Column: Helge Timmerberg in Korea
© Tim Möller-Kaya

Contorted in Korea

  • TEXT HELGE TIMMERBERG
  • ILLUSTRATION TIM MÖLLER-KAYA

  Years ago I was traveling in rural North Korea – for work, mind you; I would never have dreamed of doing so for my own pleasure. Apart from my friend and photographer Frank and me in the car there were a couple of other people who called themselves my translator and enabler but were actually more watchdog and inhibitor. They asked Frank not to take any photos while we were driving because it would mean them losing control of his pictures, but he naturally took no notice. So they kept driving faster and faster until we were moving so quickly they thought no one could possibly still take photos. Frank just used some extremely light-sensitive film and made sure to “keep the camera moving,” as he said.

Unluckily, North Korea’s highways were not made for high speeds – too narrow, too winding, too poorly asphalted, and also too busy. Pedestrians, cyclists, water buffalo; they all scattered ahead of us, and the whole business left me with a slipped disc. So much for the bad news. The good news began with the then German ambassador in Pyongyang, a man who had suf­fered with slipped discs all his life – but didn’t anymore. He swore that for some reason North Korea had not only the best cartoonists but also the best chiropractors in the world and recommended his own to me, a sterling, old-school chiropractor with a very sooth­ing hum. Twice he caught me out, but then I realized that he always hummed just before yanking something into place here or there. He also walked on my back. I admit that that occasionally sent tears gushing from my eyes, but afterwards the pain was gone. I walked out of the man’s office upright and flatly refused any further road trips with photographers through North Korea until our plane finally took off again.


Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.

helgetimmerberg.com