If you’ve managed to reach this blog, I’m guessing you already know a bit about what it entails. We asked the world which place needs some love and seduction, and the world said ”Pyongyang”. This meant that we had to get our seductive underwear to Pyonyang. I’m leaving in two days, and I’d say this is about as excited, as I’ll ever be. I find myself asking dumb questions in my head. ”What will it smell like when I first exit the airport?” ”What will my guides (plural) be wearing?” ”What do I answer if they ask why I brought so many pairs of pink underwear?” I’m visiting the North Korean embassy tomorrow to get my visa. The travel company told me I should probably bring diarrhea pills, so I just bought some to bring with me. Let’s hope for the best. Did I mention I’m going by myself?
PS I meant I’m bringing diarrhea pills to North Korea. Not to their embassy in Stockholm.
Here’s what the stash looks like.
I just got back from the North Korean embassy in Stockholm, where I got my visa. The process was extremely smooth, I must say. First, I was greeted by a man who brought me into a room with large paintings of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, where we waited and made small talk. I asked about the weather, and he told me about his two kids. I was given a couple of brochures to read, mainly filled with pictures of grand military parades. I was told to give them pictures and my passport. After a bit more waiting, I was given my passport and everything was okay. Like I said, very smooth.
A large painting of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung at the North Korean Embassy in Stockholm.
North Korean visa!!!
The difficult part hasn’t started, though. I still haven’t really figured out how the rest of this process is going to work, but I guess that’s part of the adventure. I’m bringing lots of pairs in my luggage. As far as I’ve understood, I won’t have any Internet during my stay. I can send very little e-mail, and all of them have to be sent from the hotel computer. That’s why this blog is posted after my trip. Phone calls are very expensive, and will be difficult because of time difference etc. I will literally be in the middle of nowhere.
I’m about to leave for the airport in Sweden, where I will take a plane to Beijing. I’m staying in Beijing for one day, and then I’m off to Pyongyang. There were two travel options. You can fly, or take the train. Flying takes two hours, while the train takes 24 hours. Plus, there will probably be delays and such. In other words, I’m glad I decided to fly from Beijing. During my stay in Pyongyang, I have many activities scheduled. These include the Korea War Museum, Kim Il Sung, and Kim Jong Il’s mausoleums, visiting a middle school, bowling center, and a tour of the Pyongyang metro. I hope my guides are fairly relaxed, and will allow me to give them underwear as presents, both to them and to people we meet. One part of me thinks the mood will be much more relaxed than expected, and one part of me thinks it will be much more strict. In other words, I have no idea of what to expect. Especially of “Bowling Center”. Anyway, I’m off to the airport!
I must be more nervous than I thought. I’ve had about 15 cases of sleep paralysis in the past two hours. I really hate them. If you don’t know what they are, it’s when you wake up, and feel like there’s someone in your room, but your body hasn’t woken up, so you can’t move. It sucks. I hope some Toblerone and David Attenborough can calm me down a bit. I need sleep.
I’ve arrived in Beijing! Tomorrow, I depart for Pyongyang! It says in my guidebook that I will have to pass through a “Fever-o-meter”, which sounds exciting. I picture it looking like something from Dr No. I figure I’ll go slow during the first two days, just to see how I can best proceed, in order to complete my mission. I want to get to know my guides, and see how relaxed they are. My hotel is called Yanggakdo Hotel, apparently the second tallest building in North Korea, and it looks pretty fancy on Google. I’m interested to know what time I’ll have to be back at the hotel, and if I can move around by myself whilst inside the hotel. I already know I can’t do that outside. I’m also planning on taking pictures with an analogue camera. I wonder if that will be an advantage or a disadvantage. I’m guessing I’ll have to develop the pictures there, and show them I have nothing to hide. Which is kind of not true. Now for some food!
China, as seen from the airplane window
Finally arrived in Beijing!
Some of our pink underwear in the hotel room in Beijing
Besides another touristy looking guy, a few “regular” people, and myself I could almost only see military personnel. I decided to take the underwear out of the plastic bags, and then keep the plastic bags in my computer case. That way, they won’t look so new, and should pass off as my own. They might wonder why I only wear pink military underwear, though… And why I brought a hell of a lot more pairs than number of days that I’m staying. If they do, I guess I’ll just have to say that my stomach is a bit upset, after which I will make a pleading, and slightly embarrassed face. I’ve also been coming down with somewhat of a cold, something I hope won’t upset the “Fever-O-Meter” too much. I found myself saying that word aloud on the airport train. The guy sitting across from me giggled.
Looking at the departures
At the check-in desk, right before take-off
I have arrived safely in Pyongyang, and I have all the underwear with me. They took away my passport, though, which feels a bit scary. I guess I’m really here now, whether I’d like to be or not. Also, I feel like I might be the only tourist here at the hotel. Which is huge, by the way. My room is on the 41st floor. I haven’t seen the view yet, since Pyongyang is literally pitch black from 6 pm onwards. It looks really eerie. They have speakers that belt out messages to the public every now and then, too. I can’t really decide if this is exactly like what I pictured in my head, or nothing at all like that. The plane ride here was strange, people were shaving in their seats, plus they were taking turns in looking at my passport. At the arrival hall, they scanned my baggage, but didn’t open it. One of the soldiers even complimented me on my analogue camera.
My guides didn’t know who I was at the gate, so I was left standing there for a while before one of them worked up the courage to ask me. On the way to my hotel, we passed almost exclusively military vehicles, and the whole place feels very serious. And quiet. It’s going to be interesting to see how they feel about the pink I brought. My guides have been very nice so far. Conversation is, of course, sparse, but I hope we’ll get more comfortable as we go along. Hopefully then, I can start handing out the Weapons of Mass Seduction.
The bad news is that I’m sick as a dog, and because of that, I can’t really eat the food. I had dinner by myself in a pretty big banquet hall. A dinner, which consisted of kimchi, cauli flower soup, fried fish, fried pork, and fried something else. I couldn’t finish most of it, and was a bit embarrassed, since I’m guessing food doesn’t come in abundance here. Speaking of food, I really hope I can keep my stomach in check during all these day trips; otherwise this will be a nightmare. I’ll show you some pictures of my room and the view tomorrow when it’s light!
I can instantly tell that this is going to be a bit difficult. I already knew that I wouldn’t have Internet access from my computer, but now I’ve found out that the Internet for the hotel isn’t working either. Since there is no mobile phone coverage here, I really am in the dark. I can’t correspond with my colleagues or friends at all. Also, people don’t want their picture taken here. I hope they’ll warm up a bit once I’ve been here for a few days.
Thinking back on yesterday’s reception, I can’t really decide if they’re a bit suspicious towards me, or if it was just small talk. Pretty innocent questions felt kind of awkward, as if they were scoping me out. Most likely not, but I guess that’s the kind of paranoia that this political system causes. To avoid any unnecessary quarrels, I’ve told the travel company that I’m a graphic designer.
Today I’m visiting a middle school, and some other stuff (I can’t believe I just called their cultural relics “stuff”)! I’m still planning to take it a bit easy with handing out the pink underwear, just to scope out the terrain a bit. Now for some breakfast!
Yesterday I dropped some underwear outside the hotel before I went to bed
This is what my room and view look like!
The hotel room
The view of Pyongyang from the 41st floor!
I’ve just come back from the statues of Kim Jong Il & Kim Il Sung, which were huge. Probably the biggest statues I’ve ever seen. They reminded me of the Treptower Park monuments in Berlin. We also visited the national gift hall, filled with lavish gifts sent from the people of Korea, corporate bosses etc. The head of ACER, apparently sent Kim Jong Il a table which holds some form of world record? They also showed me a gift from the boss of Samsung, which was an Apple computer. Apparently, he was sick at some point, after which Kim Jong Il sent him some Ginseng that supposedly cured him. As a thank you, he sent an Apple computer, and some Samsung electronics back. I know the past couple of sentences seemed really boring, but that was kind of the point. I mean, world leaders sending Apple computers and Ginseng back and forth? Come on. Some of the other gifts were incredible, though. Giant vases made only from seashells, jade-tigers and embroidery that was jaw-dropping.
I just experienced something that was…odd. Really fascinating, but odd. I was scheduled to go to a middle school, something I had been pondering all day. What would that entail? Would it be me sitting in on their classes? Would it be a Q & A with me being put on a chair in the center of the room? In fact, it was neither of those things. It was a middle school performance, which is a perfectly normal thing in any country. The thing that was odd this time is that I was the only guest. In other words, it was 30 Korean children singing, dancing and playing instruments for nobody but me. Let me make something clear. Grand gestures make me very uncomfortable. I get uncomfortable when people sing happy birthday, even if it’s not for me. It was almost relieved when I was asked to participate in the dance. Of course, I looked like an idiot, but I’m more used to that, thus it helped me relax a bit. I like being low in the food chain. I really admire those kids, who managed to keep a straight face throughout the whole thing. I hope it’ll be as good of a story for them to tell, as it will be for me.
Insert awkward and amazing group photo. I really wish we were all in a band together. I will be spending my whole flight back, trying to think of good names for my fake, North Korean band.
Tomorrow I’m going to try and give the underwear to my guides, and see how they react! If it’s positive, maybe I can start giving them to other people as well!
View of Pyongyang from the hotel
Today I gave the pink underwear to my guides, to see how they reacted. They were happy, but also a bit reserved. It seems difficult to give people gifts here, since they are not very used to them, and are not sure how to respond to gifts that aren’t extremely simple, like chocolate or cigarettes. I asked my guides if they wanted to take a picture with me, and the pink underwear that I gave them, but when the picture was taken, they had already put the them in their bags. Conditions for performing this task are…not ideal. The weather is foggy, meaning I can hardly every get pictures with a descriptive background, and I am never left alone. Ever. Except for when I am at my hotel, my guides are never more than five meters away, and I am always on the move between one historical site and another. The only time when I was left alone today, was for 1 minute down in the Pyongyang Metro, but I felt that taking out pink underwear and taking photos down there could have serious consequences, so I decided not to do it.
Aside from my guides, nobody has wanted their picture taken. Literally zero people have said yes when I have asked (and I’m told it’s very important that I ask). So, what options do I have? I should probably assume that neither of the underwear packages from Sweden will arrive. I will have to get creative with this.
I hope the weather is better (or at least more clear) tomorrow, so that I can try to get some pictures of me and the underwear being here, with Pyongyang in the background.
The weather was cloudy again today, so no scenic views from my 41st floor window. In fact, I can hardly see the ground at all from up here right now, only bits of the river, and the Juche Idea monument, and that’s because it’s over 100 meters tall. I’m exploring the idea of hanging the underwear in different places, but I’m not sure what my excuse would be if I got caught. I don’t think they would buy “It’s an art project”, since I’m not in Brooklyn. I went to a dam outside the city today, where a pretty lady was the first person to allow a photograph. The guides still haven’t left me alone for more than 30 seconds at a time, and I’m starting to understand what people mean by “closed country”. At least the Internet started working, so I sent a rather cryptic e-mail from the hotel e-mail address (I’m not allowed to use my own e-mail, since they want to check what I write) to my “girlfriend” aka my boss, asking for further instructions. I hope she has and idea or two, so that I can make sure I get some proof of us actually being here, trying to carry out the world’s wishes.
Weapons of Mass Seduction in the hotel window
It’s becoming more and more apparent that I’m not used to this level of hospitality. Hospitality is, of course, a great thing, but I don’t think I’ve opened a single door since I got here. I know I don’t look the part, but I’d say I’m a pretty good door opener. Average, at least. My water is poured for me, and people even fix the collar of my shirt if it gets a bit messed up. Like I said, hospitality is a great thing. I’m just not used to being pampered like this.
I just went to see the bodies of Kim Il Sung, and Kim Jong Il. Nobody told me that the actual bodies would be laid out. It was insanely creepy, and fascinating at the same time. There weren’t many “regular” visitors, but thousands of soldiers there. First, we passed through two security checkpoints, then a metal detector. No cameras were allowed inside. After having bowed before two statues, we were allowed into the first chamber, where the body of Kim Il Sung is kept. The room was very dark, with faint red lights directed at the high ceiling. The room was filled with pillars, and in the center, inside a glass container, was the body. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a dead body, but it’s really creepy. Especially when it’s someone of holy status that you have to bow three times for. We moved quickly in a single line, bowed on three occasions, and then we were escorted out. The chamber of Kim Jong Il was exactly the same, only his uniform was different. The whole thing felt so strange. I had to dress up in a jacket, and shirt. I had to have my hands along my sides, and no talking was allowed in the two chambers where the leader’s bodies were kept. I still can’t get over the fact that they had the actual bodies right there on display.
I received a reply from my boss, but as I expected, it’s hard for my colleagues to come up with any good suggestions, since they’re not here, and they don’t know what the situation is like. Later I’m going bowling, and I suggested that we go roller-skating as well. Since I doubt that my guides will actually want to skate, maybe that will get me a bit closer to the general population. It’s crazy, I literally haven’t been in contact with anyone except guides, and the hotel personnel. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a roller-skating session. I was told we might be able to do it, if there’s time.
I’m afraid I have some very, very bad news. I finished last at bowling. I was leading throughout the whole game, and then in the last part, both my guide, and our driver passed me. Actually, that’s a lie. I was never in the lead, and then I finished last. Our driver did pass one of the guides in the last round, though, but that has little to do with me. I don’t know what it is, every time I think that I’m going to excel at bowling, I just don’t. I guess that’s what they call “not being very good at something”. Apparently, it works the same here. Also, my guides wanted to learn some Swedish. “Hej”, and “Tack” weren’t much of a problem, but when we reached the level of “Den Lilla Sjöjungfrun Har Inte Deklarerat”(The Little Mermaid Hasn’t Declared Her Taxes”), they ran into some problems with the pronunciation. We didn’t have time for a roller-skating session, we just watched a bit. Watching wobbly, yet excited Koreans trying not to die a painful roller-skating death, put me in a good mood. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. I’m back at the hotel now, and I’m about to see if some of the personnel are up for receiving some gifts!
I’ve left our pink underwear in the lobby of the Yanggakdo Hotel
My level of paranoia has decreased after having been here a couple of days. When I first got here, after hearing horror stories of constant surveillance, I always double saved anything I wrote under different file names, and I would close my suitcase in a certain way, just so I would know if someone had opened it while I was gone. As I’m writing this, I realize how insane that kind of behavior is. I blame the system. But then again, maybe they want me to relax? Maybe I’m walking into a trap? This is so dumb. I could do this all day. Actually, the thought of the government spying on little old me is almost flattering than scary. Just in case they break into my room and read this:
“To the lovely government of the DPRK,
Thank you so much for letting me visit your country! I have had a great time, and will only have good things to say about you and your work! I am very jealous of your methods, and results! I am not dangerous, so you can stop reading now.”
Right now I’m off to the DMZ, right on the border between North and South Korea!
I’ve handed out almost all the gifts that I managed to get through customs, but still nobody wants to take a picture with me. It’s very frustrating. Tonight is my last night at the hotel, and if I can’t get it done tonight, it’s not going to happen. I’m not sure what that means for the relevance of this blog, but even if I can’t do it, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading so far! This is the view from my window today! True story.
Scenic view from my window this day
My guide told me something really nice today. Something I’ll remember for a long time. I asked him what his idols and hobbies are, and he said his favorite person is Magellan. His main hobby is “Geography”. I wasn’t sure what he meant at first, since I’m thinking most of the world has already been mapped out. Then I realized what his situation is like. I really think there’s a form of subtle beauty in a guy who will most likely never leave his country, thus he has made into his hobby to study a map of the world, learning all the names of countries he will never get to see.
Left the pink camo underwear in one of the hotel corridors
Threw out underwear from the hotel room window.
I’m at the airport, about to take off for Beijing! I’m pretty exhausted, since I haven’t been presented with this much information in such a short timespan before in my life. I’d say I’ve visited an average of five museums/monuments per day since I got here. The bowling session was, by far, the most interesting part, since I got to interact a bit with the general population. If I go again in the future, I think I’ll put in some requests for “everyday activities”, like going to a shopping mall, or an amusement park. If you decide to visit DPRK, that’s my recommendation.
I’ve given out the underwear that I brought, but because people wouldn’t pose for pictures, I hope you’ll take my word for it. I left two pairs in my hotel room for the cleaning personnel, and scattered pairs over the city! I wish I could be there when someone finds the gifts I put out on the street. In any case, I’m sure the recipients of our gifts will have use for them, and that their new Weapons of Mass Seduction will do more good than the thousands of actual weapons in circulation here.
Pink underwear I left for the hotel staff