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My Trip to North Korea (Part 1)

December 4, 2012

Quite a while ago, I wrote several pieces about North Korea and a film project I had in mind. As I remember, the last idea that I entertained was a film about NK without entering it, “Permission Denied,” after being denied entry, the endeavor made via the NK State Department.

Well, I found a group of Korean Americans who work with the Citizens’ Group in NK and travel to NK every year to help the citizens as much as they can. I was invited to join them. Better still, the leader of the group encouraged me to write a proposal to film in NK. The waiting period was painful, but I was finally given oral permission to take a cameraman. Our visas would be given at Shenyang, China where we would get on a North Korean flight.

October 4, 2012, the day of leaving for North Korea. Our flight was at 12:50 at night, so actual take off was on the 5th. I took two suitcases with more film equipment than clothing and other necessities. I left home around 9:00 p.m. to meet up within the hour with Willem, a Korean American filmmaker/cameraman, young enough to be my grandson. Traffic was light, and the driver took me faster than usual to JFK Airport. There were already lines forming for economy class. I decided to stand in line while I waited for Willem. What seemed to be a long line moved swiftly. Still no Willem. I got out of line. I wanted to check in with him to make sure that we could repack our suitcases if need be.

Close to 10:30, Willem appeared with a breath of relief. “Oh, there you are! I waited for you outside in case you needed help with your bags.” I responded, ”Well, I waited here so that as soon as you showed up, we could check in.” Soon a woman came toward us, her face lit up upon finding us–Willem’s girlfriend, whom he had mentioned a couple of times. Her face was sweet, her body movement light, and her eyes were always on Willem. After checking in, we found a place to sit down and visit a while before we submitted ourselves to the security line. I got to know her for about 20 minutes and liked her. Oh, the sweet love of the youth. I felt nostalgic for my bygone days.

Finally, with Willem in an aisle seat a few row behind me, I in a window seat, the plane took off a little after 1:00 a.m. on the 5th. The flight was full, but to my great luck, no one claimed the middle seat. I felt that I was given a chance to breathe. What luxury. A thought that has been recurring these days–if I could afford it, I would not mind flying first class–well, at least business class. Sitting quietly with my legs stretched on a long flight would be nice to my body.

I took two sleeping pills which my primary doctor had prescribed. I could manage several hours’ sleep–not a normal sleep, but still sleep that made the 14-hour flight more bearable. The plane landed at Incheon International airport at 4:00 in the morning, Korean time. My legs felt good to be on the ground and walk. Willem was by my side and insisted on adding my white canvas bag to his already crowded shoulder. Clearly, he was eager to be protective of me. He warmed my heart. We were going to be fine together.

We had about four hours to wait until we could get on another Korean Air flight to Shenyang, China. The Incheon International airport felt empty at 4:00 in the morning. But we found a small bakery open, close to the gate for China. I bought us a pastry and coffee with Korean money I had in my purse from my last trip to South Korea in 2011. I told Willem to move around and do whatever he wanted; I would stay put and watch our bags, including the camera he would not let out of sight. He sat in front of me and was text messaging someone while charging his phone at the same time. No doubt, he was writing to his girlfriend. I felt happy for them while I missed my Don deep in my soul. If love is what keeps one young, I will forever be young and Don will be young even in his death. One thing I am sure of in life: our love.

At 7:00 a.m., Incheon International Airport came to full life. Every designer store in the world seemed to be there. As soon as they opened, a crowd of people materialized. I went into one of them, looking for an eyebrow pencil. Everything felt expensive. While standing there, I noticed a Korean man buying a variety of cosmetics, hopefully for his wife, but could be for his hidden-away girlfriend. I heard the attendant informing him of the total. It was way over a thousand dollars!  Never mind the eyebrow pencil!  I just slipped out of there, unable to stand the smell of money any more.

Willem and I moved to our gate. There we were greeted by four Korean Americans who had come to Incheon ahead of us. They were in the same group with us, headed to NK. Willem disappeared and came back with two cups of coffee. “I got them at Subway, closest place from here,” handing me one cup. The coffee not only tasted good but also helped me to stand alert in line to get on the flight to Shenyang.

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One Comment
  1. Jon K. Oh permalink

    I’m hooked and so looking forward to reading more about your trip.
    Jon K. Oh

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