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My Trip to North Korea (Part 7)

Back at the hotel, I walked through a long corridor to reach a huge hall where we were to have breakfast. The hall held many tables covered with white table cloths, but there were only a few people scattered about. I was led to a large table at the back. Willem joined me there with a camera. Breakfast offered choices of toast and rice porridge with kimchi. The menu was clearly designed to accommodate those who wanted western fare and others who would rather have something Korean. Willem and I ate both, starting with the toast, jam, and butter, then proceeding to the rice porridge, as if it were lunch. Nothing was served in huge quantity, apparently applying a no-waste policy.

I politely asked if I could have a cup of coffee and was told by a smiling waitress, “Of course.” She came back with a cup in which I found a spoonful of instant coffee at the bottom. She poured hot water into the cup and gave me a small spoon to stir. Instant coffee!? How long has it been since I drank instant coffee? When it came to coffee, I confess, Don and I were snobs. We wanted freshly made coffee of a particular type–French Roast. During the last couple years before Don’s departure, we rejected the electric coffee maker and opted to pour hot water slowly through Chemex bonded natural filter squares. Each time, I was thrilled to see the rich brown liquid drip slowly. Don never missed saying “thank you” with a big grin when I brought him a cup of freshly dripped coffee! I felt more than richly rewarded, knowing that the hot coffee going through his ailing body helped him to forget his pain a little, however briefly. (Well, I always do this–side track to Don at every chance.)

The real point I wanted to make: I wasn’t disgruntled with instant coffee. No way. My heart was warmed by it and even thought it was delicious!

Upon finishing our breakfast, we proceeded directly to the front of the hotel. Mr.Paek greeted us with the door open to the same van that carried us from the airport. “Driving out of Pyongyang will cost you more,” he warned me casually, reminding me that I was to pay all the expenses. I wondered if I had brought enough cash to cover the costs. Our North Korean guides would prefer euros, but would accept dollars–of course, only in cash.

We drove through the NK capital of Pyongyang, soon to hit the road which, I was told, would reach all the way to the DMZ. In little over an hour’s time, we were driving on the road with rice paddies on both sides. We were in the farm land away from the city. In the fields after harvest, hay stacks were scattered, and on the edges were cosmos flowers.  They were starting to wither but to my eyes still beautiful, their delicate petals moving quietly as the soft wind passed by. “Oh, how beautiful. It would be great to shoot some of these flowers and fields!” I exclaimed–my way of pleading with Mr. Paek to stop the car. While I felt comforted to see Willem filming through the open car window, I was also worried that the road was too bumpy. (Well, my concern was justified when I viewed the footage from the moving car–it was shaky, some too shaky for use.)

Had it been just nature’s beauty I wanted to film, our driver might have stopped, but I knew that he wouldn’t because there were more aspects to the scenes we passed. There were women carrying their babies on their backs and what seemed to be bundles on their heads. Some men rode bicycles. Small school children walked on the narrow path chattering and laughing, avoiding the occasional cars. I ached and itched to get out of the van, go grab some of those people and talk with them–especially the kids. They brought back gohyang I left in the winter of 1945. If the sight of those people warmed my heart, I knew that Mr. Paek would not want me to bring them back in my camera and show them to Americans. He was concerned that those images would confirm outsiders’ notions of North Korea as a backward country. “Well, we have a heavy schedule today. Soon we will be entering your gohyang,” was Mr. Paek’s polite rejection of my wish to stop the car. Within a minute or two, ignoring my deep sigh, we saw a sign, “Entering Shin-chun.”

Driving on the road with rice fields on both sides, it dawned on me that I could be passing our farm land where so many of my own family’s tenant farmers tilled the soil. There was no way to verify what I thought and felt. I simply decided that it was, and held myself still, and let my imagination run wild. The houses we passed had tile roofs, though–different from the farm houses I remembered. The thatched roofs were gone.

At last, our van came to the town of Shin-chun, but nothing was the same. Everything had changed.  Even before I could try to see where our house could have been, the van pulled into a parking lot surrounded by big buildings. “This is the Museum of the Shin-chun Massacre,” announced Mr. Paek and he urged us to get out. A woman in traditional costume came and was introduced as our guide. I wanted to find our house–if only a glimpse of it–but instead, I was about to see the gruesome images of burned and tortured bodies of Shin-chun citizens, the old and young and the male and female, who were killed during the Korean War in 1950.

To be continued.

I am pleased to alert readers that Iowa Sky: A Memoir by Donald D. Gibson will be available to order at Amazon.com or at Barnesandnoble.com on March 1, 2013.

My Trip to North Korea (Part 6)

After the visit to my grandmother’s resting place, my door to North Korea opened up. Min Jung got a call from Shenyang, China. I realized that it could be Mr. Yang, the nice young man who worked for the travel agency. I had begged him to continue to look into Willem’s visa situation and left Min Jung’s phone number with him. I had not taken my cell phone with me, having been told that one could not use the cell phone in North Korea and that one had to leave it at the airport. “It was a Chinese man who left an urgent message. He said that Willem’s visa was granted.” Min Jung conveyed the message in one breath.

Early the next morning, Willem and I went to Incheon International Airport and caught the same flight we had taken a few days before. As soon as we emerged at the customs area, we found Mr. Yang’s face with a huge grin. What a pleasure it was to follow Mr. Yang to the third floor to find Kentucky Fried Chicken and other small eateries. No steamed dumplings this time. We each ordered a noodle dish and slurped it to our mouth. “Now, tell me, Mr. Yang,” I said, pulling a long noodle into my mouth, “why was Willem’s visa denied before?” An awkward wrinkle of embarrassment passed across his face. “Well, I wish I could tell you a good reason. The person who issued visas had a list of the names. Willem’s name was not included in that list.” “Why was it not included?” I asked. “Well, it was a simple, clerical error. Remember, it was Saturday. His boss, who gave him the list, was not available, so he could not ask him why Willem’s name was excluded.” What could I do but sigh a deep sigh? How often are our lives screwed up by unintended mistakes? Small, stupid, sloppy mistakes? They all belong to the department of “life is frail.” I went back to my noodles, after which I counted out cash to pay for the visa and all other expenses incurred, including Mr. Yang’s fee.

This time, Willem and I were able to get on the Air Koryo (North Korean airline) flight. In less than an hour, we landed at Pyongyang. The airport, which is the international airport in the nation’s capital, reminded me of the Omaha, Nebraska airport where Don and I used to fly in whenever we visited his folks in Iowa. A smart looking chap, Mr. Paek, greeted us at Pyongyang airport, and helped us through customs with all our equipment. Out of the airport, getting into a van brought by Mr. Paek, I felt at home as much as anywhere I’d ever been. I was astounded.

Mr. Paek took us to Pyongyang Hotel, by the Daedong River, where two single rooms were reserved. My room was sparsely furnished but clean. It felt like a friend’s guest room. Willem and I met Mr. Paek in the lobby and followed him to a restaurant called Arirang, next to the hotel, for dinner.

During dinner, Mr. Paek told me over a glass of soju (the Korean equivalent of vodka, and which Mr. Paek claimed to be much better than soju in the South), “I understand that you wish to visit gohyang (the place of  birth), so it will be to Shin-chun we will drive the first thing in the morning.” With that, we clinked our small glasses and ate food delicately prepared and presented. Our dinner table trailed behind none of the fancy ones I was taken to by my rich friends in South Korea and the US. Two waitresses, in western outfits of white, gray and black–not in the traditional Korean costumes I had expected–were graceful and elegant. They more than fit the images of the beautiful maidens of Pyongyang about whom I had read in Korean literature. If I was impressed by those women, I was even more delighted to put a piece of kimchi in my mouth. Growing up, I had heard a lot about Pyongyang kimchi—how cool and refreshing it was, not dominated by the spice, garlic, ginger, etc. It was so fresh that I could eat it all night, as if it were dessert.

As soon as I got up and dressed the next morning, I went outside and there it was–the Daedong River–and people were strolling along the banks. The river beckoned and my feet followed. I passed by a group of people practicing tai chi, and before I knew it, I was on the beach. I walked along the water and bumped into two middle-aged women coming toward me, humming a song. “Hi, whatever you are humming, it sounds beautiful,” I said to these strangers. They stopped and gave me a broad smile, clearly receptive to chatting. “I am a Korean living in America but I am here to visit my gohyang.” “Oh, my. How long has it been since you were in your gohyang?” one of them asked. “Too long. I left it in the winter of 1945 with my family.” “But you don’t look that old,” the other declared. “Yes, I am. I was seven years old when I left for the south with our family.” After a brief pause, words tumbled out of my mouth. “Do you know this song, ‘“My gohyang where I lived was a mountain village with flowers blooming.” (The same song which I had heard at my grandmother’s grave). “Of course.” “Would you sing it for me?”  The two women sang and I sang along. “Where are you, Willem? How fantastic it would be if we could put them on camera!” I lamented, quieting my emotion-charged heart. Those two women were happy and in peace, definitely not puppets.  If they worshipped their leader,  they did so as happy, independent citizens.

My Trip to North Korea (Part 5)

As I reached her grave, I put down the flower pot, and bowed three times to the woman, my maternal grandmother and role model for as long as I remember. The black stone monument with my grandma’s name on the front sent a deep vibration through my body, a moving moment that held time still. On the back of it were inscribed all of her grandchildren’s names, following those of my parents. I went through each name and knew that every one of them adored this woman. Finding a white splash (must be the work of a bird) on the stone, I took out a piece of napkin from my bag and cleaned it off. Only then was I able to sit by the monument and look around to see where my company was. Min Jung and Mr. Kim were a few steps away from me. Willem, at the bottom of the hill, was busy with his camera.

I waited until all three were close enough to hear my voice. Then I told them a story.

Here resting is my grandmother who woke me up one winter morning in 1945 and told me that we had to leave. Still sleepy, I asked her why.

“To go to the South,” she said.

“What’s in the South?”

“Americans and democracy!”

“Who are Americans and what’s democracy?” I asked.

“No time to answer all your questions. For now, we have to hurry!”

That’s how I left my gohyang (home town) so long ago and crossed the 38th parallel on foot! Since then, I’ve never been back to my place of birth.

Pause.

Of course, Don heard this story in so many variations. In 1987, the first time Don and I visited Korea together, we came here, hired two workmen and built the stone wall.  Don made friends with those two men over soju and American cigarettes.

I recall the evening of the third day when we were all done and getting ready to leave. I bowed three times deeply, and Don did exactly what I did. In Korean, I said slowly and clearly that Don and I would move her to her family mountain where her husband rests. “What did you promise her just now?’ asked Don. I told him and he nodded his head in agreement.

No one spoke. They were just waiting for me to go on. Of course, Willem continued filming.

Now Don is with my grandma.

As I uttered those words, my voice shook with so much emotion that could blow away the strongest wind.

I can hear him telling her, “Don’t worry. Dai Sil will keep her promise.”

A long pause and a sigh that could sink the earth.

As you know, Korea is still divided!

At that very moment, instead of shattering noise of the earth opening up under the weight of my sigh, a beautiful melody spread over the hills and the graves. Soon, we all heard the lyrics, “My gohyang where I lived was a mountain village with blooming flowers,” the song all of us sang so often when we came to Seoul on foot, crossing the 38th parallel. The song spread all through cemetery like a ray of sun light visiting every dark corner in quietude.

We came down from my grandmother’s grave, trying to follow the sound of the music. But we could not find the source of that song, so close, and yet so far.

I kept my innermost thoughts to myself. “Maybe, it was a heavenly song sent by either my grandma or Don. Better still, together.” Another thought followed. “Now I know why Willem’s visa was denied. Both Don and my grandmother wanted me to begin my film on North Korea from here!”

Do I sound crazy? If so, all the better. I like being crazy as long as it signifies my soul’s far reaching journey into the world of the unknown and into the time gone and the time yet to come.

My Trip to North Korea (Part 4)

In less than an hour, we landed at Incheon International Airport, back to the place where the smell of money nauseated me.

We found our luggage without much waiting and walked out, past customs to the lobby. I spotted a desk with a sign, Hotel.” I walked to it, with a plan to call Hotel Kobos, where we had reservations to stay on the way back from North Korea. Well, they told me over the phone, “You have reservations on the 13th, not on the 6th.” No vacancy in Hotel Kobos.  At my request to try other hotels, the woman at the desk called more than a dozen of them.  No vacancies anywhere, within the range I could afford to pay. “Do Koreans sleep at hotels on weekends for fun?” I inquired. Politely ignoring my sarcasm, she said, “There are so many Chinese tourists these days that it is almost a miracle to find a room, especially on weekends.”

What to do? What to do? I was desperate and exhausted, body and mind. “Wait, I found a hotel in the New City, the city built, literally for this airport. Would you like to go there?” With a huge nod, I asked her to call a taxi for us. “But the hotel will send their shuttle.” What a relief. Maybe, our luck was changing. Almost two hours after our landing, we were met by a hotel shuttle.

What a splendid feeling to enter a room. Any room would have been good, but it was a huge room—even luxurious room—with computer, television, and king-size bed. The bathroom was the size of a small hotel room, equipped with a shower, tub and Jacuzzi, all for the price of $125. I rested for a few minutes and called Willem to meet me in the lobby.

We crossed the busy street in front of our hotel and found a tofu house, a chain restaurant which actually originated in Los Angeles. A friend had taken me there when it first opened. We ordered food and a bottle of soju. We slurped food and drank soju. (In New York, at our second meeting to plan our trip to NK, I asked Willem if he would like to drink some soju, the Korean equivalent of vodka.  He almost fell off his chair. “What’s the matter?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. “You mean you drink soju?” “Oh, yes, soju goes better with Korean food than wine,” I said. He was still in a state of shock. It slowly dawned on me—he’d never met a Korean woman as old as I who drinks soju!). He had adjusted fast. He understood and was glad that I wasn’t like his mother or any other old Korean women he knew. I drank soju. No problem!

Back at the hotel, entering our rooms, which were next to each other, we bade each other good night. “Sleep well, Willem. I will figure out what the next step would be in the morning,” I assured him.

It was not what I would call a sound sleep. I was awake at 7 am. Too early to call Min Jung, a smart, capable producer who helps me when I am in Seoul. I had called her from New York and asked if she could help set up on-camera interviews on the 14th and 15th of October. “I will be arriving at Incheon from NK late on the 13th. I would love to work two days in Seoul, before I return to NY.” So she expected me on the 13th,  not on the morning of the 7th.

How could I break the news about our disaster? Around 9 am on Sunday morning, I heard her voice on her cell phone. I said, “Hello,” but got no immediate response. Clearly, she had no inkling who was calling her on Sunday morning. “It’s me, Min Jung!” “Oh, my!” I noticed that her voice rose, recognizing mine. “Are you calling me from Pyongyang? That’s where you are, right?” “Pyongyang is where I should be but I am in Seoul!’ “What’s going on? What happened?” I explained our situation in nutshell. She was quiet.”Okay, I will call Mr. Kim (the president of the company and her colleague) and we will be there in a little while!” “No, please do not come. We will take a cab and meet you at your office.”

We had to move out of our hotel and find a new one. This time, we got it for one night close to Min Jung’s office. We took a cab to our new hotel, checked in and left our luggage. Then, one more cab ride to Min Jung’s office. Both Min Jung and Mr. Kim were there. The four of us went to a restaurant across the street to have lunch. The food was good, but the company better. Min Jung and Mr. Kim asked what I wanted to do. I said, “Whenever I come to Seoul, I visit my home first.” “I thought you had no home here!’ said Min Jung. “Yes, I do. It is where my maternal grandmother rests at a Catholic cemetery at the outskirts of Seoul.” No more explanation was needed or requested. We got into Mr. Kim’s car and he drove us to the Catholic cemetery. I tried to explain where it was but he didn’t need my help.  As we drove, I recognized familiar roads and places. He was definitely heading toward the correct place. I asked to stop at a huge greenhouse. I jumped out and bought a pot of pale yellow chrysanthemums. I would have preferred white, but they did not have it.

DSC00164

My maternal grandmother’s grave site (2006). Seoul, South Korea.

At the cemetery, Mr. Kim found a nice spot to park. There it was–the cemetery which I have been visiting every chance I came to Seoul—my homecoming. It was a beautiful autumn day. The sky was high and everything under it was at peace. I got out of the car. I saw a small mound at the top of the hill, sheltered by the stone wall Don and I had built together in 1987. I started climbing the hill toward it. My heart deeply stirred, but I was grabbed by almost mystical calm, with a force beyond my understanding.

To be continued.

My Trip to North Korea (Part 3)

Esther had to break the bad news. “Everybody has visa except for Willem.”

I could neither speak nor breathe. Blood circulation in my entire body felt at a standstill. I didn’t know how many seconds, how many minutes passed before I managed to utter two words: “Why? Esther!” No immediate response. I went on. “How many times did I stress that both Willem and I need to get visas. As you would recall, in the beginning, I was going to join the group as a tourist but both our leader and you encouraged me to obtain official permission to film. To our delight, the permission was granted, and I could bring a camera man. I remember the day when you and I had supper together with the good news that Willem was granted a visa.” Esther simply nodded her head. I went on. “I was uneasy about only the oral assurance about Willem’s visa. I asked you many times if there was a way to get something in writing. You responded, ‘That’s not the way these things had been done. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.’”

For me, it was a hardship as well as a risk to incur expenses for Willem, for equipment and other essentials to shoot. The escalating budget made me dizzy, but I went on buying flight tickets, renting and buying the equipment, etc. And now? We were in a Chinese city, only an hour away from Pyongyang, and I am told that Willem does not have a visa!

Willem was totally silent with the unexpected news.  Esther’s small voice came, “I know. I know.”

“So what is the explanation?”

“The man at the embassy had no explanation. He said, ‘I just do not have permission to issue a visa for him.’ Can you try to get in touch with someone and find out?” I asked him. “’Well, today is Saturday. No one is around that I can talk to.’ To me, it means that they are revoking the permission to film!”

Well, it was time for the group to head toward the gate and get on the flight to Pyongyang. Esther and the rest of the group asked me, “Are you coming?” “Am I hearing right?” I asked myself. They took it for granted that I would go without Willem. The red jacket minister prompted, “Come with us. You should come!” I felt an intense emotion stirring in me, with a strong impact on my entire body, as if the sky were falling down on it. The whole world turned dark, pitch dark for a second. Then my mind cleared up as if the sun pierced through dark clouds, menacing clouds. My mind was clear, crystal clear. “No, you go ahead. I am not coming.”

Neither Willem nor I had visas for China. The airport was our prison; we were locked up there. I could not leave Willem, someone’s precious son, stranded in a Chinese airport and hop on the flight with the group. “But,” the red jacket was gearing up to preach, to persuade me to do the only right thing. I waved her off and blocked my eyes and mouth. It was bad enough. I did not want to let my temper get the better of me. Willem continued to be silent. Even if he urged me to go, I would have said “No.” He had told me that his parents were against his going to North Korea. But he came! I needed and wanted to stand by him. He was with me. A small crew of two owed each other loyalty. I wanted to take care of him, even if it meant losing a chance to step on my kohyang.

The group and we parted from each other. They disappeared while Willem and I stood in line for a Korean Air flight to Seoul, the only flight that day to take us where we could find beds and clear our heads. We were told, however, that the flight was full. I went to the counter and talked with a Korean Air staffer. She was a Chinese woman who spoke Korean with limited vocabulary. I explained our situation–that we had to get on that flight, enunciating every word clearly. “Well, there is always someone who does not show up at the last minute. All you can do is to wait and see if that happens.” What else could I say but thank the woman. She told us to step back and stand where she could see us.

The flight was scheduled to leave at 4:30. It was almost four. The line came to an end, and I saw the woman motioning to me. “Okay, you and your son are on!” Me and my son! There were several others waiting. A couple of them protested. “We do things in an orderly fashion. These two were the first on the waiting list.”

On the flight, the relief was so enormous that I almost forgot that I was heading back to where I had come from, not to North Korea.

My Trip to North Korea (Part 2)

Most of the passengers on our flight were Chinese. It was the Japanese who mobbed venues wherever Don and I traveled in the eighties and nineties. Now Chinese replaced them. After a little over an hour, we landed at Shenyang airport. Esther, second-in-command of our group (the leader was on a different flight and was supposed to meet us in Pyongyang), assembled us at a corner. She is a minister based in New York and works part time for groups concerned about North Korea and the unification of the Korean peninsula. “Since you do not have visas to China, you can’t get out of the airport. I will go get an official who will help us,” she said. With that, she left, telling us to wait. Soon, a young customs officer appeared with Esther and helped us to pass through a special line. As he left, he firmly instructed us to stay inside the airport until we caught our flight to Pyonyang.

What next? If it were up to me, I would have taken Willem to a restaurant and ordered a good lunch. But we were with a group: a retired minister, Rev. Yoo, and his wife, a single woman with a red jacket who introduced herself as a minister from Chicago, and Esther. The minister from Chicago was clearly eager to take charge. “There is a restaurant on the second floor where we could order a couple of dishes and sit for hours.” We followed her to the elevator and into a spacious restaurant that was almost empty. We found a large table at the back. Two waitresses came with large-sized menus. I opened one of them and was about to review the possibilities. “No need to spend time on the menu. I know what to order. They have good dumplings. Two orders of steamed dumpling dishes will be more than enough for all of us. They are not only good, but the price is right!” I was mad but had no energy to protest. I just sat. The 14 straight hours of flight from New York, plus the waiting time both at Kennedy and Incheon airports, had sapped whatever energy I had.

In the meantime, a friendly young Chinese chap appeared and exchanged a few words with Esther. She informed us, “I will go to the North Korean Embassey with him–he works for a travel agency and he does all our paper work whenever we go to Pyongyang. I have a Chinese visa, so I can go with him to collect our visas promised on the phone.”

The two dumpling dishes arrived for the five of us. The self-designated leader encouraged us, especially Willem, the youngest among us, to eat. Ever so polite, Willem waited until one of the others, the oldies, took one. I selected a dumpling and put it into my mouth. It wasn’t good, but I said nothing.

We still had a few hours until we could get on the flight to NK. Besides, we did not have visas. Nothing to do but sit around and wait. Well, about two hours had passed when we saw Esther walk in. My eyes were wide open, and some life had returned to my worn-out body. Even before she sat down, I knew that something was wrong–drastically wrong. Her ashen face spoke volumes.  I kept still. “Well, I have some bad news!” None of us spoke. We just waited.

–to be continued.

My Trip to North Korea (Part 1)

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.