My wife and I went to North and South Korea in the summer of 2008. We were back home the night of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in China and were able to watch them at home. We also went to the Olympics in Greece, but that is another story that I will share with you sometime in the future.
My wife and I initially wanted to go to most if not all of the communist countries to experience the differences in those countries from our own. We both hoped that the regimes that ran these countries would eventually learn the lesson that history has shown us over and over again. Communism is a failure as an ideology and harms people.
We have seen some of them collapse, and thank goodness. We have now traveled to most of Europe, including what was Eastern Europe. We have been to the Baltic region, Great Britain, most of South America, the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, and many of the Caribbean Islands including Cuba.
We have had the good fortune to have traveled to Turkey, Morocco, and parts of central and South Africa. We have visited India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bangladesh, and most of Asia, including Mongolia, China, Japan, Thailand, Singapore and North and South Korea. We are by no means wealthy, but traveling and learning about other people is important to us. Needles to say, North Korea has been in the news of late. It was not difficult to go there as a tourist at the time we went, in 2008.
When the regime needed more cash, one of the things that they did was to open up the country to tourism, now and then. They have the Arirang Festival periodically and it is worth experiencing. They have the largest stadium in the world in North Korea and the government brings in children and adults to do a huge gymnastic performance. You can see it on the internet at the DPRK web site, or just google it. DPRK is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It took two years to get thirteen people together who wanted to go to both North and South Korea.
The tour was VERY controlled, obviously. But it was interesting to experience what the North Koreans were willing to share with us. It is a very poor country. Most citizens don’t even have bicycles. There is no traffic on the streets as the leaders and some of their underlings are the only ones with cars. The mass transit there is old and limited. We did see the subway system which is of a very limited size, which is also a giant, very deep bomb shelter. The lights went out while we were down there, for a few moments. It was the deepest and the darkest thing that I have ever experienced. Once, was plenty for that little adventure, thank you very much.
There are a few good books about North Korea available here. One is The Aquariums of Pyongyang. I purchased some books in North Korea as well. They were mostly just propaganda, sadly, but quite humorous to some one who has access to information from around the world via papers and television. Their newspaper looked like the Weekly Reader from my grade school days of the sixties and contained stories of the fantastic feats of their fearless leader.
The people seemed interested in us and perhaps even, friendly. I speak no Korean and we were warned not to speak to anyone, so looks may be a little deceiving. We had minders with us on the bus and everywhere that we went. The minders had minders as well. It was something else.
You MUST follow their rules when you are in North Korea. The guides make that VERY clear. There are no signs for retail businesses. The only signs are large propaganda billboards which I will post pictures of soon. Do you remember the Pueblo? If you do, you are probably my age. That was one of the day trips that we went on and it was interesting, to say the least. We also saw the current leaders grandfather lying in state like Stalin in a glass coffin. Leader under glass. Quite exciting, I must say. I will follow this up very soon with some stories as I just did with our trip to Africa, and more photos of that trip.