Tour to North Korea an eye-opener

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fi­nally met face to face this week. The two coun­tries are of­ten por­trayed as world’s apart, but are the North Kore­ans re­ally much dif­fer­ent to West­ern­ers like us?

Dubbo Photo News - - Front Page - By YVETTE AUBUSSON-FO­LEY

WHEN Dubbo man Con­nor Co­man-sar­gent trav­elled to North Korea last Novem­ber, he says he didn’t have any set opin­ions about the coun­try, but since re­turn­ing re­alises that some media re­ports just aren’t true.

“I read be­fore we left that you can’t drink but it was kind of like a Kon­tiki tour, we drank ev­ery night and I saw North Kore­ans drink. All the brew­eries are state-owned so I don’t know where that idea comes from,” Mr Co­man-sar­gent told Dubbo Photo News.

“When I got back to Aus­tralia, I saw a media re­port that said Mother’s Day had been banned in North Korea, but I was there for Mother’s Day. It def­i­nitely hap­pens.”

Mr Co­man-sar­gent is a pho­tog­ra­pher who found that, de­spite read­ing rules about who, what, when and where to pho­to­graph, the re­al­ity was dif­fer­ent once he’d ar­rived.

“There are lots of rules and if you do a Google search you can read you have to pho­to­graph the lead­ers in a cer­tain way, or you can only pho­to­graph when you’re told to, you can’t pho­to­graph out­side the bus.

“We got a brief­ing be­fore we left, but we were al­lowed to pho­to­graph out­side the bus, any­thing. They said not to pho­to­graph sol­diers but when we got there it was a lot more re­laxed. As long as you’re not putting your cam­era right in some­one’s face,” he said.

Con­nor first got the idea to go to North Korea dur­ing a trip to the South when he did a tour of the de­mil­i­tarised zone.

“I got my first glimpse of North Korea and I thought, ‘I have to go there,’” he said. “It is re­ally easy to go. There are quite a few com­pa­nies that do tours there. I was with a com­pany called Ko­ryo Tours.

“Every­one that trav­els to North Korea is pretty travel savvy. The group I went with were re­ally in­ter­est­ing peo­ple.”

Con­nect­ing with lo­cals was also a high­light.

“One thing I re­ally en­joyed were the ex­changes I had with the lo­cals. You are al­lowed to talk to them, but there is the lan­guage bar­rier. Just small things, like chil­dren wav­ing to you, or smil­ing or say­ing ‘hello’. That was cool be­cause you re­alise that peo­ple in North Korea aren’t just ro­bots, they’re like us, they laugh and joke too.”

The strangest ex­pe­ri­ence for Mr Co­man-sar­gent was vis­it­ing the mau­soleum of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, at the Kum­su­san Palace of the Sun in Py­ongyang.

“You have to wear very for­mal clothes. You go in­side on a trav­e­la­tor and it’s re­ally slow. Be­fore you go into where they are, you go through a dust blowing ma­chine that cleans you.”

The pre­served re­mains of the lead­ers are kept in trans­par­ent crys­tal sar­cophagi.

“You go up to them in groups of four, and first you bow at Kim’s feet and on his left and right side, but not his head be­cause you can’t be above him as it’s dis­re­spect­ful.”

The ex­pe­ri­ence has left him with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of peo­ple gen­er­ally.

“When we travel there’s al­ways so much em­pha­sis on the dif­fer­ences be­tween each other, in­stead of fo­cussing on the sim­i­lar­i­ties. We are very sim­i­lar to North Kore­ans – the like a joke just as much as the rest of us.”

Con­nor Co­man-sar­gent at the Kum­su­san Palace of the Sun where Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung are lay­ing in state. PHOTO: SUP­PLIED

PHOTO: CON­NOR CO­MAN-SAR­GENT

Metro sta­tion in Py­ongyang. Ev­ery­day news­pa­pers are put in th­ese frames and peo­ple read them on their way to and from work.

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