By Harry Dong
Updated: 5:19 PST, April 3, 2017
I was flying back from Bolivia this January of 2017. I was sitting at the window seat looking out of the window at the continuous expanse of cumulonimbus cloud coverage. The pilot had announced at the beginning of the flight (the connecting flight from Panama), we were not going to land at our original place of San Francisco International Airport, but instead we were going to land in Mexico. We were being diverted to Mexico due to poor weather conditions in San Francisco, something that wasn’t very out of the ordinary. As delay after delay kept piling up, I started striking up an extensive conversation with the guy sitting to the left of me. I asked him: “What’s your favorite country that you’ve traveled to thus far?” His response: “North Korea.” At this point I was genuinely concerned that he didn’t know what he had just said and I thought I was hard of hearing. He actually said North Korea.
I thought for some reason that the concept of being able to travel to such a foreboding and dismal place such as North Korea was a myth. I told him to tell me a) why he thinks that North Korea was his favorite country to travel to, b) what kind of mental disorder he might have that’s been undiagnosed that would make him like such a country and c) what advice to give to someone who would ever want to travel there (if anyone ever would). He proceeded to tell me his first hand account from North Korea.
He started his explanation with characteristics of how you obtain a travel visa to get into the country. He said that you have to get into North Korea from China, and you can’t get there any other way. You have to first apply online via an application process that background checks you to make sure that you aren’t in the military, a politician, journalist, etc.
In order to get into North Korea, you have to fly to China and then take a boat or a plane to North Korea, that is the only way you can get into the country, legally that is. You have to go in a tour group, and you cannot bring your phone into the country, at all. Once you get in, it is as if you just commandeered your way into a time machine and arrived back in the 1960s. All the cars and transportation systems are obsolete, and there the billboards that are in Korean so they’re impossible to decipher unless you speak the language. As if they weren’t hard to decipher originally, you are traveling with your tour group at such a high speed that there is no way that you can read them anyways. North Koreans like to confuse you. You go to the store to buy something then realize that you have to use the Euro in order to purchase an item, and you can’t even use their currency.
The most frightening part about this country is that they want to devalue US currency so they will counterfeit it to the fullest extent, and believe me, they do it well. They are so effectual at counterfeiting US currency that the US Treasury is worried because it’s so indistinguishable. Perhaps the reason why they don’t want US citizens holding their currency or any country holding their currency for that matter is because they don’t want us to devalue it like they do notoriously.
This story gets even eerier when discussing how to travel around. In order to get to the subway system under the ground, you have to go down an escalator that takes so long to get to the ground that it hurts your legs and you have to sit down. If you look down where your feet are and beyond you cannot see the bottom it is so dark, and you can only see around where your head is. The subway systems are bomb shelters. Yes, bomb shelters. Bomb shelters, with subway cars from the 1960s. It’s as if time was frozen.
This is a brief first-hand account of what it’s like to visit North Korea. Now it’s time to go see for yourself, gain your own experience and have the time of your life.