When we went to North Korea in October 2015, there were lots of Chinese tourists. North Korea is popular with the Chinese as it reminds them of their country three or four decades ago before it was westernized.
This was the attraction for us. Visiting the so-called hermit country that had not been westernized. We spent a week in the DPRK (North Korea) with our own private guides. From an approved list, we selected destinations that most interested us which included the Pueblo (a U.S. Navy ship captured in 1968), schools, monuments, farms, the DMZ and the Kumusan Palace of the Sun where the father and grandfather of the current ruler of the DPRK are entombed.
We spent much of four days driving through the countryside and saw only one modest tractor during that time. Otherwise, harvesting was done with the sickle.
The contrast with Beijing was dramatic. The Pyongyang airport sits in the middle of a rice field, there were few cars on the road into the city and the air was relatively clean. The streets in Pyongyang were wide and neatly organized. The population of North Korea is 25,000,000, rather small compared with other Asian countries.
To our surprise, the people we saw during our travels were much better dressed than most Americans and Europeans. Women routinely wore high heels and our guide even wore her high heels and business suit when she took us up a couple of steep trails in nature reserves.
Our young guides spoke excellent American English. During one visit to a high school English class, we answered questions about the U.S. for about 30 minutes. There was no internet as we know it or international telephone service.
For the North Koreans it was important, but not required, that we visit their museums commemorating the Korean War. These museums were state-of-the-art with LED lighting and the walls were covered with huge murals showing the alleged atrocities perpetrated on the North Koreans during the war. Our guide would tell us the despicable things done by the Americans, and we would listen politely without comment.
Toward the end of the tour our guide opined that considering the American legacy as she knew it, she found it interesting that the Americans she met were all so nice. That is one reason that I wish that Americans were still permitted to continue visiting North Korea. Contrary to what most Americans think, until August of 2017, North Korea was one of the easiest foreign countries to visit.
The North Korea we saw was a country of stark contrasts. The roads we traveled outside the capital were some of the worst we have experienced. But we were also surprised by some very modern and brightly lit buildings in the capital.
There was a lot about North Korea that defied our expectations, and we plan to share these experiences at the travelogue.
About the presenters
Jackie and Elston met in 1987 hiking with the Sierra Club on an evening hike in the Santa Monica mountains. They continued to do that hike several times a week for the next fourteen years.
Even though Jackie came from Pennsylvania, the state that ranks number one for natives not leaving the state, she had a nursing career in Maryland, Florida, and California. In California she taught several years at UCLA, and during the seventies cold war era, she led nursing tours to both China and Russia.
Elston was born in China and grew up in China, Japan, and Brazil. Travel comes naturally for him, and he feels very at home when traveling in Latin America.
Following two careers teaching history at the university level and then in corporate taxes, he and Jackie retired to the Northwest in 2001.
Since that time they have traveled extensively visiting all seven continents at least twice. In particular, they enjoy going to remote unpopulated places and to cooler climates.
Elston and Jackie are amused when people tell them that they do not travel because “people hate” Americans. Not once in their travels have they met anyone who said they dislike Americans or have they ever felt unsafe. And in just the last two years they visited Colombia, Zimbabwe, and North Korea.
In North Korea, they were amused by one of their guides. After several days showing them monuments and museums recounting alleged American misdeeds and atrocities, she commented that she found it puzzling that all the Americans she met were so nice.
Jackie and Elston believe that travel and cultural encounters are the best way to break down barriers between nations.
About the presentations
Traveler’s Journal is a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition with local adventurers sharing their stories and photos with you. All of the money raised is used to buy project supplies and food for the volunteers working on the Olympic Discovery Trail.
Admission is $5 adults, youths 18 and under free.
Shows start at 7 p.m. in the Sequim High School Library at 601 N. Sequim Ave. The seating is chairs and some people bring their own cushions.
Each year the dream of a continuous trail from Port Townsend to Forks gets a little closer. In 2017, about 200 volunteers put in more than 9,000 hours of labor on the trail.
One selected photo enlargement will be given each week as a door prize.
Call Arvo Johnson at 360-301-9359 for more information.