What Do You Give a Dictator Who’s Got Everything?


This is the sixth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here The International Friendship Hall is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen. It’s an enormous marble Korean-style building constructed to house all of the gifts given to Kim Il-Sung, from almost every country in the world. Many of these gifts were from heads of state (the most elaborate being...

Faking Enlightenment in the DPRK


This is the fifth in a multi-part blog on North Korea. You can find the others here After another horrid hotel breakfast we were taken to visit a Buddhist temple in the mountains. It was said to be very old, but detailed questioning revealed most of it to be a concrete reconstruction. According to the North Koreans, the original temple was destroyed by the “American imperialists”...

A North Korean Field Trip


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


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...

First Glimpses of Pyongyang


This is the second in a multi-part blog on North Korea. I flew to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, the North Korean national airline. It was an old Russian jet with a rate of climb of about 2 degrees. It felt like we’d never get in the air. Surprisingly the flight was full. There was one flight a week into North Korea from Beijing—its only contact with the outside world. Most of the passengers on...

Getting in to North Korea


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...

Holi-daze in Hell


Surrealism supplanted reality the moment I landed in Pyongyang, North Korea. In front of the airport terminal, beneath an enormous painting of Kim Il-Sung, a long line of women in traditional dress chanted “Welcome Pyongyang!” as they pumped their fists in the air. At the airport I was paired with an “escort” who wouldn’t leave my side the entire time I was in the...


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