My usual packing list includes dental floss, toothpaste, no, let’s say dental paste, rubber bands, umpteen pairs of socks, coins from places I don’t wish to return to (but always do), and a mandated document stating my willingness to take a full-sized photo of a statue of the eternal president of the republic, Kim Il Sung. As opposed to just getting a shot of his arm, or half of him with the giant proletariat sculpture nearby. The usual.
ちょっと待って (wait a minute!), how does someone from the USA end up going to a country that regularly hawks a book called The US Imperialists Started the Korean War? Or if you prefer a “why” before a “how,” the following answers may bore you –
1) I like visiting large, smoggy cities, but to visit a city where you needed permission to live, work, eat, and stay…
2) …at the Ryugyong Hotel, that 105-storey shitifice (shit + edifice=does it work?) conspicuously standing out in the center of Pyongyang. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get to stay, but that’s in part due to the recently restarted renovations (after a 16-year hiatus) by Orascom, an Egyptian company. Unusual architecture spotting is another hobby of mine, and although Flat Soil (Pyongyang’s translation) has this grand monolith and a boulevard of sports stadia, the drab skyline doesn’t hold a candle to its north and westerly neighbor’s capital…
3) …Beijing’s, or any other one in China for that matter. Shocker. Though, Beijing is where I first learned about visiting the DPRK, at an expat fair.
OK, so the motivation was present, but what about the logistics? It was only up until 2009 or so that Americans (or according to my Peruvian mate, United Statesians) were allowed to visit the DPRK just two times a year (if at all), one being for the Arirang games. Why the policy change? To promote tourism, slow news day, who knows really, but the important point is that I had a timeframe in mind, March 2010.
Please stay tuned for the “how” of Jonathan’s voyage to the less visor-friendly Korea, and eventually, a run-down of the itinerary.