“I recently took a trip to North Korea.”

I never thought I would ever say such a thing. But it is true. It worked out that I joined a group of foreigners attending the 2015 Pyongyang marathon. It gave me a chance not only to see the country, but run thru its streets!

For the days I was there, I was able to tour the capital, Pyongyang, meet some of the people. I also made a visit to the North Korean side of the 38th parallel at Panmunjom. It was all a surreal experience, and one that I will never forget.

I was not able to indiscriminately record video like I normally do, and instead had to settle for pictures, my Iphone and my go pro mounted to my new Feiyu Tech 3D gimbal. (http://www.feiyu-tech.com/). The gimbal worked out well enough, and with the footage I collected, I was able to put together this episode of the JaYoe Travelogues.

Now, many people have heard many things about North Korea. Lots of those things seem to be true. But some of them are not so. I went with an open mind, and instead of hate and divisiveness, I found smiling faces. I also found a LOT of propaganda. There is a fear in North Korea… a fear of the United States. You see it almost everywhere you go. The looming threat of the States redirects people’s attention away from the poverty, authorities rule, and draught that currently affects the country.

I tried to make a fair video, highlighting what I saw, exactly how I saw it. I tried to translate some of the speeches told to us by the guides, and it will be up to you to interpret my perception.

To be honest, when I went to North Korea, I did not have a clear understanding of the Korean War or the divide between the North and South. In producing this video, I tried as much as I could to fact check, and actually became quite knowledgeable to the realities of the war, the people, and the places that we visited.

I’ll include my sources below, and encourage you, if you are interested, to look for yourself. I’m glad I did. (most of them started with Wikipedia and then to their subsequent sources)

A few observations I left out of the video but found interesting:

A description of the inside of the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum: After we were told to turn off all our cameras, we entered the interior of the museum and were led thru an elaborate path of propaganda designed to inform the North Korean perspective of the battle against what they saw as American Imperialism. The inside of the museum was so opulent, clean and well designed that it had even me doubting my knowledge of the Korean War, which to be honest was limited. We saw the weaponry, the battle plans, the attack strategies and timeline of the war from the DPRK perspective. Much of the information regarding pushing the “Americans” back left out the fact that it was in large part due to the assistance of Russia and China. We saw one exhibit detailing American brutality amongst carnage and death that would looked like it was designed by the same FX people that made the Walking Dead. On one instance, we sat thru strange videos slanted to blame the US government for all the plight in the country, highlighting redacted documents from the US state department, and then in the next we were sitting at one of the many coffee shops in the museum being served cappuccino and espresso surrounded by opulent marble pillars, floors and fixtures. It was sort of like being part of a play put on for our benefit.

The cherry on top of the whole tour was the dome. The dome was a large mural wrapping around the surface of a large dome, with us in the center. We sat on sort of a rotating bandstand, and while the bandstand turned we were given a very visual history of the war. Light played on the static murals to give life to smoke, explosions and fire painted into the surface, and it was all quite amazing. The amount of work that went into all the elements that made up this museum was impressive, and gave me a peek at the resolve of North Korea to stay the path of thought they have made for themselves since the war.
The Ryugyong Hotel: On a number of occasions in the distance along the city skyline I could see the Ryugyong Hotel. Construction was put on hold due to the hard financial times in the DPRK. Currently it is the 49th tallest building in the world and off limits to foreigners. I even tried to find some inside pictures of the structure, but few even exist. I found that amazing. One of the tallest buildings in the world… and off limits.
Coal Fire Power Plant: Far off in the distance you could see the aging coal power plant that supplies power to the city of Pyongyang. I have never seen so much smoke pouring out of a building that was not itself on fire, blanketing everyone and everything downwind with a thick cloud of soot and ash. I was told that it was in need of a major overhaul but that repairs were prohibitively expensive.. and they just had to live with it.
NO ADS: Next time you go into your neighbourhood. Tell me if you see any signs. DO you see anything telling you about a place or a thing. Now strip them all away. That is North Korea. It’s a place devoid of all signage and advertising. Buildings are simple, pastel and clean of any banner. It made me realize how conditioned I was to the barrage of information I see on a daily basis. I felt like I was in an urban desert.
China and North Korea: I have lived in China for the last 5 years, and when I told many of my Chinese friends about what I saw in North Korea, they related almost immediately. China in the 1970’s, under the thumb of Chairman Mao, was extremely similar to the way North Korea is now. That gives me hope. If China can change so much in 30 years, I have hope that if North Korea can make some big changes, it will not be long until they can catch up to the rest of the world too.
Danger: To be honest, I did not feel threat from North Korea. It seemed like smoke and mirrors more than anything. Even Panmunjom, which they told us was one of the most dangerous places in the world, was more of a tourist attraction than a location of hostilities.

References:

Juche Tower: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juche_Tower
The DMZ: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_Demilitarized_Zone
Background of the Korean War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Korean_War
Kim Il Sung: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Il-sung
The USS Pueblo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Pueblo_%28AGER-2%29
An interesting article about the “hometown” of Kim Il Sung, and a perspective of how Kim Il Sung was chosen to come into power as the leader of North Korea, from the Russian officer that taught him at the end of the Japanese occupation: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?num=11335&cataId=nk03600
An article about the use of insects and chemical weapons that suggests possible use during the Korean war: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegations_of_biological_warfare_in_the_Korean_War, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/7811949/Did-the-US-wage-germ-warfare-in-Korea.html

If you are interested in seeing North Korea for yourself, I highly recommend it.  It is easier than you think. Organizations like Uri Tours can arrange a trip there for you or a group, or you can join the marathon next year. Check out www.uritours.com for more information.

 

Without independence of mind, one can create nothing new.

Kim Jong Il

The JaYoe Travelogues are a video series documenting the experiences on the road as I travel on my recumbent trike from Ningbo, China to the USA. Thru my lens, I hope to give you a glimpse of the lives, moments, triumphs and trials along the way.

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matt

Author matt

Born in Detroit. The son of a hard working innovator and a selfless homemaker. Raised to dream. Bred to believe we are put on this earth to make a difference. Left home at 19. Moved to Las Vegas at 25. Moved to China at 30. Began to Journey at 35. More to come.

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