Schmidt Happens

Sorry Eric Schmidt, but Your Daughter Is Our New Favorite North Korean Delegate

"[We] were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other)."
 Sorry Eric Schmidt, but Your Daughter Is Our New Favorite North Korean Delegate

Ms. Schmidt, far right. (Photo: AP/Andy Wong)

Don’t get us wrong, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. Your trip to North Korea has been a blast–the highlight of our year, really. Remember that time those Kim Il-sung University students pretended they were allowed to google things just to impress you?! Or what about former Governor Bill Richardson’s superfluous but omnipresent cravat?

But now that you’re free from the Supreme Leader’s distortion field, we have to say your tight-lipped travelogue pales in comparison to the candid, snark-laced account offered up by your daughter Sophie Schmidt.

Mr. Schmidt, who reportedly displayed “rock star”-like tendencies while promoting a free Internet in Pyongyang, posted an “edited” set of remarks on his Google+ account. Aside from suggesting that North Korea might want to turn on Internet capabilities for its only 3G network–so it can do more than SMS–it read like the prologue for his upcoming book, The New Digital Age, out April 23rd. Indeed, his fresh-faced co-author Jared Cohen also tagged along for the trip.

For some real talk on the excursion, please turn to Sophie Schmidt’s version of events. Girl has a keen eye for the absurd:

On travel restrictions:

-“My favorite form. Do note #1 and #6: leave your “killing device” and “publishings of all kinds” at home. Got it.”

-“My father’s reaction to staying in a bugged luxury socialist guesthouse was to simply leave his door open.”

On her handlers:

-“Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments. We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).”

On relevant pop culture references:

-“My understanding is that North Koreans are taught to believe they are lucky to be in North Korea, so why would they ever want to leave? They’re hostages in their own country, without any real consciousness of it. And the opacity of the country’s inner workings–down to the basics of its economy–further serves to reinforce the state’s control.

The best description we could come up with: it’s like The Truman Show, at country scale.”

On the locals:

“We were treated very well throughout the visit, even though official relations between the US and DPRK are ‘very tense.’ Ours was the first American delegation in over a year, and the North Koreans we met were unfailingly polite and engaging, even excited to meet with us (particularly Eric). How that squares with official NK agitprop that Americans are super-evil imperialist bastards is beyond me.”

On Kim Il Sung University’s “e-Library”:

-“. . . or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village . . . Of all the stops we made, the e-Potemkin Village was among the more unsettling. We knew nothing about what we were seeing, even as it was in front of us. Were they really students? 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.”

On the North Korean traffic girls of Pyongyang:

-“Not that we were allowed to talk to them, but riddle me this: How do you explain to someone that she’s a YouTube sensation if she’s never heard of the Internet?”

We haven’t seen this much dry wit since her dad joked in 2010 that every person will automatically be entitled to change their name in order to put their sordid, Google-able and Facebook-ed youth behind them. A proto “sorry not sorry,” if we ever heard one.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com