This past April I visited North Korea for 10 days to run a marathon in Pyongyang. It was one of the more fascinating places I’ve ever been, and though I ultimately failed at checking-off complete a marathon from my bucket list — I made it 19 miles before some injuries mandated I walk the rest —I did manage to check-off see Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il’s bodies at the mausoleum.
There is too much to write about the DPRK for a single blog post. Culturally, and geographically, it’s a little like the former Soviet Union and China had a baby. I learned from a fellow tourmate that young people in China are encouraged to visit the country today to see how their grandparents had lived. At the same time, they also have their own internet where you can buy things online from your phone like shoes.
It is a country unique in its isolation from the rest of the world and notoriously propagandic and bellicose. Yet, in actually meeting and speaking with people that live there there’s a surprising warmth. There is friendliness and a seemingly genuine curiosity about the rest of the world, other cultures that you tend to find in people anywhere you go. With stories about putting American students in labor camps for stealing posters and YouTube videos showing Washington getting nuked to smithereens I was a little surprised when my tour guide hugged me at the airport and said “I hope one day I can come and visit you, in your country.”
To wantonly steal a fellow tourmate’s line who was visiting for her second time: “Welcome to the DisOrient!”
I’m saving my stories and observations for another time, but here’s the impetus for this post: A young man name Jacob Laukaitis was on the same tour as I was and made a short documentary about it. There were a lot of people on the trip, but I do remember seeing him around.
It’s well done and visually captures a lot of the same experiences I had. In fact, it literally captures me, visually, if only for a couple seconds around the 2:13 mark:
You can see me scratching my nose whle I stand in-line with my visa to get my ticket from Koryo Air. Riveting stuff.
Are you intersted in visiting North Korea? If so, I highly recommend exploring options with Koryo Tours. They offer a variety of packages and are one of the longest-running and most professional DPRK tour companies around.