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