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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!

    August 23, 2017

    Trip To And Arrival In The DPRK (a.k.a. North Korea)

    August 14, 2017

    After booking a SCUBA diving trip to North Korea nine months in advance and being told 13 days before I was to leave that they no longer take Americans, I decided to go to the beer festival in Pyongyang with a different and much better tour company.

    Then, not only was the beer festival cancelled due to unknown reasons, the Unites States announced a State Department travel ban on US citizens going to North Korea, which will take effect on September 1, 2017.

    Holy crap, it was now or never for an American to visit North Korea, or what is correctly called by the U.N., the “Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea.”

    It was no longer a mission to go diving in North Korea, it was a mission just for me to get to the country for a visit before the government of the “land of the free and home of the brave” made it illegal to visit a country that they can’t get along with.

    North Korea has been criticized for being an isolationist, hermit state, so the U.S. State Department has decided to pass a travel ban to make North Korea even more isolated.

    After September 1, 2017, there will be no Americans in North Korea, unless they obtain a special license from the U.S. State Department.

    The North Koreans may already be suspicious of Americans, but now, since all Americans will need government permission to enter, their suspicions may be confirmed.

    That is typical government work – find a “problem” and implement a solution that makes the original problem worse.

    Having made my way to Beijing, China, I contacted my family and friends and told them, “I have made it to Beijing and have signed up for a four day tour outside of the city; I’ll be back in a few days.”

    No need for anyone to worry.

    I did give Secret Agent K my itinerary “just in case” something happened.

    She wrote back, “Oh, my fucking God! You’re going the the DPRK? PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL!”

    Passing out DPRK Visas
    Passing out DPRK Visas

    DPRK Travel Visa
    DPRK Travel Visa

    I met the tour group which consisted of a British man named Simon who was the tour leader and one citizen each from France, Austria, Brazil, Ireland, Sweden, Japan, Germany, Kuwait, Uzbekistan plus two Australians, three Canadians and six other “crazy” American Imperialists.

    We Americans had something in common – it was now or never and we wanted to see North Korea for ourselves.

    Regardless of our national origin, one thing was predominantly agreed upon – to want to go to North Korea, you have to have a screw loose somewhere.

    We were bused to the Beijing airport for our Koryo flight to Pyongyang.

    Koryo Airlines Checkin.

    When my check-in luggage was going through security screening, a loud buzzer started sounding.

    “Jeff, they flagged your bag,” I was told.

    WTF? I’m still in China and I’m having problems already?

    It wasn’t a problem until now, but I had batteries in my luggage.

    They made me take them out and put them in my carry on bag.

    To Pyongyang

    Tupolev Aircraft

    We were bused out to our small Tupolev airplane.

    As the bus door opened, everyone seemed to walk slower than me and I managed to be the first up the stairs to the airplane.

    A Korean man inside the plane told me to wait at the top of the stairs and not to enter.

    I saw the pilot and staff, complete with their party pins on the left of their shirts.

    It finally dawned on me – “Fuck, I really am going to North Korea – I am insane.”

    I was under the impression that Koryo Airlines flew 50 year old Soviet relics, which concerned me a bit.

    However, on the insistence of China, they upgraded their fleet to newer airplanes.

    Koryo Burger

    The one and a half hour flight consisted of a continuous video of the DPRK Army orchestra and a delicious Koryo Burger, which I did not find bad at all.

    Actually, I would rather eat a Koryo Burger than a burger from an AM/PM mini-market.

    View of the DPRK from Koryo Airlines
    Flying over North Korea, I realized that a lot of their roads are not paved.

    Once we landed, we were bused 50 feet from the airplane to immigration and customs.

    I had to fill out several forms – a health form and an immigration and customs form where you list the money you are bringing in to the DPRK and a list of all electronic devices.

    Everyone at the Pyongyang airport looked like they were in the military – tall brimmed hats and tannish-brown uniforms; nobody smiled.

    I was a bit intimidated to say the least.

    Once I told them I didn’t have a cell phone, they did not care to inspect my laptop or two digital cameras.

    However, I did have a newspaper that I brought from China that had to be inspected to make sure it was safe to bring in to the country.

    Arrival At Pyongyang International Airport

    Once I passed through customs and immigration, I met our Korean tour guides – let me call them Miss Kim I, Miss Kim II and Mr. Li.

    Miss Kim I’s English was so good, I actually could only slightly detect an accent.

    When Mr. Li found out I was an American, he introduced himself and said, “Have you been paying attention to the news lately? We’re going to shoot a missile towards Guam Island.”

    I said, “Uh, yeah, I heard. Do you think you guys could wait four more days until I fly back to China?”

    Mr. Li did not appear to understand what or why I was saying that.

    Next to us another tour company’s group was assembling.

    I saw a lady wearing the tour company’s shirt, holding an American passport.

    As far as tour companies and Korean guides are concerned, everybody knows everybody; it is a very small niche market.

    I asked, “Is that so-and-so from the ‘other’ tour company?”

    “Yes, it is,” I was told.

    Wow, the person who I was emailing back and forth for nine months for my previously planned SCUBA diving trip to the DPRK was standing 15 feet away from me.

    I was also told, “She is management, if she wanted you on that trip, she would have been able to take you.”

    That was awkward.

    The tour bus.

    Once everyone made it through customs and immigration, we headed to the bus to start the tour.

    Miss Kim I explained the dos and don’ts of the DPRK – it was mostly a repeat of what we were told in Beijing.

    Mr. Li got on the microphone and said that if we were Americans, we should feel very lucky because this is literally one of the last trips that Americans can take before the US State Department travel ban to North Korea takes effect.

    “We really will miss our American visitors, it really is a shame, ” Mr. Li said.

    Me outside Kim Il Sung Square
    Our first stop was Kim Il Sung Square – the place where mass rallies are held.

    Kim Il Sung Square

    Juche Tower
    Across the Taedong River is Juche Tower.

    It was interesting to see regular North Koreans relaxing and enjoying their day…

    I guess these guys are human, too.

    North Koreans enjoy the day.

    North Koreans Picnic

    Me in Pyongyang
    I’m not sure what the background says, but I’m guessing, “Death to America!”

    Corner stone for sidewalk responsibility
    This corner marker signifies which store is to take care of the sidewalk and lawn in the front.

    Propaganda Mosiac

    We made it to our hotel for dinner and rest.

    Yanggakdo International Hotel
    The Yanggakdo International Hotel – known as a four star Alcatraz because it is on an island and guests are not permitted to leave without a state sanctioned escort.

    View of Pyongyang from our hotel.
    View of Pyongyang from our hotel room.

    First dinner in Pyongyang.
    One of many courses for the first dinner in Pyongyang – Fried chicken, pickles, cabbage and Taedonggang Beer.

    The beer they make in North Korea is some of the best beer that I’ve had.

    From Wikipedia (So it must be true):

    Taedonggang Brewing Company

    In 2000, the North Korean Government decided to acquire a brewery. At that point having good relationships with the West, via connections to Germany the Government of North Korea bought the intact and still in place brewery plant of the closed Ushers of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England for £1.5M via broker Uwe Oehms. Concerned it could be used for chemical weapons production, after assurances Peter Ward, of brewing company Thomas Hardy Brewing and Packaging bought the plant, and arranged for a team from North Korea to travel to Trowbridge to dismantle it.[2] Groundbreaking of the Taedonggang Beer Factory took place on 15 January 2000.[3] Reinstalled and operational from 2002, the brewery uses German-made computerized brewing control technology.[citation needed] The brewery is located in the Sadong District of Pyongyang.

    There will be more to come – there was no internet access while I was in the DPRK, so obviously it will take several days for me to catch up.

    Day two in the DPRK will be coming soon, however, my entire trip is already on Youtube and can be accessed here:

    DPRK Trip – Last Trip For Americans To North Korea

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