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Smuggled Photos from North Korea

Not many people from the West can honestly say they have a firsthand knowledge of what North Korea looks like today. Most of the knowledge the West did have came from the Korean War, which is severely outdated. However, a few modern visitors have made it into the country and back out again, not only with their memories but with photographs as well. The highly insulated nation has been aggressively anti-open towards any source that shows the accurate picture of life inside North Korea, so almost all photos aside from the government itself have been smuggled out. Here is a set of images from Eric Lafforgue was able to get out because of the advance of digital storage and small memory cards versus film cannisters.

The Woman Among the Soldiers

Much of Eric’s tour around North Korea was what the government wanted him to see, one of those things being how strong their military should be seen as. So, no surprise, he had a lot of photos of soldiers. In this case, however, he was also able to capture a sole North Korean lady in traditional dress among a sea of uniforms.

Computer Access

The computer age has made it to North Korea, which has been well-documented by the attack on Sony. However, from the government’s perspective, computers are a tool of the people’s ability to be education and effective. So, there were lots of photos showing technology advancement. Unfortunately, the computers were only functional when there was power. Blackouts are common in North Korea.

Military Work Means Farm Work

Farming is essential for the country. North Korea has had multiple famines, so it’s food production is critical for maintain the country as a whole. The military is no exception, often being used as manpower to assist farms and keep them functional. Eric’s photo of this soldier showed policy in action.

Eating the Grass

Hunger is commonplace for the average person in North Korea, which makes it no surprise why so many lean towards finding a role in some kind of apparatus – at least they get a guaranteed meal every day. Unfortunately, what Eric saw was a lot of other people starving, even to the point of harvesting grass to eat it and make it to another day. His government minders made it clear no one should take photos of the practice.

Kids Playing

Children are extremely controlled and disciplined in the country, so it was an odd experience to find one just being a normal kid and standing out, as in this case in the middle of the road. Curiosity and adventure are normal for children as they explore the world, but the behavior is practically banned in-country.

Appearance Matters

The government has very clear rules about how everything is displayed in the country, even how people are dressed when photographed. Eric was able to catch this interaction where a man to be photographed is essentially being straightened out to look more presentable, i.e. get his shirt unruffled.

Cars are a Rarity

Most people in North Korea only see a vehicle when it involves the military. However, in the main cities a few more are seen regularly as government officials use them in and out of locations. Cars are starting to be a bit more frequent in terms of non-military use, but they still frighten folks in the rural areas.

Double Duty Subway

The subway system for Pyongyang was intentionally designed for more than transportation. It also functions as a ready-made bomb shelter for a significant number of inhabitants of the capital. Photographs showing the tunnels are forbidden and Eric was immediately told to delete this image.

Art has to be Finished

The government has a real problem showing anything unfinished and unapproved, even in the case of artwork being developed or created. That was the case with this painter who was photographed during his work. The government minders made it clear the picture was unfinished and off-limits.

Signs of Famine Barred

Clearly the North Korean government wants any image of its people to show them as prosperous and happy and most importantly, well-fed. That was not the case with this fellow who clearly evokes an image of malnourishment.

DMZ Hotels

Any hotels near the DMZ are very restricted to the point that the guests are not allowed to walk outside on their free time. However, most of the accommodations are actually old houses in the area. Any guest attempting to go outside will likely block a guest asking why they need to go outside. The common phrase is that it is the same as inside the hotel.

No Soldiers Relaxing

Soldiers in North Korea are always seen at attention. So, actually capturing an image of soldiers just being human beings was a big no-no. Eric managed to grab this image of a couple uniforms just having a cigarette and conversation. It’s a big risk as the country has a national law forbidding photographs of people’s faces when doing things that are considered embarrassing to the government.

Creative Boating

One fellow decided to a tire was good flotation device to get from one place to another on water. The image looks typical of a countryside, but what it really might be indicative of is the fact that even natural resources like wood are controlled and extremely rare for use other than the government.

Kid Camps

Wonsan has a Pionners Camp designed to help education children from all over the country. However, for many of the first time attendees, the facility itself is scary and nothing they’ve ever seen in the countryside. That was the case for these kids staring at an escalator.

The Challenge of Group Photos

Again, Eric was told with certain clarity, none of his photographs were allowed have military personnel in them. That’s fine when the soldiers are stationed at military functions, but it becomes a real problem when 99 percent of the crowd at a zoo or amusement park is military personnel. That was the case in this event at the Delphinium located in Pyongyang.

Lines, Lines Everywhere

A common practice in North Korea involves standing in line. Just about everything involves a line and mass queues are commonplace, even for taking the local bus as seen in this image of the main plaza connection point.

People Must Be Shown Respectfully

The idea that an official is ever portrayed not doing their job correct is never allowed, so photography of that happening is a huge problem for the photographer. Eric managed to catch an image of this official snoozing, which would never have been allowed past the normal censors had they seen in it in his allowed images.

Normal Life is Rough

Visiting groups are shown the best of homes to prove that North Korea is just fine for the average person, even in the country. However, the details give away what’s really going on, as in the case of this bathroom that uses a bath tub and installed water pump for the general water supply for everything.

Sleeping Off Duty

Military personnel are expected to wear their uniform all the time, even when off-duty. So, it’s not a surprise to see a fellow catching a nap when he can, as was the case with this one in a field.

Poverty

Photos of the poor in North Korea are also forbidden, and it doesn’t matter if one argues that poverty exists in every country, even in the West. Yet, just about everyone in the countryside lives in poverty unless they are military or running a collective farm. These two kids carrying buckets aren’t showing hard disparity, but it’s not a luxury life either.

Tremendous Monitoring

Any visiting groups are monitored heavily in North Korea, and one has to wonder how the country sustains itself with so many personnel dedicated to watching others instead of producing anything themselves. It’s very common for visiting media to be followed and watched by two, three even four groups of monitors, so it’s amazing Eric was able to smuggle out any images at all.

There’s No OSHA in North Korea

Worker safety is how well the workers protect themselves. Occupational safety standards as known in the West don’t seem to exist in the country. That was evident in this image of wall repair crews that Eric took in a key moment.

Flash Photography Banned

If you’re the type who likes to take night photos with a flash, good luck. They are often not allowed, and minders will tell you it’s because the flash might scare the locals.

They Have Grocery Stores

The market stores in Pyongyang carry many of the recognizable products people are used to in the West. The issue is who actually shops in these markets. While you can easily find Evian water, for example, the customers allowed are only the country’s elite.

Tip for Tourists

Never take a photograph of the country’s leader from the back, especially statues. Rear images are not allowed and will get you into a lot of trouble. They are considered culturally rude to produce.

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Tony the Plant Man Grows Very Expensive Plants

Kevin Wells

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A Briton has quietly created his own Garden of Eden in his home, including one plant that is so rare, it could easily command almost $16,000 for one leaf. The botanist extraordinaire is a fellow named Tony Le-Britton.

Tony is, like many geniuses, a bit odd and extremely dedicated to his work. He’s so committed to plants and growing them, an entire room of his home is an indoor jungle, complete with a personal greenhouse and environment control to help support the kind of plants he is able to bring to full fruition. Tony’s collection, however, isn’t the typical plant collection one gets from seeds at the local hardware store or plant farm. His focus is on growing some of the world’s most uncommon and rare plants altogether. In fact, some of his flora are so rare, plant scientists and researchers around the world would love to spend a day with Tony simply examining his plants. He even has some plants that the scientific folks thought was completely gone and no longer alive, i.e. extinct.

Plant-growing, however, was not Tony’s only career. As it turns out, he’s quite adept as a photographer as well, having enjoyed a professional career producing images of hair and beauty. However, given how much his plants are in demand now, it’s pretty clear his plants will also take care of him too financially. Just the leaves alone versus the entire plant has the financial capacity to provide him a living income.  

The most valuable plant that Tony has in his greenhouse is known as a Rhaphidophora Tetrasperma Variegata. This particular plant is different version from a far more common plant that could be bought anywhere. Because it is a genetic mutation, an anomaly that has occurred due to a genetic change that occurred at the DNA level, it is extremely rare and practically impossible to find elsewhere. As a result, even samples of the plant are in high demand for collection or study or both. At the time of the interview, Tony had three orders on standby for just a leaf with a hefty price tag of $12,000 British Pounds. Of course, just taking leaves off the plant willy-nilly could kill it. So he has a waiting list, and the plant is literally growing money for him.

The above said, Tony has other plants in his stable as well. He is also a cultivator of an extremely rare Monastera sp Bolivia, a plant that has no complete documentation from a research or botany perspective. Tony was lucky enough to score a small stem, and he’s since been able to grow the plant to a tremendous size. The size and robust nature of the plant is so unique, Tony’s is constantly getting request for photographs of the plant for reference.

Another flora sample that was generally thought to be extinct in the wild is the Begonia Chloristica. Again, finding one with a collector in Europe, Tony was able to get another sample and grow is own version in his personal greenhouse in England.

The plant-growing interest, zeal, skill and hobby came from his grandparents, according to Tony. As a boy, they would spend a lot of time in the grandparents’ garden. When they didn’t have their hands in the soil, the boy and his grandmother would watch “Gardener’s World” on the TV.

In short, Tony is a working plant genius. He’s learned his skill and expertise in practice, trial and error, and 25 years of hands-on work. And, one notable trick is that he doesn’t over-care his plants. In fact, many times, he lets the plants take care of themselves, which in fact allows them to grow stronger and self-sufficient to an extent. After all, Tony still controls and maintains the greenhouse with temperature, humidity and the light levels.

Most importantly, however, Tony enjoys what he does, which also makes a huge difference in his success. He has created an amazing collection of flora that nobody else would otherwise know exists, and it’s his achievement.

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Key Difference Between The British Royal Family Weddings

Renee Yates

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While in the past a British royal wedding would happen once a decade, we’ve been fortunate enough to see two of them in the same decade due to the brothers, William and Harry. Interestingly, the two ceremonies and their run-up have shown some very interesting similarities and contrasts in how they were prepared, occurred and developed. These are events of national pride for the British, so all the stops come out when one occurs, which again has been generational for the most part. So having two in the same short time span has provided detail attention folks a smorgasbord of comparisons to work with, as well as what some of the thinking might have been in the preparations.

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Anchorage Provides Funds to Team of Mental Health First Responders

Renee Yates

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The Anchorage, Alaska assembly has passed the 2021 operating budget. The new budget includes funds for the city’s Mobile Crisis Team, known as the mental health first responders. 

The authorities will use the alcohol tax to provide funds to the response team. The mental health first responders will relieve the police offers from their duty and carry out their task of responding to people with different psychological conditions. 

First Responder Team Responsibilities

The first responder team has extensive knowledge of mental health. The authority will dispatch the team in situations where police officers can’t control them adequately. The Mobile Crisis is a qualified, experienced, and professional team that will provide a tailored response to each individual according to their needs. 

The team knows how to limit certain harsh situations resulting in violent interaction between the individuals and the police. According to Meg Zaletel, a member of the Anchorage Assembly said that police response to calls for individuals with mental health usually results in hospital detainment and jail incarceration. 

As a result, the situation becomes challenging for a person who is already suffering from mental conditions – said Zaletel. The increasing traumatic experience due to police interventions can worsen the symptoms.  

Besides, Zaletel said that the new program would better suit people with the mental health crisis. At the same time, it will ease the burn on the Police Department. According to Zaletel, people won’t feel fear of being mishandled by police officers. 

Instead, the situation will be handled by a team of professionals, including behavioral health clinicians and paramedics. These are trained mental health experts who know how to cope with the situation and help people calm down. 

Collaborative Work for Better Outcomes 

Zaletel is a mental health lawyer who introduced the idea of first responders. The idea was endorsed by other members of Anchorage Assembly, including Austin Quinn-Davidson, Forrest Dunbar, and Chris Constant. 

All assemblymen said that the program would produce promising results for people suffering from mental health illnesses. It is a fundamental shift to the health response system in Anchorage, said Quinn-Davidson. 

The Anchorage Fire Department will collaborate with the response team in the event of a fire or any other situation where there is a need for firefighters – said Michael Riley, a firefighter, and paramedic in Anchorage, Alaska. 

Riley said that the team could call the police if the situation gets out of control or if there is an indication of violence. A state was issued by the Anchorage Police Department that expressed support for the first responders. 

Final Words 

According to Kenneth McCoy, the Deputy Chief, the first responder program and team’s development is an important step toward a better Anchorage community. The team consists of qualified individuals who can cope better with people in crisis. 

McCoy said that the police department would provide full support to responders’ mental health crisis team to manage all kinds of situations. It is important to evaluate the effects of mental health conditions on the community. The development of such a program will reduce the rates of behavioral-related violence and suicides. 

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A Couple in New Zealand Ignored Developers and Gifted 900 Hectares of Land to Nation

Renee Yates

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A couple in New Zealand provided 900 hectares of land to the nation. Dick and Jillian Jardine, a Kiwi couple, said that they had made a great decision to hand the beautiful plot to the National Trust for conservation. 

The land is located near Lake Wakatipu. It is at the foot of the Remarkables, a mountain range in New Zealand. All New Zealanders can visit the place and enjoy it with their family after the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust opens it for everyone in 2022.  

It was the Right Thing to Do – Said the Couple 

Dick and Jillian Jardine are owners of Remarkables station. Their family has owned the land for almost a century. The couple wants to see the land protected, conserved and relished for another century. 

According to Jillian Jardine, it is crucial to preserve and protect the land’s biodiversity and pristine nature. She said the family took four years to make this important decision, and they think they have made the right one. 

The couple came up with the idea a few years ago. However, they were indecisive about it because they did not want authorities to construct large buildings and develop housing societies on the land. 

Many overseas developers sent the couple good offers, but they declined all of them – said, Dick and Jillian Jardine. The trust issued a statement expressing that land preservation will play a key role in wildlife conservation. 

According to Bruce Will, the trust’s chairperson, open landscapes in the Wakatipu area had recently become important for commercial companies. These companies wanted to construct buildings and develop housing societies. The primary purpose was to promote tourism. However, the gift land is a freehold property and leased as a working farm currently. 

The Significance of Pristine Land 

South Island is one of the expensive enclaves in New Zealand. Its central lake region is home to wealthy individuals like Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal, Sam Morgan, the founder of “Trade Me,” and Michael Hill, the Jewelry Magnate. 

The 2013 census data shows that over 50% of the region’s homes are vacant. According to Jim Boult, the mayor of Queenstown Lakes, many billionaires are residing in the district. The district has drawn the attention and admiration of the world’s wealthiest people. 

The authorities are planning to build a world-class hospital, which will cost NZ$30 million. The international airport and other significant luxury places, including dozens of vineyards and 40 hair and beauty salons, are drawing the world’s privileged attention. However, the 900 hectares of land will remain in the hands of New Zealanders. 

Final Words 

According to Dick Jardine, one-half of the couple, the land has been in the family for nearly a hundred years. Their family has made substantial efforts to improve the land for a century. The couple hopes that the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust will take care of the land and use it to benefit people. The land is for every New Zealander who wants to enjoy the central lake region’s luxury and pristine views. 

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Heroes Fight to Save Orphan Monkeys From Hunters in the Amazon

Renee Yates

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The Amazon Rainforest may be the most impressive feature on the face of the planet. The sprawling forest covers more than 2.1 million square miles of land throughout South America, with Peru hosting 13% of that total land coverage. Within Peru, and deep into the Colombian Amazon, life can change within an instant. With the crack of rifles echoing through the air, the cries of fallen monkeys killed for their pelts and meat, the Amazon is brimming with predators, including mankind. Jhon Jairo Vasquez runs a local refuge for orphaned monkeys left behind by local hunting parties. The refuge is locally owned and operated out of Mocagua, an indigenous settlement nestled on the Amazon river.

Mr. Vasquez didn’t grow up believing that he would be a hero to local monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest, but that is the trajectory that his life has taken him on. As a substitute father figure for the orphaned woolly monkeys of the Amazon, 38-year-old Mr. Vasquez has an entirely new perspective on what it means to be a father. Vasquez pointed to Maruja, one of his closest orphaned monkeys, to say, “I have become the father, and she’s become the daughter.” Vasquez would go on to point out that the mother of Maruja had been eaten by hunters from a local indigenous settlement.

For a long time, the indigenous hunters of the Amazon have relied upon the woolly monkey not just for fur but for meat as well. Finding subsistence in the Amazon isn’t easy, so hunters have been forced to turn to multiple methods to survive. Unfortunately for both hunter and woolly monkey, these little creatures have been classified as Vulnerable according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Going back in time to nearly 14 years ago, we would find a younger Mr. Vasquez plying his trade at the Maikuchiga Animal Refuge in Mocagua. Since that date, Mr. Vasquez has been trying to engineer social change from within the indigenous community, pleading with hunters to understand the damage that over-hunting is causing to the species of monkeys as well as the habitat surrounding them. Mr. Vasquez has since admitted that the work is hard due to the natural reluctance that the indigenous hunters have toward change.

While the work is hard, hope is high as Mr. Vasquez and his team continues to create and engineer positive change throughout the region. Vasquez highlights the fact that some animals are more traumatized than others, thus causing a longer delay before they can be returned to nature to adapt to the wild. Mr. Vasquez says that he knows his work is done when and their rehabilitation is complete when the monkeys disappear and do not come back. Vasquez and his team monitor the furry creatures on more than 4,000 hectares of protected land.

Fortunately, settlements like Maikuchiga are helping to foster an appreciation for eco-tourism as well as supporting protection for the local wildlife. Mr. Vasquez himself has relied on reformed hunters to help rehabilitate the more than 800 monkeys his team has assisted so far. Still, Mr. Vasquez admits that it is terribly hard work and even harder to see in person. Vasquez described how the monkeys are shot from trees, mother clutching baby tight, until both fall dead, hunted to vulnerability. Some survivors of the hunts are sold as pets while the luckiest ones are saved by people like Mr. Luis Fernandez Cuevas, director of environmental protection for a Colombian government agency in Leticia.

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