More articles by Leonid A.Petrov
- A Trip to North Korea (1999) -
This article was written by Leonid A. Petrov in 1999 after a visit to the DPRK which was still suffering from the 1995-1997 natural disasters
If you suspect that North Korea is sustaining severe economic hardships your suspicions may be proven justified should you travel to this secluded state. As with everything connected with 'incomplete' Communism, such a trip will be exciting and educational, albeit short and expensive. And when the two Korean states finally
re-unite, you will be able to say proudly, "I once went to North Korea!"
It was difficult to persuade the regional manager of the DPRK-owned Korea International Travel Company to assist me with travel arrangements. Despite my determination to attend the annual birthday celebrations of the late North Korean leader and stubborn readiness to pay the equivalent of a short visit to Europe, the bureaucrat tried to find a thousand reasons to divert my interest. Later, the same person shared with me his concern that very few people come to North Korea for tourism. He agreed to issue an entry visa but warned that I should not write anything malevolent afterwards. Keeping my word, below I shall briefly try to convince you that life in North Korea is affluent and prosperous.
Everything concerning your future trip must be discussed and approved beforehand. Once composed, the program cannot be changed, only cancelled. Travellers to North Korea usually have wide range of accommodation options. Sometimes it becomes painfully difficult to decide whether to stay in an inexpensive hotel without hot water and/or electricity, or in a ridiculously expensive hotel with all working facilities. The latter is much more pleasant. From such a hotel you can even call your friends and relatives in Australia at extremely high price per minute of chit-chat. Two guiding interpreters, mandatory for every foreign visitor, will accompany you wherever you want to go and stop you feeling blue.
The best means of transportation is usually provided for rare foreign visitors. A sleeping carriage in the Beijing-Pyongyang express, mineral water on the tables and portraits of supreme leaders on the walls of the restaurant carriage will make you feel like an extra in a film about Stalinist Russia. On arrival, a new Mercedes, Volvo or Nissan with a full tank (a real treasure in the energy-starving country) will be at your disposal. Don't be surprised when you find that your limo is the only vehicle on the widest avenue in the whole of East Asia. When China and Russia -formerly the main suppliers of energy to North Korea - were conquered by capitalist ideology and switched off their free oil and power lines, air in North Korean cities became unbelievably clean. All industries have stalled, and the working masses began to walk or ride bicycles, just like in Canberra. From the environmentalists' point of view, the self-reliance policy of the Korean Worker's Party can only be described as admirable.
When in Pyongyang, use the unique opportunity to visit its flamboyant museums and great memorials. Revolutionary tradition in Korea belongs entirely to the dynasty of North Korean Communists - Kim Il-sung, his son Kim Jong-il, and no doubt in the near future, his grandson. The Museum of the Victorious Patriotic War for Liberation is designed to unmask the malicious insinuation that North Korea was the culprit of the Korean War (1950-1953). The Central Historical Museum will convincingly prove that Korean history is the longest and the most progressive in the world. Of special interest may be the burial place of King Tan;gun. The skeleton of the mythical founder of the first Korean state was unearthed soon after Kim Il-sung gave on-the-spot instructions to North Korean historians and archaeologists. The 5011 year old remains were 'scientifically proven' to belong to the father of Korean nation - King Tan'gun.
One will no doubt be impressed by the caring treatment which North Koreans extend to their animals and pets. Protracted 'temporary difficulties' and the subsequent shortage of sustenance have forced the population of cities to breed domestic animals and poultry in their apartments. Goats, chicken and pigs are the most common and not only in rural areas. Walking between towns, city-dwellers usually carry their goats in their arms so as not to make them tired and thereby reduce their milking potential. The staple food for goats is tobacco, freely distributed among industrial and some groups of office workers. But it is also known that North Korean goats, apparently guided by their patriotic feelings, prefer local brands of tobacco to the imported ones. To survive, many people breed chicken on their balconies. Not surprising then that the most typical sound during the morning hours is the cock-a-doodle-doos from downtown Pyongyang apartment blocks. Reportedly, some affluent people use bath tubs to breed pigs, but no foreign travellers has ever reported any audible grunts from Pyongyang. As for dogs, they traditionally deserve special attention and are usually served in the best Folk Restaurants.
During this trip, I felt absolutely happy twice. First was when our train crossed the Chinese-North Korean border and I was permitted to enter the country. The second occasion was when my passport was returned and I was allowed to leave. One American citizen who went to North Korea for a short business trip is still there.
It is interesting that among visitors from so-called 'capitalist' countries, Australians are the most frequent guests to the DPRK. Since 1975, our countries have had diplomatic relations. In 1997-98, five North Korean students stayed at the ANU to learn more about the 'capitalist economy'. An official delegation from North Korea visited Canberra in May 1999. In the last days of June, North Korean diplomats, trying to improve their international links and secure some humanitarian aid for the future, formally approached their Australian colleagues in Thailand. Who knows, the streets of Canberra may soon be full of North Korean visitors.