I have done a lot of traveling abroad in my life (Asia, Europe, Russia, Turkey, etc.), but the one country that has always fascinated and elluded me is North Korea. North Korea you ask? Yes, North Korea! As a complete, totalitarian “1984” Orwellian state, North Korea has always fascinated me (as well as scared me).
Out of Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” I’ve aways been most concerned about North Korea. I mean, say what you want about Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they may have been evil, but I do not think they were/are crazy. I am not sure the same could be said of Kim Jong-il (and his brother, “Mentally ill” as David Letterman would say) nor his father, Kim Il-sung. Well, while reading The Washington Post, I read Yale senior Jerry Guo’s story on his visit to North Korea this summer in “My Excellent North Korean Adventure“:
“I recently got the rare chance to travel here. I came expecting a real-life version of “1984.” But the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea [DPKR] turned out to be more like the set of “Austin Powers 4,” minus the hot blondes… The truth is that the DPRK I toured this summer is, in many ways, no different from countless other struggling fourth-world nations, with its share of haves and have-nots. And in the capital of Pyongyang, where the country’s elites dwell, I saw — beneath the veneer of Western paranoia and Stalinist mind-control — fleeting signs of grassroots capitalism: street vendors hawking junk food, indoor markets brimming with imported goods, even murmurs of drug use in the swanky underground casino.”
I think once North Korea collapses (hopefully peacefully and without incident), the world will see how an economically devastated a country it is (I’m thinking of Ethiopia of the 1980’s). Today, there are only a few options for tourists to visit North Korea – primarily I hear from a flight via Beijing to Pyongyang on officially approved tours, during limited times of the year (usually during the Mass Games in August – September), and you will always usually be accompanied by a North Korean official. Visas for Americans are hard to get. My high school friend who has been living in Australia is hoping to visit North Korea one day soon once he gets his Australian citizenship.
If you are fascinated by North Korea, I highly recommend the 2004 documentary, “A State of Mind,” which discusses North Korean and two North Korean child gymnasts and their families for over eight months during training for the 2003 Pyongyang mass games. 60 Minutes back in January 2006 also did an interesting profile of North Korea in “An Inside Peek At North Korea,” as well as a profile in July 2007 on an American Korean War defector to North Korea in “Joe Dresnok: An American In North Korea.”
When I mention my interest in visiting North Korea, most people think I am crazy. What do you think? Is there anybody out there who doesn’t share my fascination of this dictatorship?