The ‘very, very strange’ world of North Korea, as blogged by daughter of Google boss

Teenager’s blog offers a rare insight into the secretive state, writes Tim Walker

The teenage daughter of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has provided a rare glimpse into a “very, very strange” North Korea, after she accompanied her father on his recent visit to the secretive Communist state. Over the weekend Sophie Schmidt, who is 19, published a detailed blog post about the trip, which she joined earlier this month as part of a nine-person delegation led by the former US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson.

Schmidt described the visit as “a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments.” The delegation, she writes, enjoyed “zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans.” They were trailed at all times by a pair of minders from the paranoid Pyongyang government: one to mind the delegation, and one to mind the other minder. Schmidt compares the regime’s stage management and constant surveillance to “The Truman Show, at country scale.”

Her photo-rich blog post contains an image of a DPRK customs form, asking visitors to surrender any “killing devices” and “publishings of all kinds”; the delegation also left its telephones and laptops in China, having been warned they would be confiscated. Schmidt writes that the weather was “very, very cold”, the food “solidly decent”, and the people “unfailingly polite and engaging.”

The delegation was billeted at a Spartan guesthouse on the outskirts of the capital, where they had access to just three television channels: “CNN International, dubbed-over USSR-era films, and the DPRK channel, which was by far the most entertaining.  My tolerance level for videos of Kim Jong Un in crowds turns out to be remarkably high.” They also heard just one song during the trip that wasn’t North Korean propaganda, during their flight out of Pyongyang on the national airline, Air Koryo: “It was a remastered version of the Cranberries’ ‘Dreams’.”

Schmidt describes the pastel-shade plasterwork of many of Pyongyang’s buildings as “almost playful.” She also noted more pedestrians than expected on the city’s clean, wide boulevards, including “stylish women in heeled boots and make-up.” On a visit to the mausoleum of the country’s former leader, Kim Jong Il, the delegation was shown “the late Leaders’ cars, train compartments and even a yacht, all preserved in their former glory.  Even Kim Jong Il’s platform shoes were on display.” Schmidt was also “delighted to learn that he and I shared a taste in laptops: 15” Macbook Pro.”

At the Kim Il Sung University e-Library, the visitors were shown a room filled with 90 computer stations, each manned by a student. The scene appears to have been purely for show, however. “No one was actually doing anything. A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared… not one of them looked up from their desks… They might as well have been figurines.”

The reclusive state has its own national intranet, writes Schmidt, “a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real internet”, to which a select few university students are granted access. Some savvy locals seemed to be au fait with technology, even asking the Google boss about upcoming versions of the firm’s Android operating system. The present North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, recently declared that his country’s ailing economy could be improved by embracing science and technology. Eric Schmidt is said to be working on a book about the power of the internet to counter oppressive governments.

He confirmed the authenticity of his daughter’s post to the Quartz news site, and published his own, more restrained impressions of the country in a post on Google+. “The technology in North Korea is very limited right now,” he wrote. “As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Learning & Development Manager - North London - £53,000

£45000 - £53000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Learning & Develo...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - Magazines

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's largest regional newspaper pub...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant - Oxford

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a successful and growing Security Installat...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn