At American colleges, many students seem to be majoring in fun.
In North Korea, the preferred degree is in survival.
Sophie Schmidt, the teenage daughter of Google chairman Eric Schmidt, was featured in a story by the UK Telegraph about her father’s secretive trip to North Korea.
The basis of this article was blog posting titled, “It might not get weirder than this“, in which Sophie Schmidt provided a candid take on the controversial three-day trip.
“Our trip was a mixture of highly-staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments,” she wrote.
“We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders.”
While much of the blog posting is taken up with the sort of observational musings common to any first-time visitor to Pyongyang, it had some interesting insights into the official side of the delegation’s trip.
In particular, it fleshed out the main photo-opportunity of the entire trip when they visited an e-library at Kim Il-Sung University, and chatted with some of the 90 students working on computer consoles.
“One problem: No one was actually doing anything,” Schmidt wrote.
“A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in… not one of them looked up from their desks. Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli.
“They might as well have been figurines,” she added.
One of the world’s most isolated and censored societies, the North has a domestic Intranet service with a very limited number of users.
Analysts say access to the Internet is for the super-elite only, meaning a few hundred people or maybe 1,000 at most…
Sophie Schmidt’s description of the “unsettling” e-library visit suggests the delegation was all too aware that it was being shown a facade.
“Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home,” she wrote.
The Telegraph also reported that on his return, Eric Schmidt said he had told North Korea it would not develop unless it embraces Internet freedom. Given the report by his daughter, this development is not likely to occur in the near future.
Eric Schmidt's daughter lifts lid on 'very strange' North Korea (The UK Telegraph)