I knew that when I finalized my arrangements to travel to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I would be culpable for directly funding a government with a less than impeccable human rights record.
And I knew that what I would be presented with would be, for the most part, a highly sanitized exhibition of this misanthropic country. All foreign visitors are required to organize their itineraries with the Korea International Travel Company (KITC), the government-run agency that controls each infinitesimal detail of tourism in the country – accommodations, dining, sightseeing, shopping. They attach travelers to guides and security figures that dictate where to walk, when to take photographs, what to eat, and where to take a piss.
With all that said, I do not regret much about my decision to travel to North Korea. Strangely, I felt compelled, almost obligated to my family to go once I learned of my ability to visit. My father’s side of our family originally hails from North Korea – from a small village near Hamhung, an unremarkable industrial city on the East Sea coastline. It’s been obvious decades since Japanese colonization and the Korean War forced our family to flee their ancestral home.
I’m not a sentimental person by any means, but I was afflicted with emotion throughout my time in North Korea. I wondered if it was because my visit inspirited through me a cathartic moment for my family’s sorrow because we were finally were back home.