We’ve got our visas. We’ve got the gifts for our guides. We’ve got over 17,000 RMB (~$2,600) and a couple hundred USD. We’re checked out of our hotel in Beijing….. Strolling outside towards the subway with our luggage and goodies, wouldn’t you know, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day in Beijing. The sky a clear azure, specked with a few perfect cottonball clouds. It rains and rains for days, choking you with smog… you walk around in a dank white heat with the visibility of Silent Hill. Then, after suffering for a few days of this, you’re granted a one day reprieve. No rain, no smog, and remarkably tolerable heat. Today is that reprieve, and this beautiful day just happens to be our day of departure to the DPRK. Maybe it’s a good sign.
When we get to the airport and find our check-in counter, we get our first hints of the destination. There’s a small scattered group gathered in front of the desk. Like many places in China, there’s nothing really resembling a line, just a scattering of people moving back and forth, jockeying for position at the counter. Occasional arguments and yelling in Chinese, the usual queuing routine here. After briefly standing at the rear of the mess of suitcases and locals, planning our forward assault on the desk, a gentlemen emerged from another counter with “Can I help you? Where are you going?” …He had one of the tidy Kim Il Sung pins over his left chest. I’m pretty sure he thought we’d come to the wrong check-in counter.
“Pyongyang,” we replied.
“Right this way.” And with that, we were brought around and checked in by a couple more DPRK citizens. Continue reading Two Americans in North Korea
Just got back to Beijing after 8 days/7 nights in North Korea. It’s a pretty weird feeling to have freedom of movement and to feel comfortable speaking freely again here in the “kinder, gentler” Chinese communism. Let’s call it “Communism Lite.” Really though, all the jokes about the Chinese being such great capitalists…. the same jokes can’t be made about the DPRK. It’s the real deal there, and it’s sobering.
As for our visit though, it was a complete success. No complaints from either of us. We haven’t gotten much sleep in the past week because they’ve been cracking the whip, keeping us on schedule. We went all over the DPRK and saw a lot of things: temples, monuments, museums, tombs, “stores,” mountain hiking, the DMZ and JSA…. and let’s not forget the Arirang Mass Games. We saw them twice, the first on opening night! …and I just might have been shown on DPRK state television too =)
I did some journaling while we were there, and took tons of pictures and video. It’ll take me a little bit to get that organized, and I’ll post everything as soon as I can. In the meantime…. Continue reading Back from the DPRK
Tomorrow is the day. Our flight is booked and our visas are in hand for our trip to North Korea. We’ll be there for seven days total, and during that time, we’re going to be really “off the grid.” In a place where the only people with internet access are high government officials, and the only way to make an international phone call is through a monitored government call center for 2 Euros a minute. However the trip goes, it’s going to be interesting.
Today we had a pre-trip briefing on the DPRK at our tour agency and we picked up our visas and flight information. They provided a lot of the “dos and don’ts” ahead of time via e-mail, but they went over everything today in person in a lot more detail. It was all very interesting and it really got both of us excited that this previously very indefinite part of our trip seems to actually be coming together. Continue reading The DPRK Briefing