Farewell to Korea ~ 평양 감사합니다

The DPRK ~ Into the Mist -3

So back to my original question about the DPRK: What lies beyond the fog?

After one week it is impossible to have any definitive answer, as the government works very hard to keep things shrouded in mystery.  This realization, while not surprising, is still disappointing.  The game of politics is in full gear.

The DPRK Goodbye-14

However, the ‘embrace’ from the local people, muted compared to the West, was a thrill.  Especially the rare moments when we could glimpse into their lives.  Such moments were brief, yet very welcomed as the trip seemed overshadowed by the government’s attempt to control all aspects of society (and our travel).

Big Brother was disheartening.  The country, in many ways, has become a tragic comedy.

The comedy being that the DPRK is viewed internationally as the Hermit Kingdom and the butt of many jokes, which ends up masking the great tragedy of the people: the people who endure and sacrifice in propping up this malignant government at the expense of their dreams.

The DPRK Goodbye-9

The population lives on a lot of hope amid great despair.  Hope in that Kim Jong-un will act on youthful idealism, and do what is right for his people.  Despair in the military rulers, who have been so deeply corrupted by power that any transition may be impossible.

The DPRK Goodbye-13

While many questions are unanswerable, as my past posts have shown, the DPRK is filled with a population of great people.  While they are somewhat skeptical and stoic in public, beneath that veneer shines curiosity and warmth.

It starkly contrasts the oppression of the government.

The DPRK Goodbye-5

The last night in Korea was spent at the Pyongyang Fun Fair (a carnival that is open to the public), and I marveled at the ease in which we were able to mesh with the locals.  While the trip as a whole allowed us a very narrow view of the society, it was still enough to open eyes.

The country has been stagnant for decades, but the changing dynamics of the world and flow of information has already triggered the inevitable transition of the DPRK into the 21st century.

The DPRK Goodbye-6

The DPRK Goodbye-3

There are heroes in the DPRK, but they are not the ones immortalized in bronze statues or paintings.  Rather, they are the ones who flash genuine smiles and, when possible, ask probing questions about the world.

They are the ones who see that ‘living in a system’ is not an ideal way to live; unrealized dreams will eventually catch up and take over a life.  They are the ones who see difficulties for future generations, and that triggers the desire for change.

The DPRK Goodbye-4

Desire, when strong enough, can be the impetus for change.  It is this desire that surprised me during my final week in the DPRK.  It was in the background of every defining moment I had in Pyongyang and Kaesong: desire for connection fueled by curiosity of the world.

If you would have asked me two weeks ago, I could have confidently stated the DPRK was a nation without any understanding of the outside world.  Today, it is much more of an enigma.

The DPRK Goodbye-8

The DPRK Goodbye-12

As I head out to the train station to say good-bye to the Europeans and Canadians I have met during my time here, I see groups of young Koreans getting ready to board a train into China.

There has been 50 years where creative minds have remained idle here in the DPRK, and I believe those days are gone.  “Change is a comin’…” is what the youth of Korea are now shouting.

The DPRK Goodbye-11

Will the transition of change be peaceful?  The world sure hopes so, but change will be on the terms of the Korean people.

As I watch the train pull out (being an American, I am banned from any train travel…), my mind reflects on the past week.

We have this short period of time on Earth to enjoy life.  To enjoy the different people and cultures of the world before we make that final walk towards the end.

Wouldn’t that final walk be great if we all walked through together, in peace?

The DPRK Goodbye-1

22 Comments on “Farewell to Korea ~ 평양 감사합니다

  1. A really moving article, you managed to humanise an entire population which has been dehumanised through the western media. As you say, a tragic comedy, where the Korean people are the ones suffering. I truely hope that change is on the way for this nation. Beautiful photos as alwasy!

  2. Randall, so impressed by this. I truly believe that Big Brother cannot win. Orwell’s 1984 could never come to pass, just as Kim Jong could never suppress the smiles and curiosity of his people. We are all human. Governments may limit our access to an outside world, but they cannot take away our God-given humanity… Even through torture, no one in all of time has managed to completely brain wash an entire population… I am glad the DPRK is now more of an enigma for you. You’ve made me definitely want to take a trip someday. And I loved the way you ended this:

    “We have this short period of time on Earth to enjoy life. To enjoy the different people and cultures of the world before we make that final walk towards the end . . . Wouldn’t that final walk be great if we all walked through together, in peace?”

    So true. I couldn’t agree more.

    • Oh, and I forgot to mention: Incredible photos, as always. I love the one at the station with the guide and the tourist, and the man with the bicycle, and also the one of the students in blue suits. That one in particular demonstrates perfectly everything you have just said.

    • Thanks Jessica, the trip really did hammer home the truth that if you take away the dividing forces (e.g., politics in its various forms), there would be so much more we’d learn and understand. The world would be a much happier & productive place. Thanks for the nice words!

      • My pleasure! I’m really enjoying seeing new parts of the world through your thoughts and lens. I hope you’re having a wonderful weekend. 🙂

  3. Aww..I will miss DPRK, this shows just how you were able to paint a rather comfortable picture with not just your photographs, but your words about this beautiful country.You will leave them to their reality and I believe they will still manage to know and seek knowledge of the outside. As Jessica said, no one has managed to brainwash an entire people successfully, not even through torture. There is still that resilience in the human spirit not to be trampled on perpetually. You would be surprised to know the many lives you too have made an impact on, just by mere contact,smile or small conversation during your trip. Before discovering your blog,my personal knowledge of the people of Korea was what I saw in the media. You have opened an entirely different scope of observation and knowing and I thank you for that.
    BTW, where next? 🙂

    • ha, ha…yes, I am missing the DPRK already too. You are right, people are inherently curious, and there is no stopping the truth…it just may take a little while. Did a couple trips in China right after the DPRK trip, so will likely post about those…but for now, I am back in the good ‘ole USA 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  4. Whenever I see photos of North Korea taken by non Korean(there is no bad meaning at all, don’t get me wrong), I really feel sad and tangled because people all over the world can go to North Korea except South Korean although we are actually the one country and the same people. I heard even when we could go to Gaeseong before, we couldn’t take photos freely and all were inspected before we left. I really think the division is just useless for both Koreas because we just pay more attention to defend each other rather than develop the quality of people’s lives. I enjoyed your photos a lot which we can’t see easily here 🙂

    • I never really knew that the South had such tight restrictions and you are right, it is incredibly sad that South Koreans cannot visit the North. It is useless, as you say, because together (a united Korea) would be such a wonderful thing for Koreans as a whole. Both sides would benefit, especially for the North having more freedom to chase their dreams as the South has done so successfully, but instead so much energy is wasted on ‘defense’ and negativity. Wish the day you can freely visit the North comes soon, as there is so much history/culture there that would mean so much more to you and your country. Thanks for the comments, and happy you liked the photos.

      • Oh, the restriction about photos is from North Korea. The restriction from South Korea is that we cannot go to North Korea. I heard when we leave Gaeseong to Seoul, the photos taken are inspected. And we cannot go to places by ourselves inside Gaeseong, and there is a certain tour route which we only can visit and is set up by North Korea.But it seems that people like you, non South Korean can take photos freely. That’s the sad part for us. 😦 Actually what we worry about is not only about our internal issue. That is more about if China keeps having economical relations with North Korea (even China got 10 year contract with a wharf in norther part of North Korea), then someday China would send their navy in the name of protecting their merchant ships. It means foreign military could settle inside Korea and it could bring us another problem. China is now doing a kind of history distortion which is called north east project. They say that one is only for their 3 regions upto north east area in China, but its ripple effect seems to be all conntected to Korean peninsula. That’s why we need to be unified soon, but North Korea’s leaders are not interested in that part and is getting more economic relations with China. That’s the thing that we more worry. Yes, as you say, I wish we would get better soon 🙂 Thank you for your comment and wish 🙂

  5. I don’t know if it is the eighth time I’m saying this on your blog, but beautiful words.
    I like the last photograph because it complements the final words very well, as, I believe, was intended.

    Since I am left speechless after reading your posts, I might as well quote you and add a few words as appreciation – “There are heroes in the DPRK, but they are not the ones immortalized in bronze statues or paintings. Rather, they are the ones who flash genuine smiles and, when possible, ask probing questions about the world.
    They are the ones who see that ‘living in a system’ is not an ideal way to live; unrealized dreams will eventually catch up and take over a life. They are the ones who see difficulties for future generations, and that triggers the desire for change.” – Simple yet complex. Very well put.

    “Being an American, I am banned from any train travel.” – I’m curious. Why so? Because of political issues?

    • Thank you for the nice words, and the last photo I enjoyed for the same reason… It was an incredible trip.

      As for being banned on the trains, yes the reason are political. I think mainly to tweak Americans, but the official reason is that the railways are considered of strategic military (transport) value so… Too bad, as I do like train travel in Asia.

    • Yeah, they say that the railway system is part of their military transport system so Americans must fly… In reality, it is just the government tweaking the noses of the US government 🙂

      • gosh!… Sometimes I wonder if governments are like a large scale version of cranky and bullying kids in a school backyard 😉

  6. A very interesting post about a very interesting country that has been so stereotyped in the Western media. The system doesn’t seem to be much to applaud but people are still the same all over the world, behind cultural changes and political systems. Once again you have captured some wonderful images.

    • It is that simple, great people exist everywhere ~ leave the politics and biases at home, and the world is a wonderful place 🙂 Cheers Otto, thank you!

  7. Randall, I’m enjoying catching up on some of the content from your archives. What a fascinating exploration this must have been. How much time did you spend in North and South Korea?

  8. I was hoping you had ventured into the DPRK and had posted about it. I’m going there in April. So excited. Your photos are some of the most enlightening that I’ve seen. My tour company says that now you can have up to a 250 zoom. Slow, but sure progress. 😉

    • It is a land that will change you at least in the short-term as you begin to think how cultures mold the way people think and act… I loved it, took it all in and enjoyed the people there very much. I had my 200mm, although the one time I wish I had it (atop the Juche Tower) it was sitting in the van :-/ It would be cool to travel there again, things have to be changing, albeit slowly. Very much look forward to reading and see the photos. Safe travels Julie ~

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