Window to North Korea:the Hermit Kingdom Is Not All Bad
I have been reading a lot about North Korea mostly from the western press. I remember the US president Ronald Reagan coined the word Äxis of Evil" for North Korea. I could never understand how he coined this word for North Korea which is a puny nation compared to the big powers like China and Russia. I have also wondered as to how the American president conveniently gave a miss to China as a member of this classification.
The American obsession with North Korea going nuclear borders on the paranoid. In contrast, American presidents from the time of Johnson, developed cold feet when it came to China going nuclear way back from the 60s of the last century.No American has been able to explain this dichotomy; considering a small nation like North Korea as a part of the axis of evil and leaving out China, a much bigger power and threat.
I got a chance to visit North Korea as a tourist. The North Koreans are allergic to the Americans but they are not allergic to Indians. India is one of the few countries in the world that maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea. A few Indian businessmen and businesswomen are also living in North Korea. Apart from Pyongyang, a few hundred Indians reside in the cities of Sinuiju and Kimchaek. India also has a small trade with North Korea within the ambit of the sanction imposed by the UN( about $100 million).
A Bit of History
A bit of History.
The history of North Korea commences in 1945. The Russians broke their non-aggression pact with Japan and attacked Japanese troops in Northern Korea. Stalin the Soviet leader ushered in a communist regime in the North. The US had a presence in the South. Both Russia and the United States could not come to an agreement on how to unify Korea. They agreed for the next best solution at that time, a division of the country along the 38th parallel.
The area under communist control became the Democratic Republic of Korea and a totalitarian regime emerged while South Korea became an American ally
In 1950, the North Korean communist region invaded South Korea. The USA came to the aid of South Korea. They pushed the North Koreans back but China intervened on the side of the North. The Americans and their allies retreated.
General MacArthur, recommended the use of atomic bombs on China at that time. Winston Churchill was against it and fearing an escalation President Truman dismissed General MacArthur. The war lingered along for 3 years and both sides were exhausted and agreed to the status quo. The 38th parallel is the boundary between North and South Korea since then.
66 years have elapsed but the situation is not changed. The United States is maintaining troops in South Korea and regularly carries out military drills with South Korean armed forces simulating a North Korean attack and counter-attack by South Korea and the USA.
North Korea with, not a little help from rogue nations like Pakistan was able to develop Nuclear weapons. Their ability to attack the American continent remains zero. But the weapons were a deterrent to the war on the Korean Peninsula, as severe damage would result to South Korea.
The United States had made denuclearization of North Korea a single-point agenda. There has been no headway. The Ice between the two countries was broken by President Trump with two meetings with the Korean Dictator Kim Jong. Nothing has been achieved and the trade embargo continues and the North has not given up its nuclear weapons.
Korea does not issue any e-Visa and one has to apply direct to the Korean embassy. After interview I was allowed go to North Korea. I flew to Beijing and from there to Pyongyang the capital of North Korea Beijing has a direct flight from Calcutta. I landed at the airport. I was very impressed with it. It was very neat and clean. But it did not have the hustle and bustle associated with big airports like Dubai and London. Pyongyang has very few international flights.
At the small tourist counter, I was asked how I felt. The girl also asked me if I knew Korean. When I replied in the negative the young girl told me that the government had all the information about me and as India was a friend of North Korea they had decided to give me a guide. I asked where the guide was. And she pointed to a young girl standing nearby. l noticed the girl was slim and smart. I was introduced to her. And came to know her name was Morning Glory.
I liked her and felt my 10 days stay in North Korea would be fine. I will be honest and tell my readers that there were no restrictions on my movements anywhere in the capital. Whenever I pointed to a particular place, there were no restrictions. Maybe they would not have been so open if I had been an American.
I also observed that most people were well dressed. This was perhaps the surface and I can't say how it was in the countryside. I had also read that most of the Korean people lived in a very regimented society and had very little money to spend. Therefore I had carried two pairs of jeans and a T-shirt and a set of tops which I knew would be helpful. As we reached the hotel room I opened my suitcase and gave the pair of jeans and tops to the girl. I was a little surprised when she said that she could not accept both at the same time as the authorities would get suspicious. She took one pair of jeans and a top and said that she would take the second pair of jeans and later. She made a small packet with a newspaper and went away, telling me that we would start our trip around the city the next day. She left and I went down for dinner. I observed the hotel had some Chinese and Russians staying there.
The next day in the morning, Morning Glory came and I asked her to join me for breakfast. She refused and just sat opposite me while I had my breakfast of cutlets, bread, and sausages. I asked her if she had eaten well at home. She did not reply. I had a feeling something was amiss. I told the waiter to pack a couple of ham sandwiches so that I could take with me when I was moving around the city. He brought the sandwiches which I put in my bag and we got ready to go. As I came out into the street I found there was very little traffic. I had hired a taxi. We drove first to the garden. It's a beautiful place. Morning glory took me around. Once inside we sat on a bench.
I took out the sandwich and gave it to her with the words ' share it with me'. She was a little surprised but my guess was correct. Because she accepted the sandwich. This by itself is a small incident. But now I was aware that there appears to be some shortage of food in North Korea but also struck me that the sanctions imposed by the United States were not hurting Kim Jong, because he could continue his lifestyle but affected the people. In that respect, I think the sanctions are self-defeating.
In all my conversations with the girl, I will be honest and tell you that she said nothing against the dictator of Korea Kim Jong. She was of the view that he was doing a good job for the country. And if anyone was to be blamed for whatever had happened it should be America and their stooge South Korea.
After 3 days we had reached a level of close friendship. She told me about her mother and brother. She also told me that she has been 2 years with the Korean Army. Her brother was still serving in the army. There is 100% conscription in North Korea
I walked the streets of Pyongyang with her buying small trinkets. I gifted a small set of earrings to her. She was delighted. The next day she took me to the foreigner registration bureau. This was a mandatory requirement. The official there asked me what I thought of North Korea. I told him I liked everything very much. As we came out Morning Glory thanked me for what I had told the officer. She told me that in case I had said something bad, she would have been called up and punished
She then told me that she had been selected to be a guide to me during my visit here. That is the time standing before the Victorious Fatherland War Museum, I held her hand for the first time. I also had a lurking feeling that this girl was probably a part of the dragonet of Kim Jong.
I began to like North Korea though I saw there were very little hustle and bustle. It appears that everybody was going about his task in a very businesslike manner. I did not want to comment on this. But one day I asked Morning glory if she would like to take me to her home. She did not reply. Later she told me that she would let me know the next day. I had a feeling she would have to tell the authorities before doing that.
True enough the next day she told me that she would take me to her home and only her mother lived there. I remember climbing up a small staircase to a one-room apartment. It was neat and clean. But when she opened it, a lady was sitting there. Smilingly she made a cup of tea for me and then surprisingly said something in Korean and went away.
I asked her what it was all about. In reply, she kissed me. A nice clean room and a beautiful girl can tempt the strongest moralist. It started and ended with love. At the back of my mind, I wondered whether this was something planted by Korean intelligence. To date, I am not really sure. But that time in that small room with Morning Glory, Is for me one of the most cherished moments of my life.
Koreans are extremely proud and will not give up their nuclear weapons. I do not think that they are a threat to the United States.
I had three days to go. And now the three days became like a mini honeymoon for me. With her, I visited USS Pueblo, surveillance Ship captured by North Korea, Mansudae Grand Museum, Kim Sung-II Square, Tomb of Tangun, Moran Hill, Mangyongdae funfair and many more. There was a heavy dose of monuments and statues, murals to the ruling dynasty. On the last day when I was leaving, I thought I would say goodbye to Morning Glory and look for a way to meet her again.
I came down to the lobby and found that another girl had turned up. She told me that Morning Glory was not well. There was nothing I could do. I had a lonely while flying back. It is possible the physical relationship spread over a few days was not to the liking of the authorities. When they came to know about it, they removed her. I hope she has not been harmed in any way. I want to go to North Korean again. Let's see if I can make it.