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North Korea

Will North Korea Change?

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Jeez, I disappear into the deserts of Namibia for a couple weeks and the news world turns over… I learned of the death of Kim Jong Il when I stopped for fuel in the town of Otjiwarongo. Anyone who followed his rare appearances in recent years could see a visible decline in his health, but still, the announcement of his death caught me off guard. I’ve been a keen North Korea watcher since I...

North Korea—The DMZ Too

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This is the sixteenth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here Our presence on the wrong side of the frontier caused a mild scramble among the South Korean forces. Frantic radio messages were dispatched. Binoculars were trained on us. Reinforcements jogged over to take up positions half-concealed by the corners of buildings, where they conducted a whispered conference and...

Spending National Liberation Day in North Korea

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This is the twelfth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here Our escorts chose National Liberation Day—the holiday celebrating Korea’s liberation from the Japanese occupation of the Second World War—to make our obligatory visit to the Grand Monument on Mansudae Hill. There were a lot more people than normal in the streets of Pyongyang, and the sun blazed down with a...

A North Korean Shopping Mall

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This is the eleventh in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here It took me nearly a week to realize why Pyongyang felt so much like a stage set. It wasn’t just the marble monuments and the enormous public buildings, the empty ten-lane streets and the weird scarcity of people. It was the almost total absence of shops. In all our bus rides through the city, I’d...

Child Stars, and the North Korea Spy Ship Incident

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This is the tenth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here Any propaganda tour of Pyongyang is bound to include a visit to the American spy ship Pueblo, captured by North Korea in 1968. To most people 1968 is ancient history, the distant past. But the North Koreans are still gloating over it and the international incident it caused. Our site guide was a grizzled old...

Inside the North Korean School System

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This is the ninth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here One of my creepiest experiences in North Korea was a tour of a primary school. Our bus pulled into an empty, cheerless concrete schoolyard, and we were marched up to the principal’s office. I had immediate flashbacks of all the times I’d spent in the office as a kid, and the string of suspensions I...

A North Korean Field Trip

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This is the fourth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here One day I took an overnight trip from the capital of Pyongyang. A field trip of sorts. It was the only time we were permitted to sleep someplace other than our hotel, locked down on an island in the city. We drove on a smooth, wide multilane “tourist highway” that begins in Pyongyang and ends at Mt...

The North Korean Hotel Experience

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This is the third in a multi-part blog on North Korea. I’ll begin by telling you a little about our hotel: our posh 5-star jail-away-from-home, the site of our evening house arrest, an excursion into the surreal side of tourism at the edge of the map. First, the food. Despite the high price we paid to get into the country and the constant reminders that we were getting luxury class...

Getting in to North Korea

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This is the first in a multi-part blog on North Korea… Many readers have asked about my time in North Korea. Why did I go? How did I get in? What was I thinking? I’ll start at the beginning. It was August 2001, a month before 9/11 changed the world forever. I was living and working in Tokyo. Summer vacation was coming up, and I planned to visit a friend in Indonesia. The problem is...

The shameful self-destruction of the West

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I’ve read a lot of quotes from Western leaders claiming the Taliban’s rapid reconquest of Afghanistan came as some sort of surprise to them.  Here in Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We misjudged the development.” Her foreign minister Heiko Maas added, “All of us – the federal government, intelligence services, the international community – misjudged the situation.”...

Ryan Murdock

Author of Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Columnist at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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