There were moments that no camera could capture, like the feeling of being a foreigner moving through crowds of Pyongyangites, noticing how they all wore the same shoes, belts, and red Party pins, seeing how not a single person dared to risk a glance toward this strange and towering figure.
And there was a sight so fundamentally North Korean I was too stunned to photograph it. Driving south from Sunan Airport toward Pyongyang, a lone vehicle on the road caught my eye. I hadn’t been in the country twenty minutes, but the eerie lack of traffic was already unnerving. The vehicle was a dump truck headed toward the countryside, and its bed was filled with residents of Pyongyang. The truck was decades old, and it lacked a tailgate so the people in back were crammed together to avoid falling out. One bump, I thought, would send half of them tumbling into the road. As the truck flashed past, I saw clearly a man in a suit holding a briefcase. Beside him was a woman in a white lab coat. Despite the wind, her eyes were open as she stared without expression at the horizon.
“Where are those people going?” I asked our minder.
“They’re volunteers,” she answered. “They’re going to help with the harvest.”
“They volunteered?” I asked.
She seemed not to understand the question.
“Everyone must volunteer,” she told me.