North Korea - can you really experience it? is written by Jonas Bang Andersen
Why should you experience North Korea?
You both can and should really experience North Korea. And in fact, I'm been there three times. My next trip to the country is also already planned. I look forward to experiencing North Korea again.
When I'm in the country, I experience a culture and a society that is completely different from what I'm used to or have seen elsewhere - and that's exactly why I travel again. To get this completely different perspective. A perspective that is at the same time far from what is most often presented in the media.
My personal position is that one should always learn more about a society, learn more about a culture and learn more about other countries. It can be done in many different ways, but typically the best way is to travel there and experience it with your own eyes and on your own body.
Close to one of the world's most isolated countries
As North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, it is precisely a destination that you can only really learn more about and understand if you travel there. On a trip to North Korea, you will get very close to the North Koreans and very close to the otherwise closed society.
On my travels, I have experienced an incredible number of things. Despite the fact that the trips have "only" been of five days each time, the programs have been so packed that several of those who have traveled with had the feeling of having been away from Denmark for several months. I believe that feeling comes because all the experiences are so diverse. There are experiences that are about Korean history, and there are experiences that are based on having fun, such as when we visit an amusement park, for example.
Among other things, I have visited the North Korean War Museum, which tells about the Korean War. It is one of the most beautiful and largest museums I have been to in my life. They tell about the war from a completely different angle than I have learned from the history books. I have been to the border zone DMZ - one of the most intense and military areas in the world. It is the only place South and North Korea can occasionally meet.
Very close to the culture
On my travels, I have also experienced the culture up close. It is a very special experience to stand at the Mansudae Grand Monument in front of two bronze statues of the two former leaders of North Korea. Two statues, which by the way stand in every North Korean city. For comparison, imagine that a statue of the Queen and the Danish Prime Minister was placed in every single city in this country.
I have also been quite close to the people. A population that you generally hear very little about. The meetings have both been arranged, as when we have an exchange session with primary school students. Or of a more random nature, like when I've been driving in the Pyongyang metro. Pyongyang subway, which by the way is one of the deepest subways in the world.
Is not everything in North Korea just acting and lined up?
When I say that I have been close to the people, there are many who question the people's motive for having to talk to me. The skeptics are convinced that all North Koreans are actors and that everything I have experienced in the country is set up. Somehow I can well understand them. They have not traveled with, and the country is closed, so how should they know better?
However, I am convinced that the North Koreans I have talked to have no reason to lie about their lives. At least not when they talk about their private lives.
I got this feeling confirmed as we were sitting and talking to our guide the last night of my first trip. Ms. Kang says that in the past she was crazy about math and solving sudoku. She actually dreamed of becoming an accountant. She was also quite a skilled swimmer, at least if you asked her yourself - she said with a twinkle in her eye. However, she did not imagine that swimming would become her career, and she therefore focused a lot on school.
As life sometimes unfolds, she ended up becoming a guide. She had been that for many years and she had lots of interesting experiences to tell about tourists. Tourists who had all given her different impressions of the world - both positive and negative. One country she really wanted to visit if she ever got the chance was Germany. After she had met us, however, she also wanted to come to Denmark.
Ms. In addition, Kang said her son had just turned five. He had just learned to swim, and she hoped that one day they could cross the largest river in Pyongyang together. She wanted to do that because in her time she had swum over it herself and she dreamed of sharing the experience with her son.
When another person tells about his life, his dreams and his family, it testifies in my ears that he or she is a human being just like us. Ms. Kang also feels love, she also has dreams, she also feels joy and disappointment and she laughs and cries like the rest of us. It is often forgotten when the media tells about North Korea, but it gives the greatest impression when one experiences the country and gets close to its people. That's exactly why I think you should travel with.
But… is it not dangerous to experience North Korea?
Admittedly, North Korea is a very untraditional travel destination, but no - traveling to North Korea is not dangerous. In fact, nothing has ever happened to a tourist who has followed the rules of the land, which stands in stark contrast to travel destinations that are far more visited.
The rules are relatively simple and you will get them told over and over again so you do not forget them. If you still forget that you are not allowed to take a picture of a soldier, for example, well then your guide will probably tell you and ask you to delete the picture. More than that does not happen. The North Korean guides are very interested in making your travel experience the best it can be. They will also do everything for your safety.
"But, what about the American who got 15 years in a labor camp as punishment?" I know the story, and it's awful what happened to Otto Warmbier and his survivors. It can and should not be defended. One must not forget, however, that he did not follow the rules. He went to a place where he was not allowed to be and stole anything he was not allowed to touch, and he was convicted within the North Korean penal framework. His punishment is incredibly harsh, and harsher than it probably would be for a Dane. But that's because he's American, and historically North Korea and the United States have never really been best friends.
If, in turn, you show the necessary respect and humility, you can have the experience of a lifetime in North Korea. I would almost guarantee that when you board the train from Pyongyang back to China, you will be left with a feeling that it may not fit that you have just been to North Korea. You will be grateful to yourself.
Have a good trip - you deserve to experience North Korea.
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