Through the looking glass

When I was a kid I used to lie in bed at night with my crappy Sanyo radio and roam the shortwave bands. I loved those voices from distant places. My favourite was Radio Tirana. On the nightly English-language news a male/female duo with the plummiest RP delivery imaginable (accents presumably acquired at Oxbridge and barely inflected by their utterly unknowable lives in the most isolated nation on earth) read the latest tractor production figures.

The other-worldliness of Hoxha-era Albania was intoxicating for a curious fourteen year-old. I wrote to the address provided. My dad was sure my letter would never get there. As a stamp collector (and former postman) he knew that, in the 1970s, Albania was the only nation on earth not to have signed the various International treaties on the exchange of mail. He was wrong. Not only did my letter get to Tirana (I remember the address: Radio Tirana, Albania) but I got a gorgeous reply in a massive dun envelope of such crude construction it had practically dissolved in transit. I wish I could remember what was in it…

I do remember that the Albanians didn’t actually bother to print stamps at the time so I got a brilliant, smudged rubber stamp mark instead – even better. Kept it for years. Anyway, that’s really a very roundabout way of saying that I got a similar tingle of mystery and general oddness from my visit to what is, according to Slashdot, North Korea’s first official web site.

By the way, I think you should really take the trouble to sign up for the site (although I can’t be sure what the privacy/security implications of getting an official North Korean webmail address are). Once registered you’ll get access to a lot of North Korean music by artists like The Korean People’s Army Merited State Chorus and The Wangjaesan Light Music Band and also some streaming movies. You’ll be invited to provide your profession (just select ‘worker’) and choose from a list of password reminder questions that includes: ‘how will Korea change after reunification?’

(And here’s a lovely gallery of old transistor radios – not my Sanyo, though…).

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  1. The best bit by far (the crappy music that played throughout my visit comes close) is the second line of the registration form:
    “Type your name. Please type your real name.”

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