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North Korea

North Korea belligerent paradise or...

Erin Vlack  May 26, 2009

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine getting woken up by a text from a friend of mine in Japan saying North Korea launched nuclear weapons. Somehow something got lost in translation so I called her and spoke to her in Japanese, thankfully to find out it was just a test. Well two tests. One underground and 3 air units. Her boyfriend, who is in the Japanese navy says, everyone is really on pins and needles even in Japan, which is notorious for being unfailing in the face of adversity when it comes time to make a choice between the constitution and doing what is right.

On a flight coming back from Tokyo one year, I had mistakenly been put in business class. I ended up next to a group of soldiers who had just spent nearly 5 years on the DMZ. For those of not familiar the DMZ is the Korean demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from their docile democratic partner South Korea. It is in truth, the heaviest militarized border in the world. It’s a rough, barren area and one you can almost picture those occupying either side as kids spitting over the playground wall from opposing schools. After sitting with these guys for 14 hours, and spending another 4 hrs in bar while stuck together during a lay over in LA, my view of North Korea is a bunch of crazies in the hills with sticks and rocks making improvised shanks. In actuality, they are a completely unstable nation with their archaic little fingers permanently hooked on the trigger of weapons of mass destruction and reaching for our wallets. Still much like the ridiculousness of taking a holiday in Iraq, people still go every year to North Korea.

Never mind the fact that North Korean leaders have essentially raped their own country and its people of natural resources and prosperity, they promote tourism. It is a known fact that North Korea never denies visas to anyone, except on occasion to US citizens. Even then they never disallow anyone during the Mass Games.

The Mass Games focus on gymnastics and were developed after World War II, under the guise of prosperity that some believed existed within the views of Marxist-Leninism. Most notably you could look to post WWII Romania. North Korea however, takes all the Western democratic principles of marketing and profit and use those Western ideals to earn a minimal amount of money during the games. Seems as though the democratic nations have bigger toys, but Johnny North Korea wants to throw a sucker punch now and have his cake and eat it too.

Why tourism though? Just to prove that they are part of the normal world maybe? Is the Western world or their regional neighbors going to let this slide in the face of 2 months of free access? I still can’t figure it out. Despite all their attempts, to make the rest of the world respect them and the bastardization they have made of a culture and people bread in tradition and history, they fail to realize they are truly nothing more than capitalists hiding under the guise of a communist state, by having a profitable tourism industry. Really, guided tours, museums, profiting from over priced souvenirs while your people sustain themselves on minimal rations...I'm not going to go any further with that thought.

So what does tourism look like in North Korea? Well self guided tours are not a possibility. Once you are in the country your photography is dictated, your tour route is dictated and talking to locals has become a no no and you must have a government approved guide with you at all times. If and when you do talk to locals you are given a strict set of topics you may not speak about. One of them, living in North Korea and how they feel about their leader. Another fact, you would not be able to ask a child what their dreams are, or what they want to be when they grow up. I was told by a tour company, that they simply will not allow “the western world to pollute the minds of their young with possibility for anything outside North Korea.” They really are stuck in the Cold War.

Over the last 50 years, only 1,000 Americans have visited North Korea. I know you’re probably thinking to yourself “Really? Why not?”, but believe it or not there is a market for it now and North Korea for 2009 is allowing US citizens in from August to October without restriction, which consequently is when the Mass Games are rumored to be running. The information I was given is there are 4 US based reservations at this point with this one particular tour company. After last night, my first question is why?

If you are one of the 4 booked tours, why are you going? Where are you staying? You have no say in anything you do on your trip.

You could be going to see the Ryugyong Hotel, which is 22nd tallest building in the world that was never completed when construction stopped in 1992 due to North Korean financial difficulties. Construction resumed in April of 2008, but has been slow. Yet while still the prominent focus of the skyline in Sonjang-dong, it remains a bleak reminder of the state of the North Korean economy and socio-economic climate.

If you’re so adventurous, you might want to follow the path of the North Korea Kim Il Sung wanted you to see. If that’s the case then, you’d start at the Tomb of Tangun. The site opened in 1994 at the direction of North Koreas illustrious leader, with the hopes that people would be able to see the burial place of the mythical King Tangun. King Tangun is said to be the founder of the Korean nation. It is believed by the North Korean government that since his tomb is here and since they a say that some bones they found in the early 90’s are that of King Tangun and his wife, that that gives them claim to Korea as a whole.

Since you may not be into mythical kings and bones that haven’t been confirmed except by executive statement by a communist state, you may want to mosey on over to the Korean Revolution Museum. It’s an enormous 54,000 square meter facility. It houses a wondrful display of all the truths as Kim Il Sung saw them and his struggle to rebuild his nation the face of such foes as Japanese colonialism. Most exhibits are life sized and beautifully displayed in color thus reinforcing that all the content, which is run through the government before display conforms to their version of the state approved truth. Knowledge is power in North Korea obviously.

On your way out of the museum, you might visit the North Korean Arch of Triumph. A nearly complete replicate of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it’s actually much larger and was erected in honor of the anti-Japanese struggle. It also supposedly honor Sung for his immortal endeavors, but I don’t buy into that. Surely North Korea isn't over compensating are they?

Sorry if I seem a bit antagonistic, but in light of the recent events, which are really a slap in the face of the international community, I have little sympathy for the situation that North Korea has found itself in over the last 60 years. I have even less for the storm they are going to find themselves in over the coming months.

If we’re continuing our tour you have the glorious privelage courtesay of the Great Leader to see more state monitored and approved museums. One being the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. This was built in honor of the end of the Korean War where naturally, North Korea claimed victory. Up until 2002 the North Koreans kept the dog tags of dead American Soldiers on display, till even they realized how cruel and inhumane it actually was. At this point further recovery is still underway, how long those lines of communication will remain open, remains up in the air.

Last once you’re ready to exhaust your tour of all this North Korean goodness a you might round it off with a visit to the Kamsusan Mausoleum. This is the final resting place of our old friend Kim Il Sung. Once you’re in, you go through an x-ray screening, then are wind dusted and vacuum sanitized prior to entry to ensure minimal contamination to the site. Women and men are patted down even. True story. The way I know this has to remain a secret lest you be tied up with piano wire, force fed extra spicy kimchi and given the standard North Korean sign of affection towards Americans. I was told there is also a fair bit of sodomy whilst saying the great leaders name, but that is just speculation.

As I try to tie this up, I sit here and wonder if somewhere at the base of the Chilbosan Mountains there is a small gift shop. Then in that gift shop, if there are bobble heads of Kim Jong-Il where he’s standing on an American flag, taking a wee and shouting in the face of the world with a whip in one hand on the backs of his people and their trust. Since I'm a bit bored with Little Kim, I might try and delve into his ever classic "Abuses of Socialism Are Intolerable" and how amusing that is coming from him. I might even try to ponder what Joe Dresnok was thinking in 1962, but I'd like to keep the heart of Memorial Day in mind today as it comes to a close. I'd rather not waste any thought on a deserter that abandoned his country in the face of military discipline, instead of taking it like a man and those soldiers who gave their lives.

North Korea belligerent paradise or...
Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang / Image via


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