Welcome back to the second part of my more than… two-part series in traveling to the DPRK. I’ll continue with going over how I planned the trip, even if the government minders viewed me as a potential stooge.
Harking back to Part 1, a serendipitous encounter with the Koryo Tours booth of a Beijing expat fair reconfirmed my enthusiasm for visiting the DPRK. Why not just say North Korea, you ask? Well, a particular group of people, up THERE, don’t believe in such geographic discrepancies involving the peninsula. They reckon it’s all one Korea, or at least it should be. Considering their lust for everything but the end product of …lust, it seems the time a unified Korea will exist is when its denizens will not.
Prior to the fair, I was already receiving e-mails from Koryo Tours, trying to figure out a) where I signed up for the list-serve in the first place and b)how I could get a job with them. Although neither of these lower-case letters achieved success, I did manage to fill out the application, a rather simple affair actually, to complete the first step in hopping over to Pyongyang. A scan of my passport here and there and a nebulous money transfer to an account in Hong Kong sealed the deal. Hmm, that was underwhelming. I was expecting to drown in a pile of A4 paper, or mail fifty passport photos (with a red background) like when I was hired to teach English in Indonesia. Which probably means I’m pinned to fifty immigration officials dartboards’ in Jakarta.
Living in Tokyo, another of the DPRK’s friendly neighbors, for a spell in early 2010 made coordinating flights and dates easier. Why? Since said tour group is based in Beijing, in the Sanlitun ‘hood, everyone in the group (no bigger than thirty people, if memory serves me correct) met a day before departure at their office for orientation, then met early the next morning to head to the airport. We wouldn’t be getting a visa in our passports, instead we’d be issued a document to hand DPRK immigration on arrival.
By this point, the group had learned about unique rules for entry to the DPRK, rules that if we didn’t want to follow, we probably shouldn’t have wasted our time scoping out the golden ticket (quite possibly, Kim Jong Il’s favorite flick). A given? No journalists or professional photographers. Regulations less predictable? Ah, that’s where we found out only whole portraits of Kim Il Sung were allowed. Also, in order to visit Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum, a well-kept and conservative look, say slacks and a button-down with clean shoes were de rigeur. I was a bit of an accidental oaf in that respect, but you’ll find that out soon enough.
It was March 2010, the departure date finally came, and the bus set off to PEK to catch the flight to FNJ which, when questioned why “FNJ,” according to google is Pyongyang’s airport code or “something” in New Jersey. 算了 (never mind), let’s check out what happens next….