North Korea ‘very strange’: Google chief’s daughter

AFP-JIJI

Sophie Schmidt, the teenage daughter of Google chief Eric Schmidt, has shed some light on her father’s secretive trip to North Korea, writing a firsthand account of the visit to a “very, very strange” country.

In a blog posting over the weekend entitled “It might not get weirder than this,” Schmidt provided a candid take on the controversial three-day trip earlier this month that was criticized by the U.S. government.

Schmidt, 19, accompanied her father on the visit as part of a delegation led by Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

On their return, the two men answered a few questions about the nature of the visit, but her informal account was in many ways far more revealing.

“Our trip was a mixture of highly-staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments,” she wrote.

“We had zero interactions with nonstate-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders.”

While much of the blog posting was taken up with the sort of observational musings common to any first-time visitor to Pyongyang, it had some interesting insights into the official side of the delegation’s trip.

In particular, it fleshed out the main photo opportunity of the entire trip when they visited an e-library at Kim Il Sung University, and chatted with some of the 90 students working on computer consoles.

“One problem: No one was actually doing anything,” Schmidt wrote.

“A few scrolled or clicked, but the rest just stared. More disturbing: when our group walked in . . . not one of them looked up from their desks. Not a head turn, no eye contact, no reaction to stimuli.

“They might as well have been figurines,” she added.

One of the world’s most isolated and censored societies, the North has a domestic intranet service with a very limited number of users. Analysts say access to the Internet is for the elite only, meaning a few hundred people or maybe 1,000 at most.

On his return, Eric Schmidt said he had told North Korea it will not develop unless it embraces Internet freedom — a prospect dismissed by most observers as inconceivable.

His daughter’s description of the “unsettling” e-library visit suggests the delegation was all too aware that it was being shown a facade.

“Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home,” she wrote.

And her top “takeaways” from the whole experience?

“Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange. If it is January, disregard the above. It is very, very cold.”