North Korea Day One (Aug. 28)

5 Sep

Finally I’m back in a land with internet. Firstly a little bit of back-tracking. That morning when Eric and Dane were stuck in Seoul were the most frantic few hours ever. I was in contact with the tour agency only via email that morning because their offices still weren’t open and Simon had said that they wouldn’t have any information about possibly getting the guys out on a later flight til later that morning. After having my internet connection cut and told that Gmail could not connect (thank you China) I decided to go to the offices and talk to Simon directly. I figured I had plenty of time anyway. My flight to Pyongyang was scheduled for around 1pm and it was still only 8:30am.

I got to the offices to find Simon frantically running around and asked him about how we could get Eric and Dane to join us, when he interrupted ‘Did you get my email?’, I said ‘no’ to which he stopped and said, ‘so you don’t know about the flight’s new time?’. The flight had now been moved forward to 11am. It was now around 9.30am and that’s when we were talking to Eric and Dane about having to make an instant decision. I disappeared out of the office having to get back to my place, pack and get a taxi for the most disorganized start to any trip I’ve done…without my traveling companions.

Unfortunately for me I picked up the most relaxed and clam taxi driver any city could offer, clearly the sweat dripping from my brow and panic clearly written all over my face hadn’t translated but I arrived with a few minutes to spare. I met Simon again and asked him had he heard from Eric or Dane but because of all the extra hoops they now had to jump through in terms of making 26 hours in Beijing into 24 hours and trying to get an emergency visa for China in Pyongyang I had a sinking feeling that I was going to start this tour alone. I eventually got to the boarding gate 2 along with the others who had had their mornings cut short, the gate was opened and boarding for Air Koryo direct to Pyongyang had begun.

When we got onboard we got our daily newspaper of how Kim Jong Un was doing a marvelous job of running the country and a magazine of all the recent accomplishments of the North Korean regime. The flight attendants were dressed in red uniforms and were passing out drinks from a trolly that I’m pretty sure was taken from my grandmothers dining room. I think they had put on some brakes of some sort but every time they had to stop the trolley I saw the flight attendant wedge the top of her shoe under the wheel for assurance. Once I had got my drink it was time to settle into the Pyongyang Times and catch up on all things North Korea. I did find one article, titled “Fact Remains Fact”, that both Koreas would agree on and it was about their colonial past under Japanese rule. One thing for sure that they can come together on is their disliking of how Japan dismisses some of their claims about how their people were treated during that time. Other titles included: “Plotters to pay dearly for crimes”, “Scandals of Lee’s confidants lambasted” (in relation to Lee Myung Bak’s dodgy dealings in the south) and “Mass rallies congratulate supreme leader on attaining top military title” (regarding Kim Jong Un promoting himself to this position). And then there are many pictures of the new leader Kim Jong Un waving, smiling and generally just been a good bloke!

We were also reminded during the dos and don’ts meeting that we should not fold the newspaper over the face of Kim Jong Un if he was to appear on the front page. They told us about a tourist who was smoking in his hotel room and after putting out his cigarette tossed it in the rubbish only for the ambers to burn a hole in the newspaper and of course it’s burned a hole through Kim Jong Un. The cleaning lady found it the next day and he had to write a formal apology and had his tour ended immediately! After finishing the Times, I kicked back and tried to enjoy whatever movie they were playing. Next stop, Pyongyang.

The tip of the typhoon that kept Eric and Dane from traveling had hit Pyongyang so our drive from the airport to the hotel wasn’t much. I couldn’t really make out anything along the drive as the rain poured down. Amy assured me that it would pass during the night and we’d wake up to a wonderful day and take in all the sites the next day. I got to my hotel, checked in and Amy told me to come down for dinner around 7ish. She brought me into the restaurant and there was my table for 10 but just one place set. The guides weren’t to eat with the tourists in the hotel so I was left to my own devices while the waitresses came out, looked, giggled and disappeared back into the kitchen. I met up with an English couple for a beer but as everyone was to be up at cock-shout it was an early night.

There was plenty of room for Dane and Eric had they made it.

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