December 20th, 2011
11:04 AM ET

What it's like in North Korea: Volleyball, no pollution, no traffic

Editor's Note: After Kim Jong Il's death brought tears in North Korea and caused concern for South Korea, we're taking a look at the secretive nation from the view of those who have traveled there.

The first time that Brit Simon Cockerell visited North Korea, he noticed how clean it seemed. The air was not polluted like in Beijing, where he has lived since 2000. Another curiosity also struck him: In the capital of Pyongyang, there were no advertisements or billboards, and there was no traffic.

One of the rare times one might see North Koreans out and about during the day is when co-workers are doing aerobics with their "work unit" in the morning, he said. Around lunchtime, workers might venture outside again, perhaps stringing up a net or marking a line in the street to play a quick match of volleyball before returning to the grind.

"It's a place that can seem very dead during the week. There are a few bars in Pyongyang, but they close around 10 p.m. There are no crowds. And this is odd, because there are 3 million who live in that city," said Cockerell, who has visited North Korea more than 100 times.

"There isn't any hustle or bustle. Everything is a five-minute drive away. You wind up, typically, on your first day saying to yourself, 'Bloody hell, I'm in North Korea, where is everyone?'" Read the full story

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  1. Davehuckleberry

    That is because no one can afford a car to drive and thus there is less pollution and all of its citizens are so poor that they don't even make any garbage. Who can really afford to waste money on alcohol and go to a bar when the vast majority of North Koreans are extremely poor? Take a look at a night time satellite photo of both North & South Korea. While South Korea is very brightly lit up, you will be hard pressed to see any lights on in North Korea.

    January 7, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply

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