On Sunday, I had a truly amazing opportunity to visit Kaesong, North Korea (just north of the DMZ) for the first time. I went with the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch, of which I am a member, and we tagged along with a much larger tour group called Kaesong Tour. The tour just opened up at the very end of last year. In the group that I went with there were twelve full-size tour busses; I estimated it was around 300-400 people. I’m told that the tour runs every day of the week except for Monday.
I think this tour is a very significant move for North Korea. They have had a tour to a mountain resort (Mt Keumgang) since around 1998, but the area is isolated and not close to any larger population centers. There are also the tours in Pyongyang, where minders escort small groups of tourists to chosen locations. As far as I know though, North Korea has never had anything like the Kaesong tour before, where large groups of tourists are bussed around the city to get out and take pictures at specified sites. I imagine that if I were a normal resident of Kaesong, the start of the tours would mark a big change in my life, and in the city. My head would be reeling with questions about who these foreigners were and what life they came from.
Already, many people have been curious about my trip, and they all want to know the details. I’ve decided to provide my journal entry of the trip–not normally something that I would do, so perhaps I should explain. I realize that not many people have been to North Korea, and many are looking for more understanding about what it is like there. Note that my trip to Kaesong was very rigid, and it was confined to tourists sites (you can read more about them at this website). I was not allowed to stroll around and chat with ordinary North Koreans, but I tried to get as much information as possible given the constraints. Since it is a journal entry, some of it is reflectional. Since it’s not every day I go to North Korea, I tried to write as many details as possible. I appologize ahead, since it is quite long. Finally, this is what I saw, and what I experienced that was interesting to me. I emphasized the positive aspects of North Korean society that I observed. To some, it may seem that I am overlooking, or at least not giving much attention to the atrocities and bad aspects, or that I am not being fair to South Korea in my limited comparisons. Well, you’re probably right. I will post on North Korea’s atrocities and South Korea’s superior qualities another time; however, that information is more well publicized. I tried to step back and reflect on things that are harder to see.
Enough explaining on my part. Enjoy the next post.