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  • September 12, 2017

    Conclusion of My Trip To North Korea

    August 17, 2017

    One of the good things about being on a group tour in the DPRK – you will never oversleep and miss your flight; they will find you and drag you down to the bus to transport you to the airport.

    For half of the guests, this was the last day in North Korea, the other half was going on an extended tour for two more days.

    Unfortunately, I had to do the budget tour.

    We all assembled down in the hotel lobby at 9 am; the ones in suits were going on the extended tour to visit the mausoleum, the rest were leaving – hopefully without complications.

    I gave the two female guides a bottle of Jameson whiskey each.

    I said, “I was expecting two male guides, so I hope you can do something with this whiskey.”

    One of them said, “Oh, yes, we can. Thank you.”

    The other guide agreed.

    I was told by someone who is familiar with the tours that, “It’s sort of like being in prison; they can trade what they have for something that they need.”

    We said our goodbyes to the extended group.

    Yanggakdo International Hotel lobby.
    The Yanggakdo International Hotel lobby.

    We boarded the bus to the airport and were off; our guide handed us back our passports and travel visas that they had kept for almost the entire trip.

    The Dear Leaders.
    The Dear Leaders on the way to the airport.

    The plane was actually a large aircraft, unlike the one we took to Pyongyang; the entire DPRK weight lifting team was on the flight going to compete somewhere.

    I said goodbye to Simon and my guides and I went to wait in line to check my baggage.

    My bag was three kilograms over the weight limit.

    I put my bag on the conveyor and the young ticket lady pressed a button that rolled my bag under an X-ray; two North Korean Army officers carefully inspected the X-ray image.

    They started arguing with each other – All I could understand was “Mak-chu… Mak-chu…” which means beer.

    They said something to the ticket lady and she asked me, “Are you bringing beer back to the United States?”

    Oh, fuck!

    I’m going to do hard labor for smuggling beer!

    “Yes,” I said.

    She asked, “How many bottles?”


    They started counting.

    “Oh, and a bottle of soju,” I said.

    She translated to the officers.

    They laughed; she sent my bag through and printed my boarding pass.

    Simon was still around and I asked him what that was all about.

    “They are just curious what Americans bring back from their country; it was more of a curiosity thing,” he said.

    Now it was the time to pass through passport control…

    Just like when I arrived, I handed my passport and travel visa over a counter top to a set of eyeballs with a hat on top of them.

    There was a two minute delay as he did something behind the counter.

    “What is your name,” he said.

    “Jeff ….,” I responded.

    He looked at me, took my travel visa, handed me my passport back and buzzed me through the gate.

    My blood pressure returned to normal.

    Unlike the trip to Pyongyang, they didn’t seem to segregate the passengers; I sat right among the North Korean weight lifting team, even passing Koryo burgers and customs forms between them from my aisle seat.

    Back in China.
    We landed back in Beijing without incident.

    Once in Beijing, I managed to travel the 18 hours that it took to get back home.

    Due to the time difference, on August 17th, I was in North Korea, China and the United States on the same calendar day.

    What I learned on my trip:

    Going to North Korea as an American is really no big deal, as long as you obey their laws and customs.

    American tourists are the only interaction that some North Koreans get with their “enemy” – they grow up to hate Americans, but are very friendly and curious when Americans actually go there.

    They like money and gifts, but who doesn’t?

    There is no such thing as “arbitrary arrest” – their laws are strict and strange to us, but you actually have to break their laws for problems to happen.

    If you travel with a great tour company, they will brief you on how to behave and what to expect; don’t go with a horrible tour company that will string you along for a year and boot you off of their trip because one of their previous clients got arrest in North Korea.

    I also have a California accent and attitude; I was told just that by my travel companions – relaxed and humorless.

    When I told my Brazilian roommate Bruno about my psycho-ex who was Brazilian, he said, “Don’t blame that on Brazil, blame that on her being a woman.”

    Bring plenty of toilet paper when you go to North Korean and learn to squat when taking a shit.

    OK, my mission to North Korea has been as complete as I could make it… now I need to get back to diving.

    September 4, 2017

    Day Three In The D.P.R.K. (a.k.a. North Korea) – August 16, 2017

    Due to the hurricane and southern California fires, my NBC World News episode did not make it to air.

    They said, “It could be recycled if Dateline wanted to pick it up.”

    So, yeah, no 15 seconds of fame, but that is the way life goes sometimes.

    However, I was quoted in a CNN news article: Postcards from the Hermit Kingdom: What Americans will miss in North Korea

    Now, on to the near conclusion of my trip to the D.P.R.K (a.k.a. North Korea, Best Korea):

    August 16, 2017

    We had to get on the bus early, as we were driving south to the DMZ.

    I should have brought my backpack down to breakfast with me because almost everyone on the bus was waiting for me – it takes forever to get an elevator in that hotel sometimes.

    Simon had to figure out who was missing and go get her – too much partying from last night.

    We managed to leave only a few minutes late, but our experienced driver made up for it.

    Propaganda mural in Pyongyang.
    The DPRK loves their leaders – there are murals and paintings everywhere of them.

    What I had noticed is that no matter which tour company you go with, when you get to North Korea, you end up with Korea International Tour Company, going on their buses and using their tour guides and going to the same places.

    I kept running across the “other tour company” with the person who threw me off the SCUBA diving trip.

    I saw her at the half way stop to the DMZ and she was standing alone.

    I went up and introduced myself.

    Whether she recognized my name, or ever remembered who I was or that she and the tour company committed egregious acts of national discrimination by throwing me off their SCUBA diving trip is unclear.

    However, I think she remembered my name.

    I said, “Well, too bad the SCUBA diving trip didn’t work out for Americans, but at least I made it here.”

    “Well, this is my last trip here, too,” she said.

    Yep, she is an American, and thanks to the US State Department and their travel ban to the DPRK, she can no longer do guided tours here.

    I thought Trump was suppose to be a job creator?

    It was at this rest stop that I handed the driver four packs of Camel filter cigarettes and Mr. Li six packs, as a tip.

    The drive to the DMZ took two and a half hours along the “Reunification Highway” – a pothole filled road of various widths that can give a bumpy ride if you’re sitting in the back of the bus.

    I saw some pretty skinny people along the way, but there was a mix of wealth.

    It sort of reminds me of Albania, you can see a car passing an ox drawn cart; however, none of them are Mercedes.

    When we finally reached the DMZ, we were let off the bus and lead in to a gift store to wait our turn to go on the tour.

    The DMZ.

    Our tour guides and Mr. Li had to leave their IDs with the military to proceed further.

    There were some North Korea soldiers walking around and laughing; they were saying in English, “Where are the Americans? Who’s American here?”

    Unfortunately, by the time I could respond, they already left.

    We were given a brief synopsis of the DMZ and how for the first time in the history of the United States we were defeated by a nation, by the Korean People under the wise leadership of Kim Il Sung.

    Monument at the DMZ.

    We got to see the signing room, where the Americans begged the DPRK for a ceasefire.

    Dear Leader Kim Jung Un spies on South Korea.
    Dear Leader Kim Jung Un spies on South Korea.

    North Korean Army leads the way.
    We were told, “Since this is the most intense place on the Korean peninsula, an Army man will accompany us for our safety.”

    The DMZ from the North Korean side.
    There it is – The DMZ from the North Korean side.

    Going to the blue DMZ buildings.
    We were lucky enough to go to the blue negotiation building, the only place where you can freely cross from North to South Korea.

    Border of North and South Korea at the DMZ.
    Border of North and South Korea at the DMZ.

    Inside the blue building at the DMZ.
    Inside the blue building at the DMZ.

    I was able to cross over to South Korea for a few minutes.

    The DMZ

    I was expecting the North and South Koreans to mad-dog each other at the border, but nobody was seen on the South Korean side.

    I asked why and was told, “The South Koreans are afraid of us, they are all hiding.”

    Apparently, the North and South agreed to share the DMZ by alternating turns.

    The North gets the DMZ in the morning and the South gets it in the afternoon – at noon, the North Koreans were to retreat and hide.

    Me with a North Korean army guy.
    Me with a North Korean army guy.

    The tour company made a quite interesting video of our DMZ tour, set to classic DPRK propaganda music and verbage…

    Youtube Video

    DMZ Video from the Tour Company, August 16, 2017

    We then went to Kaesong to visit a former Buddhist monastery, now museum.

    Officially, it is called the “Kaesong Koryo Museum” which displays artifacts from the Koryo Dynasty – the dynasty that united the Korean people until the US Imperialists split the country.

    Buddhist monastery in Kaesong

    Buddhist monastery in Kaesong

    The price of various slaves compared to the price of an ox.
    The price of various slaves compared to the price of an ox; young female slaves were worth more because they could produce more slaves.

    Diorama of an old Korean village.
    Diorama of an old Korean village.

    Me with a hot North Korean chick.
    Me with a hot North Korean chick.

    The gift shop.
    The gift shop where I scored a bottle of Ginseng wine, made in the DPRK.

    The University of Light Industry.
    The University of Light Industry.

    13 brass bowl meals with dog meat soup.
    Restaurant in Keasong – 13 brass bowl meals with dog meat soup.

    Yes, I paid $6 extra to eat dog – it tasted sort of like venison but a little sweeter; they put so much spice in the dog meat soup, it was hard to tell what dog tasted like.

    Here’s a video of the lunch.

    We then left to visit King Kongmin’s tomb that was raided by the Japanese Imperialists, I think during the 1930’s.

    Driving from Kaesong to King Kongmin's tomb.
    Driving from Kaesong to King Kongmin’s tomb.

    The tomb of King Kongmin.

    The Tomb Of King Kongmin.

    The tomb of King Kongmin.

    On the way back to Pyongyang, we stopped at the Reunification Monument.

    Reunification monument.
    The Reunification monument.

    Ryugyong Hotel
    The Ryugyong Hotel from a distance.

    Stopping for beer in Pyongyang.
    Stopping for beer in Pyongyang – “Cheers to friendship towards the DPRK.”

    The last meal.
    The last meal in Pyongyang for half of the group.

    The previous lunch was boiling in my colon, and there were no western toilets – just squat toilets.

    I grabbed a napkin and did the best to take care of business.

    I didn’t hit my pants – that was the key thing.

    I didn’t hit my pants!

    The last meal in the DPRK.
    The last meal in the DPRK.

    We partied at the hotel when we got back – DPRK Trip – The last Night – Part 30

    My journey home and thoughts on the trip will be coming soon!

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