Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

A window into North Korea…

Posted by vmsalama on April 26, 2007

Just recently back from South Korea. My group and I had the opportunity to enter into North Korea where we visited Kumgang Mountain.

It was a fascinating – and in many instances, really humorous trip…The highlights:

– Holes cut out of the mountains and transformed into makeshift garages where tanks were parked inside (a few tanks were pulled out of those garages and they had anti-aircraft missiles on top of them – all of which were pointed toward South Korea). Soldiers everywhere – often in the most random spots.

– Bizarre: A man in a giant teddy bear costume greeting us once we passed through North Korean passport control. (I managed to sneak a photo!)  North Korean Welcome Bear 

– There is a charge to use the outhouses – you pay $1 for the squatter  North Korean Porto-Potties

         (yes, US Dollars!!!!!) and$2 for the regular toilet! (Talk about capitalism!!!)               

– Green fences give the illusion of healthy fields masking the destitute condition of the country’s farmland. emaciated farm animals. (If you’ve ever seen the Truman show, that is exactly what this town was like. The residents were “actors” almost. A few of them warmed up to me and started spewing the type of propaganda we are so used to hearing from North Korea.)

– Forget tequila: In North Korea, there is a popular brand of alcohol in which a

GIANT SNAKE is inserted in the bottle – it is said to give STAMINA – alcohol content: 60%!!! Snake Drink

– Signs of change are everywhere. Gray-robed Buddhist monks from South Korea wonder around the historic Holy Valley Temple – a vibrantly painted wooden complex built in 519AD which, according to the monks, suffered extensive damage in a bombing by American planes during the Korean War. In a country where organized religion is barred and leaders of the Kim Dynasty are deified, one elderly monk – the only living survivor of the bombing, in fact – speculates that the reconstruction is merely a façade so to give tourists the impression that religion is openly practiced. She added, the best justification that the North Korean government can find for restoration is that the country’s founder, Kim Il Song, regarded the site as a blessed place in 1947.

– While the North Koreans are constantly in position for attack, the South Koreans have built a giant amusement park on their side of the DMZ called “Peace Land” – and tourists ride a tram down through the old Korean war tunnels that run from South to North wearing cute light blue hard hats marked “DMZ.” (The tunnel is barricaded 100 feet before the North Korean side).  

To see more photos from my trip, click here

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