compare very favorably to, for example, that horrible neon epileptic fit that’s scribbled witlessly down the concourse ceilings at O’Hare Airport. However, I don’t know that I’d be so hot on them if, 40 years down the pike, the policies that produced them had also starved a few million of my countrymen.

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