The story appears on

Page B1

June 20, 2011

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Tripping out in DPRK

THE blue sky, quiet streets, the ordinary people, the poor life and isolated society reminded Lin Zhaolu of his experience 50 years ago. But the faded memories made him feel both nostalgic and estranged at the same time.

The 64-year-old Chinese man recently took his wife and their 7-year-old granddaughter to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"The six-day tour to DPRK was not like any other sightseeing trip. It was a nostalgia tour that left deep impressions and many issues to think about," Lin says.

After the DPRK opened up to Chinese tour groups last year, the country also decided in late May to allow Chinese tourists to drive across the border to visit Rajin and Sonbong (Rosan), a special economic zone for foreigners.

The first self-driving tour, made up of 24 cars carrying 90 tourists, started from Changchun, capital of northeast Jilin Province, on June 9. The three-day tour stopped at the harbor of Rajin, Rajinman and a village that former DPRK leader Kim Il Sung once visited, according to trip organizer Jiang Hao, a manager with the Jilin Branch of China Youth Travel.

However, more tourists, like Lin Zhaolu from Beijing, decided on the group tours organized by travel agencies. Most tour agencies offer four- to six-day tours to DPRK for around 4,000 yuan (US$618).

"When I heard that the DPRK had opened up to Chinese tour groups last year, I wanted to travel to the mysterious country, which is so close to China," says Lin.

Lin visited the Sino-Korea Friendship Museum, the tomb of Chinese volunteer soldiers from the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea, the site of the armistice agreement at Panmunjom, and the Kim Il Sung Memorial Hall.

"The War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea left a deep impression on my mind when I was young. I still remember the scene some 60 years ago - people were beating drums and gongs on the streets to send off the volunteer army," Lin recalls.

Guo Qingchun, director of the retail administration center of Utour, says the route to the DPRK is very special, although admittedly, more for older tourists than young people. About 70 percent of tourists traveling to the DPRK are older than 50. Some are over 80 and some had been soldiers in the conflict.

In fact, the DPRK has been receiving Chinese visitors for more than a decade. Visitors were mostly granted business visas before the country turned into a destination for tour groups, according to travel agents.

Figures show that the DPRK receives 10,000 to 30,000 Chinese tourists every year. The number of European travelers is no more than 1,000. The country gets fewer than 500 Japanese travelers every year.

Before traveling to the DPRK, Lin had heard that the country suffered from widespread famine. So as a precaution, he and his wife carried many instant noodles packets in case their granddaughter got hungry.

"Actually, the situation was not that bad. The food was enough. But we were not used to the cold Korean kimchi, so we used up all the instant noodles packets," Lin says. "The roads and the streets in DPRK were also backward, like the ones in China in the 1960s, but it's so cool to drive on a highway that has barely any cars, compared with the always-jammed streets in Beijing," Lin says.

A pleasant surprise for Chinese tourists was the presence of female traffic police. Also, the subway in Pyongyang is more than 100 meters underground and can also be used as an air-raid shelter - another fact that surprised visitors.

"What impressed me most was the Korean people's friendship. They are very kind to Chinese. Whenever we talked about the Chinese voluntary army in the war, they seemed very excited," says Lin.

But he said there were restrictions.

"Taking photos was forbidden in many places. We were not allowed to take our mobile phones into the country. We were also not allowed to talk or make any contact with ordinary people there," Lin says.

Many travel agencies have special guidelines about traveling to DPRK. Tourists are warned to avoid talking about political issues with Korean guides. Beijing-based BTG International Travel & Tours warns travelers on its website that mobile phones, telescopes and camera lenses longer than 150mm are not allowed.

Lin says that when he asked his female Korean guide how her life was, she said she was satisfied. Although her monthly income was just about US$30, her family's house, health care and education were all free.

"I think DPRK people are happier than us because they don't have as many burdens as the Chinese," Lin says. "Everybody's life feels the same, so people don't think they are poor. Their life is like what ours was 50 or 60 years ago, but now in China, the gap between the rich and poor is getting bigger. We we can feel the inequality and we are not happy."

Lin lives in a small bungalow in an old alley in Beijing.

"Traveling in the DPRK for several days, I often found myself wondering what kind of life I wanted. I yearn somewhat for the old days," Lin says.

His 7-year-old granddaughter, however, could not understand why her grandfather felt that way. She seemed interested only in the Korean traditional dress and begged her grandparents to buy her one at a hotel in Pyongyang.

Also in the group was 79-year-old Zhen Fengqi, once a chemical analyst in a field hospital of the Chinese volunteer army in the war. He said he had mixed feelings about the places he revisited. He bought a DPRK map as soon as he arrived in Pyongyang. For the first time, the war veteran went back to the different places where he almost lost his life.

"I have always expected the opportunity to come back to DPRK," Zhen says. "My fellow soldiers were buried there. I often dreamed of them."

Zhen says he still remembers some Korean words, including those used for comrade. Reminiscing, he also recalls that the Korean girls working in the field hospital were pretty and delicate. "But we had strict rules and could not fall in love, so I could only cherish the affection in my heart."

For many Chinese, the DPRK is a country that seems both familiar and secretive.

"We find it familiar because it reminds us of the old days, but we don't really know how people live in the closed society of today and that makes the DPRK mysterious," says Liu Yu, a 45-year-old professor with the Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, who plans to go to the DPRK in the future.

Liu says he developed a "Korea complex" ever since he watched a large number of DPRK movies and movies about the war when he was young. "Movies like 'Invisible Front' and 'Brothers in Arms' were very impressive. And 'The Flower Girl' was very well-known in China in the early 1970s and when it was screened, everybody in the cinema would cry," Liu says.

Although he hasn't found time to visit the DPRK, Liu often surfs the Internet to get information about the secretive nation.

He says he really wants to contact ordinary people in the DPRK, although he knows that's almost impossible, but he wants to know about their living conditions and their thoughts.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend