“Hey mum just a warning I’ll be in rural China for a week with no reception, so if you don’t hear from me – don’t worry!”
If you read the title you know I am a liar, white liar at best, and I am sorry about that, but it felt a little hard put trying to explain to my dear mother that I, a 21-year-old female was going to North Korea, “The Hermit Kingdom,” at a time the tv was dominated with rocket launches (2018 was the year). So, instead, I was faithful to my story, even sending a googled image of my “last place before I lose signal” for added effect. I mean it wasn’t a hard sell, she wasn’t going to jump to the conclusion I was heading to North Korea, and if she did, she probably deserved the truth. I would later find out that two people on my tour had almost had identical stories; it turns out this wasn’t an unordinary tale.
My longing to travel started young, and to the dismay of those around me, it was always to places that Australia’s Smart Traveller advised- do not travel, or reconsider your need to travel. So, naturally, North Korea was on that list. Though, I deemed it an impossible task and never pursued it based on that ideology. Luckily, on another tedious day in my second year of university, my curiosity got the best of me, and with a rather simple google search, I discovered it was. However, like most, I did have ethical considerations, but after extensive research, I was satisfied and committed. A mere six weeks later, I was en route to Pyongyang, North Korea, on an organized tour with Young Pioneers.
Still today, two years on, I regard my trip, although I prefer adventure as one of the best decisions I have made. I got to go into a country that was unique and yes, a bit wacky and regulate imagination, and media with reality. While I always knew it, I got to truly recognize that fundamentally we are all the same with our own desires, hopes, and ideas of happiness. What I initially thought were state actors (cringe) would evolve into friendships. There are so many amusing moments that I still find myself giggling over, like the time I volunteered to play my underappreciated country music, I mean surely if there was ever a time to be recognised for my impeccable taste it was with the North Koreans! Nope, my guide Jin-A after 10 seconds with a whole lot of sass asked me to turn it off, yikes! Or the other instance when I was caught innocently looking at one of the boys on my tour, and Jin-A turned to me with a cheeky wink and proposed marriage. Or the time when I was set on buying a red Hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and the two girls working insisted red was not my colour, and I was foolish if I didn’t choose pink. Or the time I watched a grown macho man cry after eating chilli dog soup. There are so many “Or” moments because over 5 days, there were so many distinctive experiences, but after much consideration, I’ve managed to narrow it down to one. On the last day when despite having different departures times the group all woke up at 5 am so, we could be together once more and say a final goodbye. All of us, inclusive of the North Koreans, overcame our pairs of opposite to form true friendships because, at the end of it all we were bonded by an experience that we knew would never come again, and one that only we could ever truly understand.
I really can’t encourage anyone enough who is debating whether or not to visit North Korea to go. I understand there are anxieties because I had them too, but don’t let these perceived fears stop you. So, if you are curious, open-minded, I urge you to be courageous enough and take the first step- get in contact with Young Pioneers. I can almost guarantee it will be one of the truly defining trips of your life, but don’t just take my word for it…
P.S – turns out my mum was only mad I didn’t invite her, which made me equally glad I didn’t tell her (sorry mum!).