After nine months of planning, I am finally on my way to North Korea. Early this afternoon I leave on a direct flight from Toronto to Peking, where I will arrive in the Chinese capital the following day at the same time as when I departed. I have never flown across the Pacific before, yet I have given myself three and a half days to acclimatize to the time change. If I’m feeling up to it after I check in to my hotel, I will spend my first moments in China taking a short walk to the Koryo Tours travel office, where I will greet and thank the staff who have been so helpful in arranging this trip. Koryo Tours is close to the Bookworm Beijing, one of two branches of a major English-language bookstore. I wonder if I will have the willpower to forgo visiting the Bookworm until after my trip to the DPRK. I know I will have to, because any English-language books I might buy will not be allowed into North Korea. If I keep that thought in mind then perhaps I could go in and just browse.
One of the benefits of knowing that the North will not allow in any foreign books (I also cannot bring in any books written in the Korean language, regardless of subject matter) is that while in the North I will have a long period of reflection to ask myself whether or not I really want to make certain purchases back in Peking. This will not apply only to books, but for any souvenirs I might wish to purchase in China. When I return to Peking for two days following my trip to the DPRK I will have made up my mind by then what souvenirs I really want. That means, however, that I will have to keep notes about what souvenirs or books I saw and liked and where I found them.
If I am feeling well-rested and energized for walking, then on Wednesday, August 31 I will visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Mao Mausoleum. I have already booked a day-long tour of the Great Wall for Thursday. It starts at 8.30 a.m. We are driven 3½ hours out of city limits to a section of the Wall not visited often by tourists. The Great Wall stretches far into the interior of China where hardly anyone visits, so any remarks I make about sections of the Wall not being visited often are all relative, when compared against various companies and their tour quotas. We hike for five hours along very steep sections of the Wall. Hikers are told that since they will need both hands free in order to climb precarious sections, backpacks are a must and carrying bags by hand is prohibited. Sounds a bit scary, but fun! Glenn Mosher is a good Scrabble friend and he is also a world traveller. He has given me great travel advice before, especially for my 2009 trip to Paris. He recommended this Great Wall tour and one reason I am so excited about it is that Glenn recommended it so highly. On Friday of this week I will have to be at the Koryo Tours office for the 90-minute DPRK travel briefing at 4 p.m., so I will spend that morning and early afternoon visiting the Olympic site.
On Saturday, September 3 I fly to Pyongyang where I will start an eighteen-day country-wide tour. First up on my North Korean itinerary: attending a performance of the Mass Games, quite possibly the greatest show on Earth. This show has to be seen in order to be believed.
I have a long list of addresses and will write to all who have asked. I am all packed and ready to go out the door. I have a bus to catch at 8.51 a.m., so once I hit “send”, that’s the last time I’ll be at a computer until my return on September 22. Goodbye everybody!