My level of excitement about this trip can be compared only to winning a jackpot. While everyone else thinks it's 1) unsafe during these rocky times and 2) weird to waste a precious vacation on a dodgy communist country, I feel extremely lucky and humbled by this opportunity. We tend to think that every country in the world wants the changes brought by globalization, meanwhile there is this one place that makes conscious choices to be different. North Korea - or officially DPRK - is the last fortress of dictator-type socialism in the world, and I find it fascinating that the Kim family has been able to hold the power for so long.
How could people fall for the cheesy propaganda? And do they really? What do they actually think about the third Kim? Is it true that locals we will encounter are actually actors assigned to ride the subway and hang out near monuments? As a result of this trip, I am hoping to better understand the other side.
My long-term obsession with North Korea doesn't come from nowhere. First of all, being born in Soviet Russia and learning at school about Stalin's personality cult, I can almost relate to what North Koreans are going through. Also, I've always loved reading dystopias like 1984, We, Fahrenheit 451 where socialist ideas are taken to the extreme. And finally - according to Jonny - some of my uncompromising expectations of people would make me a great dictator myself. I sort of agree.
Now, if this doesn't make you wanna hop on the next flight to Pyongyang, here are some more details.
Things we won't be able to do:
- walk alone on the street
- ride public transport (except a group tour of the subway where we will ride a predetermined route of 5 stations)
- talk to locals
- take pictures from a moving vehicle (we will also be told what we can and cannot take pictures of)
- leave our hotel at night
- use my point-and-shoot camera because it has GPS function
- go online (Internet the way we know it doesn't exist in DPRK)
Things we are expected to do:
- dress up to visit the mausoleum where both Kims are put to rest - ripped jeans, flip-flops, shorts and short skirts are out of the question
- dress up to visit the DMZ (the highly guarded boarder between the South and North Koreas)
- bow in front of Kim Il-sung statues
- keep our mouths shut about what we actually think of the system
During the stay, we are planning on attending the famous Mass Games - a highly synchronized performance like the ones we see at the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. The Mass Games are also called "The Greatest Show on Earth", so I'm quite pumped for it!
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty - at 700 pages, this is by far
the most detailed account of North Korea's history and leadership.
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea - read this book if you are looking for real-life stories of North Korean defectors. I couldn't put it down - it's so good!
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West - you may have seen this at the bookstores recently. An incredible story of a prisoner born in a political camp who was able to find his way out.
A state of mind (documentary) - The Mass Games seen through the eyes of the young participants.
[Beautiful photos in this post are by (Stephan)]