North Korea is synonymous to many things — hermit country, terrorist, reclusive, crazy and many more negative adjectives. I neither confirm nor deny the name calling but since I experienced life there for a least 6 months I want to remember it as a very nice country – un spoilt, lovely people, underrated, misunderstood and maybe a little angry. If you knew the history of the country my last description may give you some insight on why.
Let me introduce you to the capital Pyongyang up to the east coast Hamhung, Wonsan and Sijung provinces where I work and a little further north Pujon county and trip down the DMZ in Panmunjon Province.
To enter into NoKor you need to secure a visa from Beijing, China only they can give you official permit to enter and work in the country but before they do that you have to submit to them all your credentials for them to approve you and of course to do background check. Good thing my organization has an office in China so the process went without a hitch, I just have to stay in Beijing for a week – see a little bit of the capital before going to the so called “hermit country”.
Leaving on a jet plane
Taking the Air Koryo from the Beijing Capital International Airport seems like a blast from the past — I took similar small plane when I started working in Cambodia. It was a remnant of old Russian plane where everything inside was old and some were broken like the back of my seat. The travel was uneventfully short — 4 hours if I remember it right. So I arrived … passport checked and stamped for entry and during those time cellphones are asked to be interned in the airport for the duration of your stay — just take your sim card and battery and they give you a pink slip as your ticket to retrieve it back in the airport. That gives you an idea of how life was simple back then — we’re not allowed to have any gadget for communication except land phones that they control (and listen to) and not even short wave radio in cars were not allowed. Communication via internet is slow and telephone is paid in Euro and very expensive.
Arriving in Pyongyang – the Capital
Off we went to the diplomatic enclave — the place where you have everything you need if you’re a foreign worker from the diplomatic core to aid workers while private company employees are belitted in Yanggakdo Hotel in the heart of the city.
But that would be my monthly home … my real home was at the east coast of Hamhung province. A very strategic countryside province facing the Japan Sea.
This is the second largest city and my work is found in the city — rehabilitation center is part of one factory that produces rubber feet and wooden prosthesis before polypropylene were introduced to them in early 2000. My organization was one of the 2 organization working for people with physical disability in the country and both produce a better quality devices that the country knew. I lived in a resort residence — the Majon Bathing Resort.
Who wouldn’t want to wake up to this everyday … beautiful sunrise and sunset everyday for the duration of my stay in the country.
And full moon on some nights …
Then you’re off to work everyday same time in the morning unless there’s a big happenings in town that no foreigner should witness (like the arrival of the Dear Leader for example) or the parade of the workers.
Another place of work was in Sijung Province via Wonsan Province
The treatment center is only open during spring and summer and closed during winter. People from all over the country come to the Sijung Center (Sanitarium) to have treatment for all types of ailments. The mud is collected from the lake and prepared to be used in many different ways including the very interesting mud bath — heated to a relaxing temperature and clients are immersed for several minutes. People come here as a retreat, it has complete facilities including medical and rehabilitation treatment.
When not working we also have fun …
Watching the Arirang Festival which happens every year and all students participate
Visit to the Botanical Garden to see beautiful flower creations by connoisseurs of flower arrangement
Trip to the Stone River – Pujon County
Trip to the border — Panmunjon Province — The infamous Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Until it’s time to go back home and leave this nice little country behind and find another adventure.
Many changes had happened since I was there in 2008, cellphones become normal — everybody’s on it, Won had devaluated further and the Dear Leader had passed away and his son took over and from what everybody know the country is still as they say — reclusive but not without threat.
But in spite of that, I only would like to share good memories to let you into one of the most misunderstood country in the world.
Visit my other blog to see more of my life in North Korea http://dhidhakjpbandalan.weebly.com/snaps/a-glimpse-of-the-hermit-country