My North Korean Trip (2006) Part 3

Seoul Travel Blog

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It's Sunday morning, Sept.3, and I've had plenty of sleep.  I look out my windows to see what I can see.  Like I said before, we are on a compound.   And I don't really know what surrounds the compound.   It's a misty kind of morning, but I can see what lies beyond the compound, fields and hills.  There are a few soldiers walking around, BUT I don't think that they are watching us.  I think they are just going about their daily routine.


There are two different itineraries for the day. Some people will hike up another steep mountain and others will go to the beach and then to the lake.  I'm NOT much of a hiker, so I'll join the other lazy people on my trip and do the beach and lake.  We are also told if we do the beach and lake, we will be able to see more of the countryside, town and people.  We are all excited to do this.  AGAIN, we are reminded not to take any pictures while on the bus and of the people.


We head towards Haekumgang Seashore and notice that there is no one on the road but us.  Our South Korean tour guide tells us that the N. Korean people use the road, BUT they have to get off when the tourist buses use it.  The people know exactly what time our buses go by, so they have to make themselves unseen.  Someone else notices that there are people just sitting in the fields and other places.  Obviously, they were working BUT now, they are just sitting there watching us go by.  Our tour guide informs us that the N. Korean people are told to STOP WORKING when we go by and that we are NOT to see what they do. 


Hmmmm! Things are starting to sound crazy again.  We turn down a dirt road and start driving into what looks like a town.  We need to do this in order to reach the beach.  There are a few old wooden buildings and you can see people inside.  Our tour guide says that one of them is the post office.  It's kind of insane to think they have one of those, because who are they sending letters to???  Anyways, she informs us that the post office is the place you go when you request permission to travel.  In N. Korea, YOU have to fill out papers and put in a request to travel 40 kilometers outside your village/town.  When you get on the bus to leave, YOU are required to show a pass stating that you have permission to go and your destination.  Yeah!  I DON'T THINK PEOPLE travel much in N. Korea.  


We arrive at the beach and it's pretty.  It's not the kind of beach I'm used to, but if they say it's a beach, it has to be a beach, right?  We are allowed to take pictures, BUT we are also told not to point our cameras towards the cliffs.  There is a N. Korean base there, and you can see old cannons pointed towards the sea.  We wander around for a bit, but it's not all that interesting.  The most interesting part at the beach is talking to an actual N. Korean man.  NOPE! There aren't any regular Joe's, BUT there are those guys who have been driving in front of and behind us in jeeps the whole time.  One guy keeps watching me and my new friend, Shelly.  Seok Jin, our Adventure Korea guide sits down and starts talking to us. 


Our N. Korean watcher finally walks over to Seok Jin and starts talking to him in Korean.  Seok Jin looks at me and says the guy wants to know where I come from.  (Remember I have black hair, brown eyes and look more Asian than American.)  I've known Seok Jin for years, and he starts giving the guy false information.  I didn't get it at first, but I then realize that Seok Jin doesn't want me to tell him anything about myself.  The North Korean then goes on to say that he is learning English, but he is learning from a book, so it is impossible to speak English.  Overall he seemed nice, but I'm sure so did Hitler and Pol Pot. 


We get back on the bus and head towards Samilpo Lake.  It was pretty, but by now I'm prettied out and not that impressed.  We are told we can buy N. Korean souvenirs, but in actuality, there isn't much.  N. Korea doesn't have the ability to make much of anything.  I buy some small hand carved wooden cups that have Korean sloppily written on them.  It's kind of disappointing that I can't buy much.  Anyways, we walk a bit around the lake and up a small mountain.  The natural beauty is awesome.  I'll be posting my pictures on Ringo if anyone is interested in looking at them. 


As we head back to our compound, we pass by the post office.  Just as we clear it, someone asks what the Korean words said.  Seok Jin says in a low voice, "Kill all Americans."  The word isn't actually Americans BUT capitalist swine or something like that, because that's the name used to describe Americans.  In S. Korea, we are known as Miguk.  In N. Korea, they keep the Mi but have added something else that I can't remember.  Since most people on our trip are NOT American, some people laugh and say, "I'm NOT American, so they won't kill me."  Ummmm!  Retards, you are white and that equals American to many people.  I'm brown, so in many people's eyes, I CANNOT be American.  Ha! Ha! I win.


Back at the compound, there isn't much to do but wait to leave.  I shop for N. Korea items at the S. Korean stores.  The only item that you can buy that has the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) stamp is a book of collector's stamps.  I'm NOT paying $10 for a bunch of crappy stamps, so one of the other girls and I go halves and split the book.  As it gets time to go, people are starting to get scared about leaving.  They figure that this is the time that they are going to screw us.  We might get fined for something stupid and of course we'll want to pay it, because no one wants to get left in N. Korea.  I don't stress, because I believe what's meant to happen will happen and there is nothing you can do about it.


We head back to the border and people are a lot braver now than when we first came in.  Some people start secretly taking pictures while riding in the bus.  They aren't obvious but they hold their cameras in their lap and aim out the window.  Seok Jin then informs us that some people will randomly be stopped and their digital cameras will be checked for illegal pictures.  We get to the border and have to get off the bus to walk through immigration. Believe it or not, BUT there were no problems at immigration.  No one got stopped and we were all free to return to S. Korea.  When we got back to the S. Korean side, our bus went through some disinfectant spray thing.  I guess they were killing any pests we might have brought back, including any little N. Korean men clinging to the bottom of our bus.  Also, they pulled off the little white covers that covered the license plates.


I can't prove that I was in N. Korea, but you'll have to take my word for it.   Also, if you are here in S. Korea, I highly recommend taking the trip to N. Korea. 

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"North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens……States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world…."George W. Bush, 2002 State of the Union Address


The date is September 2, 2006, and I'm in N. Korea.  North Fuckin' Korea!  I'm an American in a member of the Axis of Evil.  And here I am, sitting on an air conditioned bus, traveling to Mt. Kumgang.  We travel along a newly paved road.  N. Korea is beautiful.  They got the nicer part of the Korean peninsula.  If the South Koreans knew, they'd shit their pants. 


We arrive at Mt. Kumgang and it's amazing.  It's untouched and litter free, definitely not like S. Korea.  As I look at all the beauty around me, a crazy thought runs through my head.  I saw Mt. Kumgang before it was destroyed.  I can see bombs being dropped and mass destruction.  Honest to god, that's what I thought as I looked all around me. 


I made a friend, Georgina earlier in the morning, so I hiked with her up to the waterfalls.  The water was very inviting.  We were hot and sweaty and the water was so inviting.  No wonder, there was that NO touching the water rule.  On our way back down the mountain, we ran across another girl, Shelly sitting on her own, so we stopped to chat.  At the bottom of the hill, we looked in the gift shop, which SUCKED!  There was NOTHING N. Korean to buy.   


We talked about the N. Korean lapel pin that ALL the N. Koreans wore of Kim Il Sung    (Kim Jung Il's papa) and how we all wanted one.  We were told that they were impossible to buy.  In China, you can buy tons of crap with Chairman Mao, so why can't I buy a lapel pin???  I settled for a can of lemonade and a smile from the N. Korean young lady selling lemonade and Heineken. 


We were taken back to Onjeong-gak aka LITTLE SOUTH KOREA.  It is the only area we can wander freely and take photos in.  In this compound, you can find a S. Korean hotel, two Family Marts and a bunch of S. Korean restaurants and gift shops run by Hyundai.  Instead of "Little S. Korea," you could call it "Hyundai Town."  IT WAS DEFINITELY NOT N. KOREA.  It's like the U.S. Army Base aka Little America, sitting here in the middle of Seoul.   If any spies are reading this, please DON'T bomb the base, I live next door. 


We got our rooms at the S. Korean hotel.  The last two groups that went with Adventure Korea stayed in the North Korean hotel down the road, so I felt kind of gypped.  Rumor was the last group that stayed in the N. Korean hotel found some surveillance equipment in a drawer.  Supposedly, it was recording their conversations.  I didn't ask Seok Jin if it was true, so I guess I won't know the truth til I ask.


I got my own room and it was super deluxe (suite).  I had a living room, big bathroom and a big bedroom with the most comfortable bed I've ever slept in.  I was stinky from the hike, so I showered and took a nap.  I had to get up an hour later to go to the N. Korean Acrobatic show, so I was grouchy.  I'm glad I got up and went, because the show was AMAZING!!   They did some amazing stuff and I was impressed.  I have to admit I shut my eyes for a few minutes, so I missed some stuff, but what I saw was INCREDIBLE.   AND, we could take pictures of these N. Koreans.


After the show, I went to dinner with another girl, Jocelyn I met on the bus.  We had S. Korean food.  I wanted to try N. Korean noddles, but Seok Jin said that the last group told him not to recommend the food.  After dinner, we hooked up with Georgina and some other girls Jocelyn knew.  There was a train that drove around the compound, so I talked everyone into paying the $1(did I mention that ONLY American dollars were accepted?).  There were a bunch of drunk S. Korean men on the train, so the ride was fun.


As we drove along the road, we saw lots of soldiers standing in the shadows.  It was kind of scary, because it felt like we were prisoners.  Prisoners who paid more than $325 for a day and a half in N. Korea.  We drove over to the N. Korean hotel and saw a huge mural of Kim Jung Il and his papa.  We decided then that we would return in the morning for our photos.  A picture in front of the Kims would definitely prove that we were in N. Korea, since we couldn't buy anything N. Korean. 


Since there wasn't much else to do, we decided to drink S. Korean beer and soju in front of Family Mart.  Family Mart and everything else closed at 9pm, BUT we were welcome to stay in the square as long as we liked or maybe it was midnight.  Some people in our group moved on to the Norabang (Karaoke Room) and some of us went to bed.  I was asleep by 10pm and slept all through the night.   I'll end here.  I'm tired and there is still lots to tell.  Things get more interesting in the Land of Kim Jung Il.

On September 1st, I boarded a bus bound for Mt. Kumgang in DPR Korea(N. Korea).  The trip was organized by Seok Jin of Adventure Korea in S. Korea.  We were picked up at 11:30pm and would drive through the night to reach the tourist gathering zone in the early morning.  Once everyone was accounted for on the bus, we were given the rules.  

-Make sure that there are NO MISTAKES on your arrival card!!  If there is a mistake, YOU WILL BE FINED! 

-DO NOT speak Korean when going through N. Korean immigration!!  No anyonghasayo!  No Khamsamnida!  YOU are foreigners and you cannot speak the language, it is an insult for you to try.  

-DO NOT speak to the immigration officials.  Only speak if spoken to.

-DO NOT put your hand in the water, pick up rocks on the hike or take anything you found on the hike.

-DO NOT take any pictures of the N. Korean people, the soldiers or while on the bus.

If you violate any of these things, YOU WILL BE FINED!!!!

After hearing all these rules, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  I only had $100 and I hoped I wouldn't be fined for anything.  We arrived at the tourist gathering zone around 5am and picked up our S. Korean tourist guide.  She passed out our passes and we were asked to check them and make sure that there weren't any mistakes.  For every mistake, there would be a $20 fine. 

We were also told that many of us would be questioned while going through N. Korean immigration.  Seok Jin came up to me and said that I would be questioned, because I'm ethnic looking.  He told me to memorize all the information on my pass and to keep saying I'm American.  If they ask my ethnicity, say American.  Just keep saying American.

My pass lists both my nationality and ethnicity as America and America.  My nationality is American.  My ethnicity is Mexican.  The one thing I can't stand is for people to ask my nationality when they really want to know my ethnicity.  MY NATIONALITY is AMERICAN!!  If you want to know where my grandparents came from, ask me for my ETHNICITY!!!  Grrrrrrrr!  So answering both with America is going against everything I do to educate the ignorant people who don't know the difference between nationality and ethnicity.

We pass through S. Korean immigration with no problems.  We change to different buses, whose license plates are covered.  We drive through the DMZ (lots of barb wire, soldiers and the actual wooden post that marks the border) into N. Korea.  As we approach N. Korea, you can see small, tired looking men, who actually look more like boys playing in their daddy' uniform.  It was both sad and scary at the same time.

We arrive at N. Korean immigration and things feel weird/scary/tense.  I wonder again if I made the right choice in choosing to come here.  Yup, a bit too late for that kind of thinking.  We line up according to the numbers on our passes.  I'm number 7, BUT the first American from our group to walk through.  Everyone is going through pretty quickly and then it's my turn. 

Watching people walk through made we want to laugh, not that things were funny, but laugh more out of nervousness.  Then it's my turn. I'm standing there for a couple minutes, but they feel like forever.  The official keeps looking at my passport, my N. Korean pass and me.  I know that I'm going to be pulled aside and questioned.  I just know it.

The official calls over our guide and speaks to her in Korean.  She looks at me and asks if the pictures are me.  I say, YES!  They speak in Korean, he looks at me again and stamps my N. Korean pass.  They don't stamp passports.  I pass through immigration feeling a bit scared and what do I see next????? 

Waiting on the other side of immigration, is a person dressed as a black bear waving like he's at Disneyland.  Talk about out of place and more psycho than reassuring.  My heart almost jumped out of my chest.  I don't want to see some 6ft. psycho bear greeting me.  I'm in N. Korea, NOT Disneyland!  We get on our bus again and all along the road, there are N. Korean soldiers standing with RED flags in their hand.  If you violate any of the rules, a red flag will be raised and you will be fined.

Remember, you CANNOT take any photos while on the bus.  So, all the stuff that you see, cannot be photographed.  To remind you of this, there are lots and lots of soldiers along the road holding their RED flags. 

To be continued......

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photo by: chiyeh