Those who plan trips to North Korea must be prepared for the inevitable question: Why do you want to go…there? I wouldn’t say that I take trips off the beaten path, although the reasons for my vacations may seem out of the ordinary. For example, with the exception of last year’s trip to Europe to accompany Mark during the Gay Games in Cologne, all of my past trips to Europe have been for study purposes. I like to study minority or endangered European languages. When I tell people the reasons for my past trips to Finland, Switzerland or to Brittany in France, sometimes they laugh in my face, but for the most part they’re curious and are interested in the languages and cultures that I immerse myself in. I don’t even mind the initial ridicule, because it gives me a chance to enlighten others about these languages.
I will not be studying Korean while in North Korea, however I am currently devoting my time to learning the Korean alphabet and Korean alphabetical order. I hope to be able at least to read the language, and know how to look up words in a Korean-English dictionary. Since this is not another language-learning trip, why am I going to North Korea, of all places?
Travellers to the North usually visit for one of two reasons. One: they’re “collecting countries” and the North is usually the last on most people’s checklists of countries around the world. Or two: they are educated tourists who have for the most part already read a lot about the country and are curious enough to want to go there. I have been interested in North Korea since high school, when I first learned of totalitarian states and the personality cults built around certain world leaders. I was also fascinated by the dictatorships and iron rule in Albania, Romania, Equatorial Guinea, the former Central African Empire and other states. If you were to probe deeper, I would say that I was fascinated by the power of propaganda and the complete control of a government in society.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is unlike any other country on Earth. It will be a trip where I will have an otherworldly experience without even having to leave the Earth’s atmosphere. I do not fear for my safety during my eighteen days there, the longest time any western traveller will have been permitted to stay in the country. I consider myself as an open-minded Canadian Friend of North Korea, who will enter the country prepared to be enlightened by the North Korean vision of themselves and the outside world.