An American sojourn into Pyongyang, part I By Branson Quenzer A man entering the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s formal name, especially with the perspective of Western eyes formed by media drilled into him from birth, will likely find himself with shaky nerves. What can he expect? What will happen? So much more is the unknown. It is said in the “Dictator’s Tour Guide” that no Korean language materials or mobile phones are allowed in, and that normal behavior may be deemed combative and punishable by expulsion or jail time. Our first contact with the DPRK is a soldier dressed in a green uniform checking our bags for anything illegal. To many it is a surprise that the border check is a breeze, even for Americans who have built-up resistance in the political chess game. We quickly transfer from the Chinese train to the platform and then into the old but maintained North Korean train which departs once a day. Pictures of their great leaders Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il stare at you. On the platform and in the train we sit with our supervisors, there to mind our words and behavior. They are ‘officially’ tour guides. The interviews start immediately. Mr. Pok speaks, translated by the young 23-year-old university student and unprofessional translator nicknamed U.B., “You are Americans; I am North Korean. My country does not like yours nor yours mine, but we are all people and we can answer any questions you have even if they are bad.” We politely, though skeptically, received their claims to such openness. Mr. Pok continues: “If I was in your country we could be friends; you are in my country, so we can be friends.” Questions of general life such as employment and our purpose for living in China ensue. Mr. Pok asks U.B. to translate, “What languages do you speak?” I responded that I know a little Chinese and a little Spanish. Mr. Pok spoke fluent Spanish, so for the next hour our conversations continued in Spanish, and U.B. was left out, saddened. Ushered out of the station quickly, we meet with yet another two North Koreans who have been assigned to accompany our little group. Conversation dominates the memory of us two Americans and four North Koreans riding through the countryside in a private van. The second of the two newest Koreans we met in Pyongyang asked, “What were your thoughts about the DPRK before you came?” The American president had already been referred to as a ‘king,’ and western state government sites advised sensitivity in political discussions. Simple and broad answers should be the best course of action. “Trying to keep an open mind to get the real DPRK is my purpose – not to think about it before, but to learn about it now.” Without asking, their political opinions begin pouring out. What the West projected about political sensitivity was something that seemed inescapable in the DPRK. It was in them and was something inseparable, something that was a hard rock at the core of existence, and something that if it were broken would mean certain self-destruction. Mr. Pok expressed his views saying, “The Eternal President Kim Il-Sung is in all of us.” U.B. followed later with a cute and pleasant smile, “We look at him as our grandfather.” She was happy to have such a wonderful grandfather. They want to know and I have learned not to tell. The six of us drive into the sunset not understanding each others world. …continued with part II next Friday