Category: Travel

A Familiar Face

“I’ve seen you before,” he stammered in Korean. And so began my re-acquaintance with Lt. Colonel Nam Dong Ho, our military escort at the Demilitarized Zone. I was surprised that he recognized me from my previous visit. Hundreds of tour groups must have passed by since our first encounter in 2013, but I guess it’s […]

The Harvard of North Korea

The tour was a bit long-winded, but here is what I remember both from the official explanation and from more intimate conversations with our minders. Kim Il Sung University was the first university founded in North Korea. Named in honor of the country’s founder and eternal President, the university is responsible for producing the country’s elite […]

The Flower Swallows

I was taken aback when our guides told us to leave our cameras behind on the bus. Our group had up to this point enjoyed a very liberal photo policy under our North Korean minders. Granted, we had spent most of our time up to this point in the relative (and I strongly emphasize the […]

A Family’s History

I was told this. My grandfather was born when the shadow of colonial occupation still cast upon the peninsula. He came from somewhat respectable stock, one that afforded him the means to pursue education. Education gave him the ambition to leave his home for Seoul, where he would find an opportunity in the logistics business. That ambition […]

Market Forces

If you look carefully enough in the alleyways of North Korean cities, you’ll find individual vendors and even, perhaps, the bigger jangmadangs (black markets). It is here where people exchange a variety of goods, from rice and roasted sweet potatoes to cosmetics and South Korean movies to heating fuel. This is not something the regime will admit openly, […]

American Movies

A tap on my shoulder woke me up. I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window, only to find the same monotonous stretch of mountains that had first lulled me to sleep. We were still on the potholed-ridden roads of the Pyongyang-Wonsan highway. “Why’d you wake me up?” I said to Park, the young North […]