Writing

Dispatches, blog posts and excerpts from my non-fiction feature stories, which have appeared in publications such as National Geographic and TIME.


Why I’m boycotting Facebook until they clean up their act

Facebook Office

Why I’m boycotting Facebook until they clean up their act Earlier this year, Facebook’s worldwide user base crested 1.7 billion people. That is equivalent to over 1 in 5 people on the planet. To put that in perspective, there are now more Facebook users than motor vehicles in use on Earth. If Facebook were a religion, it would have already…  read more.


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A Sky Full of Cameras

By Tomas van Houtryve (Text originally published by National Geographic on Aug. 15, 2014) For the past 15 years I’ve worked as a professional photojournalist, inspired by the camera’s ability to connect human beings, document news, and capture beauty. But there is a darker side to how photography is used in our world today. Cameras are increasingly deployed for surveillance, spying, or…  read more.


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North Korea and the Killer Deluge

Peace Dam DMZ Korea

The shrill threat of “thermonuclear war” from Pyongyang is only the latest in a long line of doomsday scenarios against which South Korea has braced itself. Over the years, numerous layers of defensive infrastructure have been added to prepare for possible attacks, ranging from bunkers to early-warning radar. Perhaps the most unexpected of these defenses is the “Peace Dam,” a…  read more.


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Stuck in Neutral: Swiss Mission in the DMZ keeps fragile ties with North Korea

Deep inside the DMZ, nestled within two meters of the border with North Korea is an improbable cluster of buildings which resemble giant Swiss Army knives. The oblong cabins are painted bright red and several are marked with a white cross. One almost expects an outsized blade and a bottle opener to swing out of the top. Between the cabins…  read more.


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What exactly is going on along the North Korean border?

Deciphering North Korea has never been an easy task, and with the recent rise of a secretive third-generation Kim family dictator, the quest seems more relevant than ever. As photographer, I’ve been fascinated with North Korea for years. I visited Pyongyang twice, but there was a limit of how much I could see or learn from the inside. Next, my…  read more.


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Discussing life under Kim Jong Il’s rule with Philip Gourevitch

Earlier this year I sat down in NYC with Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, to discuss life along North Korea’s borders. In 2003, Gourevitch wrote Alone in the Dark, a fascinating article which pieces together what life was like under Kim Jong Il. You can read the transcript of our in-depth discussion, listen to an…  read more.


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Yuri Irsenovich Kim a.k.a. Kim Jong Il is dead, but where was he born?

Mount Paektu Kim Jong Il

From the very start, Kim Jong Il’s life has been shrouded in mystery. According to official North Korean biographers, the Dear Leader was born on Mount Paektu under a double rainbow and the appearance of a new star in the heavens. Earlier this year I visited the bizarre and eerily beautiful volcano-lake which straddles the China-North Korean border. Since ancient…  read more.


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Journey to North Korea, Part III

Journey to North Korea, Part III: The NoKo Chocolate Factory By Tomas van Houtryve On the final day of my first trip to North Korea, my guides reached out to me. “We are trying very hard to get investors into the DPRK.” They asked me to recruit people at home interested in doing business in North Korea. I already had…  read more.


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Journey to North Korea, Part II

Journey to North Korea, Part II: The Packrat Dictatorship By Tomas van Houtryve After dinner at the end of my second day, I was pulled aside by my guides. The interrogation lasted for four hours. The most grim-looking of our minders, Mr. Chung (I have changed the names of my North Korean minders for their protection), was bad cop. “We…  read more.


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