Previously on Tales from the DPRK: An evening on the train with a North Korean delegation.
The newest account in the series “Tales of the DPRK“- poses to even more remarkable than the first. This is certainly what it says on the tin, a story of a Skype Conversation I once had with a North Korean man, an extremely rare event which again challenges conventional thinking. But of course you will be wondering, how and for that matter, why? Let’s find out in this incredible story.
So firstly, how did such things come about? The answer is, this website. I created the Visit North Korea website proper in 2016 (the organisation started in 2015) and began promoting tours with my partners. What will surprise you is that sometimes elite North Koreans whom are given internet privileges can discover and browse these websites. I will be honest in acknowledging that the individual in question was of a privileged position, not just because he would make contact with me, but that he was not even in North Korea at the time.
The individual in question, who’s name or company I cannot reveal, was in fact based in Egypt. He had multiple portfolios going for him in his life. He was the manager of a DPRK travel organisation, whilst also had an unspecified role on an “engineering” project related to Cairo. I believe the latter is suspicious. Whilst there is the legitimate business of Osracom and telecommunications with Egypt, there is longstanding rumours about DPRK illicit arms trade into this country for clients all around the middle east. Again it is only natural that the individual would never disclose in detail what he was really doing, a staple of conversation with North Koreans.
The man got in contact with me because he wanted to use Visit North Korea as his own partner, thus providing clients for his company to bring into the country and host tours. I will say quickly this didn’t come to any agreement, for I already had arrangements. Nonetheless, he had reached out to me by email and invited me for a face to face Skype call. This was something remarkable, so naturally I agreed to it.
So we set a time and the call began. He was situated in some sort of living room. Like any individual on a skype call these days, he was wearing earphones. There were other Koreans within the background, he wasn’t alone. So he introduced himself and his company. But what followed next was the most frank thing I had ever heard from a North Korean. He told me that he was very much aware that his country was in a poor economic state and behind the rest of the world. There is a common conception that North Koreans are not aware or honest about this, but he was; I suppose having the opportunity to travel helps, but to say it openly is different.
He continued by telling me that I had an “objective” view of the DPRK, as in a view which was open minded and was able to understand the country’s position whilst not brushing aside the negatives. He then told me that he wanted to help “develop” his country by bringing people into it and obviously he saw tourism as a means to doing so. Of course, this was a very coded way of saying “I want to do business with you”- coating it in political and ideological reasoning. This may represent legitimate channels of discourse in DPRK conversation. Of course, like any businessman he would have wanted to do well for himself, but like any society there are “proper” ways of expressing things and in this country it is oversaw by given political symbolisms and ideas. He thus acknowledged to me things are not good in his country, but he done it in a way which touched rather than violated political correctness in that regard.
Whilst nothing wise materialized from the call, it is interesting to note that I have not lost contact with the individual. He returned to the DPRK eventually and with that he was honest in saying the ability to Skype again was lost. However, showing his business determination, he has not ceded my details. I sometimes receive emails from his officially registered .kp address. Although there has to be a mandatory business purpose behind them, they often reflect a catch up nature.
Again, I am grateful for this experience. Whilst I should note it is not representative of most North Koreans, it is nevertheless surprising. For me the significance of it are that these people are not robotic drones incapable of independent thought, but they are consciously navigating their lives through what they have been given to try and make the best out of it. They are people with aspirations and dreams like any one else. Is it any wonder I find it so difficult to accept the portrayal of the country through western media headlines?