Olaf Schuelke is a self-taught Germany documentary photographer based in Singapore. These are his observations formed during a tour of North Korea in 2012. You can see more photos of Schuelke's North Korea trip on his website.
It was an experience like no other.
As my train from Beijing slowly traversed over an old iron bridge, I looked at the murky river below. A man stood waist-deep in the water casting a net.
On one side of the river, China. On the other, the world's most isolated country -- North Korea.
Soon, the first North Korean buildings appeared along with a small, abandoned fairground hidden in the shadow of some houses.
The train made a sudden stop. People flooded a station platform.
We'd stopped at Shinuju Cheongnyeon Station across the bridge that links Shinuju with the Chinese border city of Dandong.
A group of North Korean border officials in neat uniforms boarded the train, collecting passports from passengers.
Three hours later, the train got moving again.
Green fields surrounded by hills (mountains make up more than 70 percent of North Korea) appeared on both sides of the track. An enchanting landscape unfolded.
Valleys and flat areas were filled endless fields of rich crops. It made me think about the country's reported chronic food shortages.
Finally, 24 hours after leaving Beijing, the train arrived in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital and home to more than 3 million people.
A group of North Korean guards and minders were waiting -- all foreign visitors and tour groups must be accompanied by guards, who are referred to as "guides" or "officials."
I was given a brief introduction on how to behave, and informed of other restrictions and guidelines.
The North Koreans impose strict rules on what visitors are allowed to photograph, who they can talk to and where they can walk. For instance, it's seen as an insult to crop out hands, feet or head when taking photos of statues or pictures of government leaders or officials.
The guards also act as human shields between foreign visitors and the North Korean people. They followed me almost everywhere I went.
It was under these restrictions that I visited the country for a total of nine days in the summer of 2012.
While there, I found that capturing mundane scenes from people's daily lives on camera suddenly become extraordinary.
I'm told that candid pictures of normal people are usually restricted by the government.
I photographed all sorts of scenes: pedestrians in Pyongyang, topless men playing volleyball, a group of women who sweep the streets and commuters riding on the back of a truck.
This was often as close as I got to the locals -- any direct contact with the North Korean people is virtually impossible. As well as fear and reservation, and the intimidating scrutiny of the guides, most North Koreans cannot understand English.
The guards were a different story. One of them, Mr. Kim, talked. A lot.
He told me about his years in the North Korean Army, where he became a major. For his loyalty, he said was rewarded with trips to Eastern Europe.
Once, while on a stopover in then East Berlin, he told me he'd visited the city's famed Alexanderplatz.