Hutt News : May 17th 2011
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CONTINUED Page 19 Hutt librarian Karim Dickie says it was a surreal experience to stand on the roof of a North Korea military building and wave to American soldiers across the forti- fied border in South Korea. The de-militarised zone on the Korean peninsula that divides the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (communist north) from the Republic of Korea (south) is often barren, with a massive concrete wall built by the US in the 1970s running through the middle. But while he was warned not to go in certain places because of mine- fields, he was also struck by the beauty of trees in blossom and a butterfly landed on his hand. The cliche a land of contrasts'' certainly applies to DPRK. Few Western tourists go there and Mr Dickie says that path less trodden'' aspect is one of the things that attracted him. He says it's far easier than people think'' to get travel permits and he was hosted by the Korean Friendship Association, a government agency that encourages -- and controls -- visits by foreigners. Mr Dickie is aware of the country's axis of evil'' member- ship tag, its portrayal as being reckless with nuclear (weapons)'' and the tensions last year when a South Korean ship was bombed. Ownership of the island territory where that happened is disputed, he adds. He takes the attitude we may be different nationalities, but we're all human''. I think we need to do more to encourage links with North Korea. No-one knows much about the country and all you hear in the press is negative. When friends heard I was going, they all said they're only going to show you what they want you to see...you're not going to talk to normal people'. But their interpretation of nor- mal' is people who disagree with the way things are done there.'' There were just two others -- an Australian and a Frenchman -- in his tour group. An American tour- ist got a separate guided tour -- Mr Dickie was told that given the DPRK's frosty relationship with the USA he didn't get to see everything we did''. While Mr Dickie didn't like that they were confined to their hotels at nights, and was amused by vans with loud speakers being driven about, presumably with the broadcast messages exhorting the populace to stay true and work hard, their guides made no attempts to usher them away from people they encountered. Stories about all people being required to bow in front of statues of Kim Il-Sung, the son of peasants who took control of the Soviet-style government from 1948 until his death in 1994, aren't true from what he saw (though many locals do bow). The North Koreans, particu- larly the young, were certainly curious about the foreigners, and Mr Dickie was disappointed lack of time prevented them taking up the invitation of a group of local men preparing a traditional bar- becue near a waterfall attraction. On other visits he talked to others who had sufficient English. While performances by children on visits to schools and kindergartens were obviously choreographed for them, Mr Dickie says he was struck by the locals' sense of purpose and an underlying philosophy of self- reliance''.
May 24th 2011