One Free Korea
When Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), the No. 1 search engine, visited North Korea this month along with former U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, he took along daughter Sophie, 25, who graduated from Princeton in 2005 with a degree in religion.
Now home in California, Sophie Schmidt published some notes on the trip under a headline, “It might not get weirder than this,” with some musings about her visit to the Hermit Kingdom. Incidentally, she referred to her father, 57, simply as “Eric.”
Although Sophie made only one mention of Google applications coming to North Korea – Schmidt told a student the next version of the Android OS is coming “soon” -- she said Google won’t provide assistance with e-Settlement due to the international economic blockade of the country.
“They seemed to acknowledge connectivity is coming,” Sophie wrote, “and that they can’t hope to keep it out. Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century.”
Sophie, saying she and the entire party had left behind phones and laptops in China, noted the entire trip barred them from meeting ordinary citizens. Instead, the affair was “highly staged encounters, tightly orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments” such as meeting some students in cold university libraries.
North Koreans declined to say how old new President Kim Jung-un is, although it was said be around his birthday. “We were told ‘Koreans keep track of age differently than we do,’ “she wrote. (Google itself lists him as 30.)
Sophie also noted Christmas trees in the religion-free country and wrote, “For a country that banned religion, and has sent thousands of practicing Christians to prison camps, the Christmas trees were rather incongruous.”
Sophie’s senior thesis for Princeton was on the impact of Internet technology on the Muslim world, not North Korea.
Google itself has posted maps of North Korean concentration camps in its Google Maps service.
The younger Schmidt also wrote about being taken to the mausoleum to see former presidents Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il, along with 600 soldiers “for whom this was a solemn occasion and a precious opportunity.”
Sophie noted Kim Jong-il’s platform shoes were on display as well as his 15-inch Macbook Pro from Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), where her father was a director until 2009. She has the identical device.
As well, she recounted a stop at the Korea Computer Center – “a deranged version of the Consumer Electronics Show” – where the party was shown a local tablet computer “that had access to the real Internet” as well as virtual reality software, a video chat platform and other things.
“They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist,” she continued.
Sophie also commented on the food, saltier than U.S. Korean food “but with more corn,” the old-fashioned transit system, empty hallways in government buildings, as well as the cold.
“Go to North Korea if you can,” she wrote. “It is very, very strange.”
Shares of Google fell $7.15 to $697.36 in Tuesday trading.
David Zielenziger is a veteran editor and journalist who has written for newspapers including the Baltimore Sun, Asian Wall Street Journal and EETimes, as well as for...