(NORTH) KOREA

APRIL 2016

Before going to North Korea, people often told us we were crazy for going (and they still call us crazy for having been there), but we were so curious for the culture and country, that it was a must do for us. Before departing, we received a lot of emails with a list of “not to do and to do things” and rules that we had to follow. We were forbidden to take bibles, radios, gps machines, books and computers. We were told not to leave the hotel alone, not to cross the street and don’t make fun of the regime.

FACTS:

1 - At the 10 months old airport, they have 3 terminals on the same building. As you walk through the corridor to access the lobby, they have temperature measurement machines, but if you look back at them, none of them is working. You and all of your bags have to be thoroughly inspected and registered. At the lobby, you see lots of people waiting for family and friends but if they can’t leave the country, who are they waiting for? At the airport stores and coffees, you see people pretending to buy souvenirns and not eating or drinking anything. You can’t leave the lobby except if a tour guide goes with you, not even for a smoke. As you leave the airport, the rules are the same. 

2 - The first thing they showed us was the 20 meters high Great Leaders Statues (Kim il Sung and Kim Jong il) waving to their trustfull people. The rules were said: don’t cut any part of the statues on your pictures, don’t take pictures of official members of the party, don’t take pictures of people working or old buildings and we should all go in groups of 10 to vow before the Great Leaders, with our shirts or jackets closed and hands along our bodies. Next to the statues were built some constructions to show us how great and powerfull Korea is.

3 - No one knows anything about the Leaders before they become a Leader. His past is unknown and remains that way.

4 - "Gays don’t exist in Korea”, was another sentence spoken by our well informed guide.

5 - The first street line of constructed buildings are painted (even if it’s in a poorly way), but after that, they are still in bricks and sometimes with no window shields. The owners of the appartments are the ones who should paint their own façade if they wish so.

6 - Women occupy power positions, but none of them wants to do it. The equality of gender applies, but women can’t smoke cigarretes.

7 - When we asked our female guide if she wanted to come and visit us in Portugal, she kindly said that the plane ticket was very expensive and she couldn’t afford it, but when we offered to pay it for her, she smiled and walked away.

8 - At school, children can access an intranet wifi to “explore and study” and the computers are connected to a car battery. The teachers are controled by cameras and lessons are very stricked and they all seem to be in the army. On the hallways, pictures of norte-american soldiers being killed in a carnage way, were hand painted to show them how bad the americans are and how brave and strong Korea is.

9 - They speak of North Korea as Korea, they don’t make the distinction between the 2 well-know sepparated countries. They say that the only reason for their division were the war with the USA and that for the country to reunite again the south “only” has to recognize the Great Leader as their commander. They said that if the americans should invade again, they are prepared for it and that no american would live to sign the armistice.

10 - Once at the Parallel 38th, the line that sepparates both countries is a small footer, with 20cm per 10 high, painted in blue with small sheds where they can meet and discuss matters of peace.  As we see on the television, we imagine that the buildings are some km apart… no, they are at the most 100 meters apart and on the north side you can see big binocullars facing the south and on the south? Nothing and no one.

11 - On the way between cities/destinations we could see the country side, where people work on the fields by hand with no machinery access and all the fields were furrowed. We had 3 party members all the time with us checking all of our photos, so taking pictures of these situations is very hard.

12 - One of the party members told us that Pyongyang has 3million habitants, but the streets are empty and we only see one person here and there.

13 - Our hotel has 20 floors and we were uniformly distributed by all the floors just to show the greatness of the hotel. The room next to ours had one closed door and when we opened it, the room was not only empty but completely naked inside, with no finishings, furniture, windows, etc. The hallways and public areas were cold enough to walk with our snow jackets on.

14 - At the supermarket, a dozen eggs cost around 7€ and 10 packs of 20 cigarrettes 1€ and at breakfast we ate 2 eggs each.

15 - At the Mausoleum, where the 2 past Leaders rest in peace, we had to go through a series of steps concerning our cleanliness and building security. We had to put our best clothes (that we were told to take, by email before going), walk in lines, quiet, no smiling and no pictures were allowed inside. We walked through a never ending number of rooms and Las Vegas like hallways, filled with the Leader's pictures doing good for their people, borders with check-ups, until we arrived at the room where they were settled inside a glass coffin. The majestity of this place is unspeakable! Marble floors, gold pillars, etc. Here we saw groups of well-dressed men and women visiting the Leaders (it was a sunday), but underneath their clothes you could see their normal working clothes and their skin burnt by the sun. Besides that, we saw the same woman on another turistic attraction.

16 - The metro ticket costs 0,00000001€ and we can’t take pictures facing the inside of the tunels and if we wanted to take pictures of people, we had to ask for permission.

17 - As we left Pyongyang by train, heading to Beijing, we saw again the well hand maintained fields, people searching for food and as we stopped at the border for the final check-up to see if we bring anything “illegal” (according to them) and the train left "North Korea" the whole train gasped in relief. We made it through!

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