Once a year at the Rongwo Buddhist monastery, in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China, the monks take care of the temple’s walls and whitewash them with lime paint. Once the task is completed, the monks can wage a water battle in the streets. This event is a way to lighten the pressure of everyday life as the young men live in very tough conditions at the monastery for years. For once, the police that is normally everywhere and monitors everything with CCTV cameras lets the peaceful fight unfold.
My first visit to North Korea was in 2008. At that time, there were no mobile phones in the country. The only chance for taking pictures relied on the official photographers selling photo souvenirs to visitors at the entrance of the main monuments. At first, the idea of making Polaroids was just a kind of artistic work, but quickly I discovered this camera was the best way to interact with locals and immediately break the ice. This allowed me to see North Koreans in a very different way, and to start some conversations through my minder.
Mount Paektu volcano is a holy place for North Koreans. They consider it the place of their ancestral origin. In the 1950s, the country’s founding father Kim Il-Sung commanded an anti-Japanese guerrilla from a secret camp located here. North Koreans say that his son Kim Jong-il was born here in 1942. He was actually born in Siberia.
A new problem may rise: when North Korea tests a nuclear weapon, experts say that the energy released could trigger a volcanic… eruption in Paektu.
Built in 1970s, Pyongyang Metro includes only 17 stations on two lines, with a total length of 30 km. In Seoul it is about 300 km. Construction of the metro service began in 1968 and was inaugurated in 1973 by Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of Kim Jong Un. Each station is named after the revolution: Comrade, Red Star, Glory, Liberation, Signal Fire, Rehabilitation, Victory, Paradise, Restoration… not named after places though.
The very first order you receive from your guide when arriving in North Korea is NOT to take pictures of the soldiers. Many soldiers are used as a labor force to compensate for the ineffective North Korean economy, so the
army is not only about military organization. North Korean soldiers can be seen working in fields, farms, or on construction sites in many places, far from military exercises.
During the Seoul Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism, two architects, Calvin Chua of Singapore and Yim Dong-woo of Seoul have built a full-scale mockup of a North Korean apartment. The same to the ones you can find in Pyongyang among the buildings which welcome middle class people. It is forbidden for South Koreans, with rare exceptions, to travel to North Korea. So the architects imagined bringing a piece of Pyongyang to Seoul.
With the war in Syria, the whole lebanese border has became a red zone where the western governments advise against all travel. But once on the field, only few military check points remind the rare travelers that the tension is high in the area as life goes on. In the Beqaa Valley, Hezbollah -the Party of God- rules. It is a Shia Islamist political, military and social organisation. They now control areas hosting UNESCO world heritage site, and have built a museum to glorify the war against Israel.
The DMZ is a 250km long and 4km wide stretch of land that serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea.
There are huge differences between the two sides but not always the way one might expect… The Joint Security Area in Panmunjom is called a “demilitarized zone” but in fact, it is the world’s most heavily armed area as well as a major tourist attractio with more than 100,000 tourists visiting each year.
Balinese tooth filing is an ancient tradition that predates Hinduism’s arrival on the island in the 5th century BC. It’s believed that a Balinese may be denied entry into heaven if the teeth are not filed, because he/she might be mistaken for a wild creature. The aim of the ceremony is to symbolically “cut down” on the six negative traits that are inherent in humans (like the 7 sins in Christianity) : lust, greed, wrath, pride, jealousy, and intoxication.
Most of the people living in Alaba in Southern Ethiopia, a two-hour drive from Addis Ababa, are farmers. No tourists visit the area or even stop there. The region is mostly Muslim and few Christians live there. But both communities have a special propensity to decorate the walls of their houses in a very unique style, both inside and outside. The main goal of these paintings is to depict what the house owner likes, his life, his religion or his dreams. Nobody knows when this art started, but many in Alaba say that this is the first Facebook!