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Shazza's Escapades Light hearted look at my travel escapades

North Korea...Eerily Surreal

NORTH KOREA | Tuesday, 15 April 2008 | Views [607]

What can I say about North Korea? A lot now but at the time we pretty much had to watch what we said especially if it was negative, even if we were joking. We couldn’t be seen to make fun about anything to do with their beloved country.


As you know I like visiting places that aren’t really tourist destinations. I think there is a limit on the number of people the Koreans allow into their country. Those lucky few who did get in had their itinerary and every minute of their time accounted for. Basically you are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything without a local guide. The hotel we stayed in was specially built for visitors.


Before we got to North Korea we were told all the things we couldn’t do or take into the country. No mobile phones, no video cameras, not more than one camera, no anti North Korean literature only Bradt and Lonely Planet guides allowed, no taking photos from bus through the window, not allowed to take photos of part of the leader, he must be in full frame at all times, only allowed to take pictures after local guide has said it’s ok, when you’re near the great leader’s statue you must not laugh or joke around which may show disrespect, when guides are talking about the imperialist American pigs and how they attacked North Korea no one must question them, when guides bend the truth and basically lie about world events where America is concerned do not correct them and so on. That’s just what I can remember.


We were led to believe that rooms are bugged. I bet our conversations, even the ones with our guides would be analysed at a later date.


We travelled to Pyongyang, the capital city by an overnight train from Beijing. Train journeys have always been a great experience. But I did feel that on this train journey I had smoked 20 cigarettes a day. By the end of the trip I developed quite a sore throat.


Our behaviour changed dramatically as soon as we reached the border…we were much quieter, very conscious as to not cause any offence. This behaviour lasted 7 days. We’ll that’s not true really because by day 2 we were itching to speak our minds or take the piss and some of us did. So much so that on one of our visits to the great leader’s house of gifts…yes that’s right house of gifts, we were asked to leave much earlier than scheduled by the guides. Another group informed us of our bad behaviour. We were quickly and quietly expelled from our tour due to our lack of respect and total disregard of the beautiful gifts on show for us. I wouldn’t say we disregarded any of the gifts, they gave us plenty to laugh about as some of us me included couldn’t stop laughing and had the giggles throughout the tour. This got extremely worse when one of the gifts we noticed was given by the Pugwash Society of Science. So when our guide enquired about why were laughing, someone in the group decided to explain to her about captain pugwash and his gang of merry men, you know semen stains, master bates and pirate willy! How do you explain these when they don’t even know what divorce means or any rude words! At this point me and a few of the others just wet ourselves and it was at that moment we were escorted out of the building passing many more rooms.  A result really otherwise we would have had to endure another 50 rooms of frigging gifts from ambassadors of the world trying to suck up to a guy with nuclear capabilities so he doesn’t blow them sky high when the time came.


Don’t get me wrong from what I saw or was allowed to see or experience was great. We were lucky to be there at the time of the great leader’s birthday and we saw some spectacular scenes during their celebrations. They had fabulous buildings although how or where the money came about for these buildings are questionable. The country has gone through famine and floods and yet the capital city flourishes. It’s almost as if nothing bad can penetrate this city. Anything bad that happens only affects those living in the rural areas or smaller towns. To enter Pyongyang you have to have permission and an entry permit…that’s for local citizens not tourists. It’s as if only the favoured ones are in Pyongyang and these people are very well looked after, especially if your job is one in government or like tour guides – as English speakers. The city is beautiful, clean and not chaotic like other capital cities. No rush hour during rush hour, people queuing for miles in an orderly manner at bus stops or in supermarkets or food stalls. It was all very eerie.


Some of their rules or laws are brilliant; they must work as there is hardly any crime, so whatever they’re doing must be working. I think the main crime is speaking against the leader and I have a feeling that breaking this particular law is punishable by death. I guess there are pros and cons in any government. My experience of this trip was surreal…eerily surreal.







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