These are snapshots captured as we go about our daily life working in North Korea: a man getting a haircut at a barber shop, traffic cops lacing up ice skates, a villager hauling a bundle of firewood on her back as she trudges through a snowy field. Some are quirky, unexpected things that catch our attention: a blinking Christmas tree in February, the cartoon Madagascar showing on state TV, a basket of baguettes at the supermarket.
And some are politically telling: the empty highway from Pyongyang, people piling onto trucks for transportation, postcards showing soldiers attacking Americans, banners praising the scientists who sent a rocket into space. Despite the new construction, gadgets and consumer goods, North Korea is still grappling with grave economic hardship. It's a society governed by a web of strict rules and regulations, a nation wary of the outside world.
Often, they are images, videos and details that may not make it onto Associated Press products but provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a country largely hidden from view even in our this globalised, interconnected world.
They help give a sense of the feel, smell and look of the place away from the pomp of the orchestrated events shown by the state media. It is a way for us to share what we see, large and small, during our long stays in a nation off limits to most Western journalists and still largely a mystery, even to us.
On Monday evening, while discussing how to cover the arrival of ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman and describing his array of tattoos and nose rings, we did what wasn't possible in the past: we Googled him from a local restaurant.
Twenty-four hours later, Rodman himself appeared to be online and tweeting from North Korea.
"I come in peace. I love the people of North Korea!" he wrote.
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