North Korea: Hermetically closed, a cult culture


At last, we are starting our North Korea blog. Hundreds of friends and interested acquaintances have expressed interest in seeing our content in this blog. So… here it is, daily again:

A month ago today, I was on my way to North Korea. After the required briefing in Beijing and signing of various affidavits, I was cleared to go and handed my visa, shown above.

My stated purposed for this trip was to pave the way for Alexandra, Casey and Mia, who are all keenly interested in getting there. But really, it’s just that I couldn’t wait any longer. I’ve met our Special Representative to that country, Mr. Stephen Bosworth; I’ve read the handful of books written on the country’s Stalinist-style regime and on the famines of its people; I scan the papers everyday to see when anything new comes up (not often); and I speak with whomever I know that’s been there. Recently two of our friends, Simon and Todd, visited there.

They were there separately but both came to the same conclusion: absolutely the oddest, most interesting, far-out, old-fashioned, anachronistic, bizarre, counter-intuitive, strict, deprived country of all.

You must go, they said. Now.

In February, I read “Nothing to Envy”, a book by Barbara Demick, and concluded that, by going to North Korea, I would not only satisfy my curiosity but become a better person for it (!), and I began to make the necessary arrangements.

It wasn’t hard. I used my French passport because I didn’t know that US passports are now thoroughly acceptable. I contacted one of the two agencies that are allowed to bring tourists into North Korea, I made a wire transfer in Euros to pay for my week there, and I bought a ticket for Beijing. You have to go to Beijing first and fly to Pyongyang from there. I was approved and became of the 2,400 non-Chinese tourists to go to North Korea in 2011.