city light

Today in my beehive of an apartment complex everyone received the following notification:

In order to maintain the aesthetics, we need your help! Please ensure that your patio/balcony is always kept neat and orderly at all times (this is part of complying with your lease agreement). This month we will begin doing regular property walks to make sure that everything looks great. If there is something that does not belong on your patio/balcony, we are going to kindly ask that it be removed.

This nice little notification was followed by a list of items allowed and an extensive list of items that are not. This post is not going to be a rant about how wrong this notification is or freedom of expression or freedom of storing your shit on the balcony at a place that is overpriced because of its location and is, of course, full of airs in regards to what kind of people they would like to house there. This post is going to be about one night on a bus driving through Pyongyang, the city that had no lights in the windows.

I was part of a goodwill exchange of athletes between then Soviet Russia and North Korea, and we were being transported from the night at the opera back to athlete’s village. It was about eight maybe 9 in the evening, and by all accounts, the windows in the apartments should have been full of lights or at least full of flickers from the TV screens. But the city was dark.

It was odd, but we did not give it too much thought and explained it as a curfew which was enforced. Until the following day when we were transported back to the city to explore a modern supermarket (another bizarre experience that deserves a post of its own). Well, as we were rolling through town in our air-conditioned-fancy-seats bus I looked at the windows out of curiosity aroused by the experience of the previous night and noticed that on such a sunny day many did not reflect the sun. They were aluminum with painted flower pots and curtains. Not all of them but a lot of them. There were no lights or TV flickers in the evening because no one lived there, or maybe they did but received a similar message about what is allowed and what is not. Maybe they too had an aesthetic police perusing the grounds, and everyone who did not comply had their windows painted over or booted out. Who knows.

I realize that it is preposterous comparing my white-privileged-fancy-apartment-dwelling experience to those in NK, but… is it that different? Corporations buy-out housing then dictate not only who lives there but how they live there as well? Totalitarian does not only rhyme with Soviet or communism.


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