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    August 29, 2017

    Day Two In The DPRK (a.k.a. North Korea) – August 15, 2017

    I’ve been back for over a week.

    I have realized that some people think I am more crazy than they thought, some are not surprised, others don’t care, others now think I am a douchebag.

    I was contacted by Koryo Tours, who sent an email to all Americans on their last trip that NBC World News wanted to interview one of the last US citizens to vacation in North Korea.

    I’m an attention whore, so I volunteered.

    I talked to the producer for 20 minutes on the phone and she said she wanted to fly from New York to Los Angeles to interview me on Saturday morning.

    Borrowing a friend’s house for the filming location, I agreed.

    Being interviewed by NBC World News.

    They are doing a segment on the US travel ban to North Korea and wanted to hear about my trip and what I thought about the absolutely ridiculous and stupid ban.

    They said, “You are part of a segment, within a segment, within a segment of the news. If another news item is more important, like a hurricane or terrorist attack, your segment may never air. If it does, you may not make the cut. If you get 15 seconds, you will be lucky.”

    NBC World News - Greg, the cameraman, Producer Michelle and me.
    My friend Greg with the house was busy hitting on Michelle the Producer.

    Oh, yeah, and yesterday North Korea apparently fired a missile over Japan…

    North Korea launched missile that flew over Japan

    So, onto the continuation of my trip…

    August 15, 2017

    After partying heavily at the Yanggakdo International Hotel the night before, I was able to wake up in enough time to get a nice buffet meal in their restaurant.

    After being asked what my room number was before entering the buffet area, I thought, “How the hell would anyone sneak in here to get a free meal?”

    The Yanggakdo International Hotel is on an island, and you can’t leave the premises without a state approved escort.

    I assume it is just as hard for a white, English speaking transient to sneak in and get a free meal?

    What I had discovered, is that the food – at least for tourists – is pretty damn good.

    Yeah, it was a lot of sausage, fried meat, kimchi and odd stuff to westerners, but it shot through me like a rocket.

    I tended to take care of business right after breakfast and eat lightly when traveling – I’ll get to the lack of toilet paper and squat toilets next time, when I talk about my diarrhea.

    After all were accounted for on the bus, we made a trip to our first stop – the Grand Portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il…

    Me with huge portraits of their Dear Leaders.

    They are very proud of their missile and nuclear weapons programs.

    They are very proud of their missile program.
    They believe if they didn’t have such a deterrent, they would have been the next US invasion victim like Iraq or Afghanistan.

    Me in Pyongyang - forgot what this is.

    I forgot where the pictures above and below were taken – sorry; somewhere in Pyongyang.

    Sorry, I forgot what this is - something important.

    Then we went to Mansu Hill Grand Monument:

    Out of respect, you are suppose to bow to the Dear Leaders once there.

    I was told by the Korean tour guides, “If you don’t want to bow and respect the Korean people you don’t have to, but just stay on the bus if you don’t feel like it.”

    Well fuck, I’ve participated in many Catholic and Jewish ceremonies out of respect, and I assure you I’m not Catholic or Jewish.

    And, I want no problems.

    Maybe I’m not limber enough to use a traditional squat toilet, but I certainly could bow to their Dear Leaders.

     Mansu Hill Grand Monument

    Me with the  Mansu Hill Grand Monuments.
    No hat, no sunglasses, hands down to the side with no gestures – all was good.

    These are the statues to the side of the Mansu Hill Grand Monument:

    Statues to the side of Mansu Hill Grand Monument
    The Peoples’ struggle over Imperialism.

    Statues to the side of Mansu Hill Grand Monument
    The peoples’ Army steps on an American Army helmet.

    Statues to the side of Mansu Hill Grand Monument

    We then went to the Pyongyang Metro to ride four stops to the Liberation Station and see the Arch of Triumph – a monument to celebrate the liberation from Japanese occupation in 1945:

    Pyongyang Metro.

    Pyongyang Metro - Kim Il Sung portrait.

    Pyongyang Metro.

    Pyongyang Metro.

    Inside the Pyongyang metro train.

    Another mural in in Pyongyang metro.

    Statue of Kim Il Sung giving the liberation day speech.

    Mural in Pyongyang station.

    Arch of Triumph.
    Me in front of the Arch of Triumph.

    The FIFA approved soccer stadium  in Pyongyang.
    The FIFA approved soccer stadium in Pyongyang.

    We then went on to Juche Tower – a monument that celebrates the vague idea of “self reliance.”

    Juche Tower

    Ryugyong Hotel
    The Ryugyong Hotel from the ground of Juche Tower.

    Juche stones/
    Stones dedicated from fans of the Juche idea.

    Selfie from Juche Tower.
    A selfie from the top of Juche Tower.

    Looking down on building from Juche Tower.
    Looking down on buildings from Juche Tower.

    Our hotel from Juche tower.
    Our hotel from Juche tower.

    The Intellectual, worker and farmer - what makes the Juche idea.
    The Intellectual, worker and farmer – what makes the Juche idea.

    Juche Tower.
    Me with Juche Tower.

    At this point in time, we were informed that because of the rain, the mass dance and fireworks were cancelled.

    I had no problem with that, because I was tired and had some digestion problems since I was not used to the Korean food.

    We were taken to alternate places like a shopping mall and bowling alley to fill the time.

    Lunch in North Korea.
    Lunch in North Korea.

    Pyongyang Bowling alley - the Dear Leader visited at one point.  I think.
    Pyongyang Bowling alley – the Dear Leader visited at one point. I think.

    Pyongyang Bowling alley.
    Pyongyang Bowling alley.

    We were not allowed to take pictures in the shopping center as previous picture taking bothered the customers.

    Most of us ended up drinking beer at a local watering hole right next door.

    We then headed for the Pyongyang Circus and then to dinner.

    Pyongyang Circus

    Pyongyang Circus

    I developed a bad case of the runs.

    At the restaurant, the bathroom had toilet paper, but no western toilets.

    I couldn’t hold it and did my best to use a traditional squat toilet.

    I was a success in that I did not hit my pants, however, I need to work on actually hitting the bowl.

    Buckwheat Black Noodle Soup
    Buckwheat Black Noodle Soup

    The long day ended with drinks at the hotel bar.

    I met two tourists – one from Italy and the other from Argentina.

    The bartender asked where we were all from.

    When I told her “The United States” she asked where that was.

    Someone said, “He’s an American.”

    She looked at me weird and walked away.

    The conclusion of my trip is coming soon!

    July 2, 2017

    My July Trip Has Been Cancelled Due To National Origin Discrimination!

    My July trip has been cancelled – not by me, but by the tour group that I was going with, simply because I am an American citizen.

    I jinx all my trips:

    2012 – I bragged about going to Albania, only to have the Polish diving base close. I had to find and hire a student from the University of Tirana to complete my mission of diving in Albania.

    2013 – I went diving in Poland, however, Greg, the guy who was suppose to take me diving had personal issues and couldn’t. He turned me over to another diving group – that was no issue.

    OK, I have not been totally honest with the six people who read this blog – I did not want to jinx my trip.

    Yes, it was a trip to Vladivostok, Russia to go diving.

    Well, it also included a six day tour and diving in North Korea.

    So, here’s the story.

    I work in a cubicle, sort of like a jail cell, in the basement of a building.

    Diving in Hawaii or Fuji, just really doesn’t cut it for me.

    I need to go someplace weird, and when I found out last year that there was the first tour group of its kind, open to the public, to go diving in North Korea, I knew that was the trip for me…

    DPRK SCUBA DIVING
    This isn’t a joke – they have diving in North Korea.

    DPRK Receipt
    In September of last year, I put a deposit down and paid the balance in June.

    For almost a year, I heard how wonderful “The Real North Korea” is and how any negative news that I may hear is just “standard banter between the US and DPRK that has been going on for 70 years.”

    I had to jump through hoops to get a Russian Visa ($385), buy a letter of invitation ($45) and I also went out of my way to become PADI certified, as the tour group did not recognize any other agency other than PADI.

    On June 3rd, I received a confirmation email stating that the trip is on and that we were to all meet in Vladivostok, Russia on July 6, 2017.

    Then, the unexpected happened…

    Otto Warmbier In Custody

    Otto Warmbier, who had been held in North Korea for 17 months, was medevaced to Cincinnati the same day Dennis Rodman landed in Pyongyang.

    Mr. Warmbier arrived in a comatose state and died on June 19, 2017 of unknown causes; his family refused an autopsy.

    On March 16, 2016, Mr. Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after he was caught and confessed to stealing a propaganda poster from a staff only area in the hotel he was staying at; he was with the same tour company that was taking me SCUBA diving.

    I agree, that is an unusually harsh sentence, but a man in the United States had been sentenced to 25 years to life for stealing pizza and another received a life sentence for stealing a pair of socks.

    What happened to Mr. Warmbier is anyone’s guess, but I personally think he tried to commit suicide and the North Koreans couldn’t revive him.

    American prisoners in the DPRK are too valuable to be tortured and starved or beaten; something else must have happened.

    After Mr. Warmbier’s death, the tour company started getting a lot of bad press:

    Gung-ho culture at tour agency Warmbier used on North Korea trip

    Boozy tours court trouble in the hermit kingdom

    Then on June 19, two weeks before I was scheduled to leave for Russia, I read the headline, Tour group says no more Americans to North Korea after Warmbier’s death

    Well, luckily, I had already booked and paid for my trip, so this was obviously for future trips.

    That same day, I received an email from the tour group…

    “I wish I was contacting you under happier circumstances, but I’m afraid that’s not the case this week. Due to the recent events regarding Otto Warmbier, we have reassessed our decision to bring American travelers into North Korea and have decided we will no longer be coordinating tours for American visitors to the DPRK, starting immediately. This means that we will have to cancel your booking for the upcoming SCUBA diving tour to North Korea.”

    What the fuck?

    I wrote back, “That sucks. I can understand the tragedy with Mr. Warmbier, but it probably would have happened regardless of nationality. Can’t you make an exception since I signed up almost a year in advance? And no, I don’t have travel insurance. It will cost me not to go.”

    I also wrote about my extensive experience in cold water diving and that I would be an asset to the group.

    “Perhaps you need a staff safety diver? I could do that,” I wrote.

    Three days of silence was followed by the next correspondence:

    “I’ve tried talking to management about still bringing you along but they are very persistent about the finality of the decision. So unfortunately we will still have to go ahead with the cancellation.”

    That was it.

    People can go diving in North Korea, but I can’t because I am an American.

    I told my friend Rick, “I know what it’s like to be discriminated against; I now know what it’s like to be black.”

    Rick said, “You don’t know what it’s like to be black, and everyone thought you were a dick face for even trying to go to North Korea.”

    I have ran into all sorts of problems, on every international diving trip that I have planned.

    To be so close, with what would have been the ultimate mark on my diving bucket list, only to be told that since I am American I can’t go but everyone else can, really sucks.

    I became really depressed and it sent me off into heavy debriefing mode for several days, to the point where my boss told me to “switch your cologne because it smells like beer.”

    I did some research on how I could go diving in North Korea now.

    There are currently four tour companies that will still take American citizens, however after contacting them, they are currently “reassessing” their policies towards Americans.

    None of the four tour groups have diving trips to North Korea, however you can go surfing in the DPRK.

    I am not a surfer, I’m just too fat.

    There is also talk of the United States government making it illegal to travel to North Korea, for whatever stupid reason they can make up.

    So in order for an American citizen to go SCUBA diving in North Korea now, a diving crew from either Russia or China would have to be hired and then one of the approved tour companies that still take Americans would have to put the tour together.

    If anyone is interested in such a trip, I would be happy to look into it further, but it won’t be cheap; contact me if you have any serious interest in such a trip.

    Also, anything the United States government does in the way of travel laws could interfere with these plans.

    Thanks to my friend Mirek, who pointed out that someone called Handel On The Law last Saturday with a similar situation; maybe I can find him and we can do a class action lawsuit?

    Handel On The Law

    It cost me almost $1,000 not to go.

    As one of my friends told me, “You failed and have disgraced the SCUBA diving community. You are lucky you aren’t Japanese because you would have to commit Harakiri to preserve your family’s honor.”

    Harakiri

    I told him, “If I was Japanese, I would be able to fucking go!”

    I will no longer be announcing trip plans, maybe that is part of the jinx?

    Anyway, that ends the best diving trip that never happened… because I am an American.

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